Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Monastery of the Visitation


What a week this has been! It began with a train to Paris, and from Paris, I took the Eurostar to England! England is such a lovely country-- it's beautiful, and the people are just so darn charming. If I ever move back to Europe, I've got my eye on the UK.

The reason I traveled to England was that I wanted to live with nuns for a few days! So, once in Ashford, I rented a car and head towards the Monastery of the Visitation, a nunnery that invites women to retreat with them. I'm not sure I needed a "retreat" in the traditional sense of the word, but it absolutely turned out to be a time of rejuvenation and relaxation for me-- more on that later.

So, once in Ashford, I rented a car and took off! The monastery was nestled deep in the woods of East Sussex. The countryside was absolutely beautiful (what I saw of it at least). I'm sure I might have seen and enjoyed more of the scenery had I had the peace of mind to take my eyes from the road on the way there. I was such a nervous wreck. For the first time in my life, my hands were at 10 and 2 for the entire drive.

And it wasn't even driving on the left side that was hard-- I adjusted to that fairly quickly. It was driving a stick shift that got me. Like, how on earth do you start moving again when you're stopped on an incline?! (I can roll backwards just fine, but accelerating forwards...) I never did figure out how to do it gracefully. I had to restart the car more times than I'd like to admit. And what really got me was knowing that the people sitting in their cars behind me were probably thinking how terrible women drivers are and I'm there putting along, proving them right! Honestly, I need so much more practice with a manual car.

Thankfully, the monastery was out in the country, so I was able to stick to the back roads where traffic probably wouldn't have been backed up had I not been there to do the backing. These people were flying down these narrow roads where side mirrors skimmed by with millimeters to spare. I was terrified every time a car approached me.

It was a struggle. I almost wish I had spent the extra money to get an automatic (but then I wouldn't have anything to brag about, so where's the fun in that?). Although, it surely would have saved me tons of stress.

When I finally arrived, I was about ready to convert to Catholicism just so I wouldn't have to take the car back!

As soon as I got there, a sister was there to take me in. I had interrupted their supper, but they were gracious about it. I was happy to sit and eat, although it was strange to be thrown right into the middle of it so suddenly. I learn then that there is a method to everything the sisters do. At the table, every place is set neatly and every person has a place.

After supper, I went to my room to unpack, then a little while later, I was invited to join the sisters for Compline. This turned out to be my favorite time of day. This service was held in the candle light, and there was more singing than at the other services. I followed along as best I could and sang with them. One of the sisters was kind enough to find my place for me in the books before every service. Turns out, I'm quite helpless when it comes to The Divine Office.

After Compline, the sisters went upstairs to bed and I returned to my room. After I'd unpacked everything, I made myself some tea at the tea point and sat down to browse the books on their shelves. After tea, I went to bed and fell asleep quickly because the room was warm, the bed was comfy, and I was so relieved to have made it all in one piece!

The next day began with the sun streaming through my window. Friday was the most beautiful spring day. I went to breakfast and then one of the sisters showed me around before she let me go explore the place. Between breakfast and Mass I had about an hour and a half, so I walked the grounds and just enjoyed the outdoors.

Mass was an interesting experience. I've been to a few French Masses, and an Italian Mass, but I don't remember ever going to one in English. It was nice. The priest was very welcoming and had a deep, calming voice as he read the scriptures and offered communion.

After Mass, I had another hour and a half before the Office of Readings. I took a book from the library and found a bench in the sun and spent my time there. At noon, I went with the sisters to Office, then we had lunch, and then a second Office. The afternoon is left mostly free except for tea time at 3:30. I took a short nap before tea, then headed outside once more.

The grounds around the monastery are beautiful. There are fields of yellow flowers and trees everywhere. As it is spring, the ground was very wet, so I couldn't go some places, but I made my way around.

Recently, the sisters moved from their old monastery into a new building. The old building sits a short walk from their current building. The grounds are extensive there and were incredible. I walked through the gardens several times.

One thing that really surprised me was how quickly the time passed when I was enjoying myself and not worrying about the time at all. At afternoon tea, the sisters come and go with their tea and snack. I was given a small snack and tea, and was allowed to sit in silence and fully appreciate the act of eating and drinking. I ate at a normal pace. I looked out the windows and watched leaves rustle in the breeze and had a lovely time there in the silence with my tea.

When I stood to leave, I glanced at my watch and couldn't believe that nearly a half hour had already passed! That doesn't seem like a long time, but I hadn't even noticed it passing.

