December 9, 2011

The Countdown…

Tree w/ cathedral in the background
 Every year ABC Family does a ‘25 days of Christmas’ event. As you all know, I’m not home and I don’t get ABC Family in France, so I am not watching their 25 days of Christmas specials. Even so, I am doing Christmas-y things. I know some people hate how quickly Christmas songs pop up on the radio post-Thanksgiving feast, but this year I was really looking forward to hearing those classic Christmas carols (I might have even had my ‘A Christmas Carol’ cd playing while I was preparing my French Thanksgiving). Hearing those Christmas songs, starting my Advent calendar, and buying Christmas presents makes me feel like I am reeling Christmas in, pulling it closer to me, and therefore getting one step closer to seeing the people I love and getting to do some of the things I really miss back home.

Santa! I know him!
Although I haven’t been watching ABC Family’s ’25 days of Christmas,’ I have been watching a lot of my favorite Christmas movies. I started off with my favorite Christmas movie of all time, Elf, which surprisingly made me tear up a little at the end. The next night I watched Love Actually, which brought on a full-blown sobbing (particularly the scene where Mark held up the sign to Keira Knightley that says, “To me, you are perfect”). Although the bursts of tears were a little unusual, I figured I was just excited about getting in the holiday spirit (and honestly, who doesn’t cry at that part in Love Actually?). So I wasn’t too concerned that I was openly weeping at my Christmas movies, that is, until I continued to cry at A Charlie Brown Christmas, this week’s How I Met Your Mother, and Modern Family’s ‘Express Christmas’ episode. All the crying really made me stop and think about what is going on with me that would cause me to get so emotional over some of these not so incredibly emotional movies and television shows. Then it hit me.

Since I’m not living at home, or close to home, or in the same continent as home, Christmas means something different to me now than perhaps it used to. It’s no secret that living alone in a foreign country is difficult, and I’ve had some trying moments this year, so I’m really looking forward to spending Christmas at home. Therefore, this year, Christmas means the following for me:

Me w/ some Christmas lights
Getting some really long hugs from my mom.
Hearing my dad sing his unique versions of songs.
Finding not funny things funny with my sister and actually being able to laugh together (as opposed to the usual LOLs sent through bbm).
Playing a board game and talking with my bro.
Having Christmas dinner with my regular (and honorary) family members.
Seeing all the cats, but especially my Little (now big) Monster.
Walking my sister’s Evil Assistant (aka, Muppet, our dog).
Catching up with old friends and seeing how they’re doing over dinner, coffee, hot cocoa, or wine.
Seeing the TCNJ Lions play some basketball.
Watching an old teammate coach.
-and finally-
Being able to speak, and more importantly, listen to English.

In the past, Christmas’ arrival meant finishing up finals, scrambling to find people presents, and sitting in traffic. Since I have no finals, have bought almost all of my presents, and can take my time getting places over here, Christmas' arrival is a pretty enjoyable time. So, will I continue to torture myself with sappy Christmas movies until my flight leaves on the 19th? Most likely, even if it’s for no reason other than to remind me that Christmas is just around the corner.

December 1, 2011

A French Thanksgiving

Joyce, Me, & the Turkey

I think any of my fellow American overseas basketball players would tell you that one of the hardest parts about playing basketball overseas is being away from family and friends during the holidays.  The holidays that aren't celebrated over here tend to be especially difficult. Now, contrary to what some of my friends back home believe, Thanksgiving is an American holiday, and therefore not celebrated in France. Regardless, my teammates were pretty adamant about having some turkey and seeing what their American teammate could cook up, so on Monday, I hosted a French Thanksgiving in my apartment.

Although I have been a master green bean casserole maker for my family's Thanksgivings and Christmases for the past few years, this was the first Thanksgiving I had to cook the turkey and stuffing. I have to admit I was really nervous about taking on this task. Images of teammates throwing up undercooked turkey all over the court haunted me during my preparation weeks. Even after reading about 1,000 different ways to cook a turkey and things to be careful of, my friends’ stories of their first times cooking turkeys seemed to have a lot of obstacles. Hearing about how they cooked their first turkey upside down, forgot to take out the innards, or over-buttering the turkey and desperately trying to hold on as it slipped through hands and hands making its way down to the floor, I was certain I would mess it up somehow. I googled a turkey’s anatomy, how to clean a turkey, the best ways to use all parts of a turkey, and how to keep a turkey from drying out in the oven. Not to mention that a metric converter website was favorited, bookmarked, and just about always open on my computer throughout this process.

The night before the big day I was preparing the turkey and realized two things: number one, the innards were not bagged up for me, I would have to go fishing, and number two, the neck was still attached. As I felt my stomach rise up into my throat and debated back and forth about becoming a vegetarian, I succeeded in getting the liver, heart, and gizzards out as well as removing the neck from the body of the turkey. I also vowed to never buy a fresh turkey again.  

The feast!
The day of our French Thanksgiving, one of my teammates, Joyce, came over to help me out with the cooking. We put on some Adele (internationally loved) and got to peeling potatoes, cutting up veggies, and teamed up to keep the turkey moist throughout the day. Thank God for Joyce, because she really helped make everything go smoothly and made the preparation part of the day enjoyable. As the rest of my team started arriving, we youtubed how to carve the delicious smelling turkey, again teaming up as I held the slippery sucker and she carved the meat off like a pro.

My teammates brought foods to complete the meal including corn bread, sweet potatoes, salad, and what I found was the funniest dish of the night, a green bean casserole (which my teammate interpreted literally as green beans laid out in a casserole dish). As if that wasn’t enough food to fill us, we had a cheesecake, hot fudge cupcakes, and a chocolate cake for dessert. Keeping with my family tradition, we went around the table and I made all my teammates say what they were thankful for – some even said it in English for me!

All in all, my French Thanksgiving was awesome. I can honestly say it was the first time since coming here that I felt a bit at home, and for that, I am thankful.

November 19, 2011

Cabin Fever

In all my years playing basketball, at some point during each season, I hit a point where I start to go a little stir crazy. I think I'm reaching that point here now, but I’ll explain a little further…

The first red flag came during our drive home after our game last Saturday. The five hour ride was taking forever as we hit fog and slowed to a 90km/hr pace (no, I will not translate this into mph for you – just know that we usually drive 110-130km/hr on the highway).  Around hour three, I started to get restless and nauseous as I shifted from one uncomfortable position to another. Thank God one of my teammates offered to switch places with me to let me rest against the cold window. Our pit stop at 2am couldn’t come quickly enough and I basically bolted out of the van as soon as our driver put it into park. Even after our break of fresh air, when I piled back into the van I felt claustrophobic and sickly until we arrived at home, at 5am.

This week hasn’t improved much as far as my sanity is concerned. Perhaps in preparation for returning home (although I can’t say for sure that that’s the real reason) I started making jokes to myself…my favorite being a one liner, “untranslatable,” which I say to myself about any custom that differs from how we do things in The States. From the way people greet one another to phrases that I really want to use (like “C’est poubelle,” which literally translates into “It’s trash,