After tea, I sat with my book again until Vespers before dinner. I particularly enjoyed this time as well. During this one, the sisters would pray aloud their own prayers after reading through the written prayers. This time seemed most sincere to me, as I could see the heart of the sisters and what they loved and cared about.

At dinner, we listened to classical music, which didn't bother me a bit (actually, I really liked it!). The food was always delicious, and I'm sorry that I didn't get a chance to thank the sister who prepared it everyday. Again, except for the music, we ate in silence, and until you do that, you can't imagine how wonderful it is.

I ended the night with Compline and tea. (When I got back to Poitiers, I promptly went to the grocery store to buy tea. Lovely.)

The next day was much the same as the first in that I went to all the services, except that it was dreary and overcast outside (rainy days are my favorite days). It didn't stop me from wandering the grounds again. How often do I get to spend two days in the English countryside with nothing to do and nowhere to be, surrounded by flowery fields and tree covered hills? You better believe I was spending time outside.

When I was inside, I was happy to sit in the comfy chairs to finish my book and get some more writing done. I took my Bible and spent some time with it, and also spent a good chunk of time reading through the Catholic Encyclopedia (hey, I don't know much about it and I'm a curious person).

It's a nice lifestyle. It isn't entirely silent all the time, but it is very quiet all the time. The chapel is filled with singing when the sisters are there, but the rest of the place is often undisturbed with noise. Before I went, when I would tell people what I was doing, they joked about it being easy for me to be quiet because I'm already such a quiet person, and it wasn't really difficult to not talk, except that I could have asked the sisters a million questions about their lives.

Another thing about the silence is that it's so very non-threatening. I felt completely at ease among the sisters. For the first time (maybe ever), I didn't feel like I had to have everything together in case someone was watching me. And even if someone was watching me, I felt that they would accept me as I am, which is a complete mess. That was probably the best part of the whole weekend.

In all honesty, I'm attracted to what the sisters do. To live in a place where I can wake up to the woods every morning would be glorious. I like how structured everything is. I like the routine of it all. That's not to say I'll be joining them anytime soon (because I know there is so much more to what they do that I didn't experience), but I felt a definite lack of something in my own life that I found at the monastery.

In recent years, it's been a trend to 'be present' wherever you are, and with all the distractions of today, that is often difficult to do. I try to be present when I'm with people; I try to give them my full attention, but sometimes I fail. I realized this week that there's a flip side to being present-- It's not only for when I'm with other people, I need to be present with myself too. I often pass time distracting myself. I watch Netflix while I'm eating and have music constantly playing in my apartment.

As I was enveloped in the silence at the monastery, I was taken aback by how nice it was to just be. I left my phone in my room all day. I didn't watch tv. It was awesome. (I realize that it's not always necessary to be present, and distractions aren't all bad. I'll still be watching copious amounts of Netflix.) I'm at a loss for how to describe just how great the whole experience was.

I wish I could have stayed a day or two more, but I had homework due Sunday night, and I'll be real with you-- going without Google was really driving me mad. (I started a list of things to google when I got home... sometimes I have an unhealthy need to know things.)

I will absolutely do this again if I ever have the chance, and I really cannot recommend it enough. The sisters were wonderful-- genuine and entirely welcoming. Once my mind quieted down, I began to realized things about myself and it helped me get back to a place I want to be mentally and emotionally. It was a healthy exercise for me.

When I returned to Poitiers Sunday afternoon, I promptly got my homework finished and turned in, then spent the rest of the evening and the next day doing nothing. I was really counting on volleyball Monday night, but they canceled it. Then Tuesday, I packed and went to French class.

Today, me and the other two are traveling to Amsterdam! I'm quite excited about this trip. This is the last big trip I have before I have to go back to class. (Did you remember that I'm actually here to go to school?? Me either.)

Anywho, 2 months until I go home. That's 57 days. May 29. (Just in case you forgot.)

Je t'embrasse,

Here are the pictures I took around the monastery. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Trip to Texas!


Maybe you realized that last week I didn't write anything (or maybe you didn't), but either way, I'm here to write today, and make up for last week.

I actually had some stuff written and ready to post, but my Wednesday didn't exactly go as planned and I never made it to a computer to get it up here. (There was a rant about old airplanes and uncomfortable seats, but I'll save it.)

I left Poitiers last Tuesday evening on the train to Paris to stay near the airport for my flight Wednesday morning. It ended up being delayed, but I was going to still make my connection at DFW. Then that flight was delayed, then there was a bomb threat, so we were rerouted to Lubbock. When I finally made it to Amarillo, I was exhausted and I wasn't about to drive to Dalhart. Thankfully, I have family that let me stay with them for the night.

So, I didn't make it like I planned, but it ended up working out. I drove to Dalhart the next morning and got to have breakfast at my favorite restaurant. (Even in Utah and Idaho, I have not found a restaurant that makes me as happy as Hodies.)

The reason I was going to Texas in the first place was to be in my best friend's wedding...only, she didn't know I was coming. So Thursday morning, I got to surprise her! It was the best thing ever. Her mom had ordered me a dress and everything so it was all prepared.

As the surprise, her mom wrapped my bridesmaid dress and gave it to Jonna as an 'early wedding present' at breakfast. When she opened it, I came out of the kitchen and surprised her. She's so funny-- she had the dress on over her head and was showing off to all of her family that was gathered around. When she finally saw me, she threw the dress off, and started squealing and crying and we hugged for a long time.

I had been planning on coming since November, so it had taken so much not to tell her about it in advance. Do you know how hard that was?! I was so excited to be there!

It was an awesome surprise. I'm so glad Sheila planned it that way.

That was Thursday, and I spent a lot of that day with Jonna. That evening, I got to see my cousins at their house and spend some time with the family. (Although, because of the time difference, I was pretty exhausted by evening.)

Friday, I got to eat at my other favorite restaurant, La Espanola. It's just the perfect kind of Tex-Mex. In all of the mexican food places I've eaten, I've never had rice as good as La Espanola's rice. (Yes, I do plan every trip to Dalhart with the intention of eating my favorite foods. I've never been back and not eaten there!) Zane, my cousin Bailey, and I had lunch there, then Zane and I drove around town a bit.

I met Bailey again for coffee that afternoon before I had to go to the rehearsal dinner. That night, we had a game night with the cousins. That's one thing about my family that I love-- game nights. Sometimes they get a little crazy, but they're always fun.

Saturday was wedding day! All of the ladies in the wedding met for breakfast and spent the morning together just hanging out. Around noon, we started getting everyone ready, then we went for pictures. I only knew two of the other girls, but I think we were an awesome group. The three that that I didn't know were fun, and I know that if Jonna picked them, they must also be great people.

After pictures, we went to the church to wait for the wedding to start. When people started showing up, we were all getting pretty nervous. Jonna was absolutely stunning. Her dress was beautiful and everything looked so perfect.

Finally, we got the signal that we were about to start. We all walked out and stood, waiting for the bride. She walked behind a curtain until she was at the center aisle, then it was pulled open and she walked out.

As I had already seen her all day, I watched Coury as he saw her for the first time. The look on his face was so touching. I'm so, so happy that Jonna found someone who loves her like Coury so obviously does.

It took everything in me to not cry as Jonna's dad kissed her cheek and gave her away to Coury. Actually, I was holding back tears the entire ceremony. Everything about it was beautiful. The pastor told us the story of how Coury and Jonna met and how they had God at the center of their relationship.

I may be biased, but it was the most beautiful wedding I've ever seen.

After Coury kissed his bride, we all danced down the aisle, and everyone made their way to the reception. I've never really been one to stay for long at wedding receptions, but for Jonna's I stayed until they closed the place down.

I got to see to many people I hadn't seen in a while, and I even got to hang out with some old high school friends. It was especially good to see them and to know that they are all doing well in their lives.
(Molly, Me, Sadye, Jonna, Sarah, Hannah, Leah)

Sunday I set aside to spend with my mom's side of the family, so that morning, I packed up my siblings and we headed to Amarillo. We spent the day on the back patio, cooked out, and just had a good time catching up with everyone. We didn't do anything particularly exciting, but I was just happy to be around my favorite people.

That night, as we were leaving Amarillo, Gracie told me, 'We have the best family.' And I had to agree. I really believe we do, on both sides. I love when I get to spend time with my family. They truly are my favorite people to be around, and I can't imagine my life without them.

Monday, I went to the airport to make my way back to Poitiers. When I finally got to my apartment Tuesday afternoon, I was exhausted. My internal clock was all screwed up and all I wanted to do was sleep. However, I really needed to get back on schedule because Thursday I'm leaving again and don't really have time to be on a messed up sleep schedule. So, I sat at my desk and caught up on YouTube videos until I made the (bad) decision to move to the bed.

Once I was laying down, I was out. I probably napped for about 2 hours before I forced myself to get back up. I watched two movies before I decided I could go to bed. And I was out real quick, until my dad called at midnight because I had forgotten to check in when I got home. I only vaguely remember talking to him. I couldn't figure out the time (because my iPhone clock hadn't updated) and I was really confused as to where I was, but I guess I talked to him, then went back to sleep.

I woke up this morning at 6 am. The sun was streaming through my window and I thought I had slept way too long, but it turned out I could stay in bed for another hour or two.

I'm feeling pretty good today. I have to do a quick load of laundry and make a stop at the grocery store, then pack my bags again to leave tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to my next trip, except that I'm not ready to sit for long periods of time again. (My butt is really sore.)

Anyway, that's what I've been up to. I'm anxious to get back and tell you about what I've done this coming week!

Je t'embrasse,

I didn't take many pictures this week, but here's one that I absolutely love.

One of my favorite things about the Texas Panhandle is the horizon. I love the mountains in Utah and Idaho, and I love the city here in Poitiers, but there's something about those wide open spaces that feels like home to me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Paris au Printemps


As promised, this week's blog will be filled with much more interesting things than the last few.

I left early Friday morning on a train to Paris all by my lonesome. All I had with me was my purse and I was off to the big city! The ride was nice. It was a gorgeous day outside as I watched the endless fields pass by. It made me really miss Idaho. I can't wait to get back and get out to the farm.

Once I arrived in Paris, I went straight to Le Bon Marché. It's a great big department store. There were several floors, but I went straight to the one that had the bookstore and stationery area. I love wandering through the pens and notebooks and cards. After a fair amount of time spent there, I quickly walked through the other floors then exited to go to the other Bon Marché building around the corner.

This one was housewares and groceries. I think it may have been the most beautiful grocery store I've ever walked through. Maybe that's weird to say, but it was so enjoyable to walk through the different sections and see all of the offerings. I love the bakery, butcher, creamery, cheese, and pastry counters offering their fresh products. It's all so pretty and oh my goodness, it smells SO good.

I ended up buying a few different things for lunch, then took them to the park across the street to eat. The weather was magnificent. It was sunny, and warm, but not hot. There was no wind and the flowers were blooming. I should eat in parks way more often. I got to watch people walk by and just enjoy the beautiful day.

After lunch, I went to Le Marché aux Fleurs. I read online that it was beautiful and they were right. It's so fun to walk among the flowers. The place was strangely empty, so I hope I just caught it at a low point. I'd hate to think that the vendors aren't doing well for themselves there.

The flower market is on the Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine River. Also on the Île is Notre Dame and a few other landmarks. Since I've seen most of them, I just wandered the streets to see what I could find. I came across a Shakespeare and Company bookstore and spent a nice little bit in there.

From the Île, I visited the Passage Verdeau and Passage du Grand Cerf. These are covered shopping streets hidden among buildings. The first was quite extensive with many shops offering many different things, while the second was shorter and more antique/artsy. I enjoyed wandering the passages and hope to visit a few more when I return to Paris.

I wandered the streets around both passages and just observed the Parisian culture. It's fun to go back in the not-so-touristy areas and feel how different it is from areas around the famous landmarks. It's quite a nice lifestyle from what I've seen.

Around this time, the sun was starting to set, so I decided to find my hotel. It was in an area I had never been to, so once I checked in, I went back onto the streets to explore the neighborhood. I found a nice place to have dinner and sat facing the street so I could watch the people as they passed. It always amazes me that with as many people as there are, we each have our own stories. We all have things going on in our lives. I often wander about what they're going through and what motivates them and why they are where they are.

The next morning, I headed for Galeries Lafayette and Printemps to spend the day. My first order of business was to visit the Starbucks for my breakfast, then take it up to the Terrace. I was there around 10 am and the terrace was almost empty. The morning was cool, but not cold and the skies were clear. It reminded me of sitting on my Mimi and Papa's porch drinking coffee in the summer. In Paris, I was looking out over the city, and at Mimi and Papa's I was looking out over the mountains. Either way, those are my favorite kind of mornings. There is nothing better than sitting in a place with a view with coffee-in-hand in the brisk morning air.
See the Eiffel Tower in the distance?

I made my way through the women's building of the Galeries, then went over to the Home building. There was another grocery store on the ground floor, then housewares on the other floors. They had everything from fine china to bedspreads to lighting and furniture. I spent some time in the Cave à Vin (where the wine is kept) and it was beautiful. I saw a wine from 1899 that was selling for $20,000!

The dishware floor felt like a museum. There were so many exquisite (extremely expensive) pieces. I walked with my purse clutched to my chest so it wouldn't bump into anything. (If you ask my family, they'll tell you I'm an accident waiting to happen.) It made me giggle a bit that at some counters, the crystalware is sold right along side fine jewelry. This is serious stuff!

After a while I was tired and hungry, so I went to find lunch, then returned to explore Printemps. Again, beautiful, but again, I enjoyed the housewares building more than the fashion building. Although, in the fashion building there was an entire floor dedicated to luxury jewelry and fine watches, so I did really like that. (No surprise there.)

I went into a few other smaller stores in the area then realized that I was absolutely exhausted from all the walking I'd been doing. I had about three hours until my train departed, so I picked up a book at Galeries, and went to the train station to pass the time.

I returned home tired, but happy with the time I spent in Paris. I didn't really buy much, just some stationery stuff and a few shirts, but I had a nice time just being by myself.

Sunday was the most beautiful spring day I've seen yet. I walked to the park that morning and there were people out enjoying the sunshine like I was. I didn't even need a jacket over my sweater. It was glorious. I sat down in the park with my book and enjoyed the weather. The birds were chirping and there was a whisper of people around.

After a while I got hungry, so I went home to eat and finish my homework that was due that night, then I went back to the park because it was just so darn gorgeous outside. This time, there were more families out with their kids, enjoying the park, but I still found a spot to sit and take it all in.

This week I actually had to go to class. (About time, I know.) And boy, was it a rough going back. Tuesday, we had an early morning meeting with an advisor about a project that all international students have to do. Then straight from that meeting we launched into our 8 hour class day. To make it all worse, it was a Tuesday and on Tuesdays, we have French class until 7:00pm. In all we were at the school from 8:30 in the morning until 7:00 at night.

(At the first meeting, we were scolded for complaining about the long day ahead and our advisor told us she didn't want to hear it and welcome to 'real life.'  Of course she meant that when we enter the workforce, hours like that aren't uncommon. I understand that, I do, but I just don't appreciate the way she said it. Also, advisor, when was the last time you had to sit in awful, wooden, straight-back chairs with no leg room for 10 hours? You would be complaining too.) End rant.

So Tuesday was awful, but today was a little better. We finished the class with a test and got to leave early!

Right now, I'm in the middle of trying to plan things for the next few weeks. I haven't decided where I'm going yet, so that's my first order of business. Once I get that down, I'll let you know what I'll be up to.

Je t'embrasse,

Here are the few pictures I took of Paris.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I Can't Think of a Good Title


How have you been lately? Good, I hope.

Things here have been moving along slowly. This week I have had next to nothing planned. I met with a group for a project twice, went to French class, and went to volleyball practice. Really, that's all I've been up to.

Thankfully, I have plans for this weekend! I'm getting a little stir crazy being in Poitiers for this long with nothing to do. I'm going to Paris to do a little shopping. (By myself this time!) I've gone to Paris twice now by myself, both times to pick up family members from the airport, so I've never actually spent time in Paris alone.

I'm looking forward to it. I've never been in a big city all by myself and I'm anxious to see how it goes. Pray it all goes well!

I've been doing a lot of reading the last few days. Sometimes I just get caught up in the Internet vortex and forget that I actually really enjoy sitting to read a good book. Seriously though, I cannot tell you how much I'm looking forward to getting back home and spending time at Barnes and Noble. I do not like looking for new books on my Kindle. I do not like the format of the Amazon store. It's not at all conducive to the kind of browsing I want to do.

So right now, I have three or four samples to go through and decide what I want to read next. There are just so many options out there and I get stuck between the questions, Do I want to read something that will teach me something, or Do I want something mindlessly entertaining? It's a struggle.

I've also been doing quite a bit of writing and it's an interesting combination. When I read what other people have written, I look for ways to improve my own writing. Maybe I'm learning something new!

Sorry this update is so short and boring. I honestly don't have much interesting to say this week! In the coming weeks, I've got trips planned and things going on, so it'll pick up again.

Also, last week we passed the 6 month mark! Only 3 to go! Crazy.

Je t'embrasse,

Oh! Last week, I forgot to add the London album to the bottom of the post, so those are here if you're interested, and also at the bottom of the last post.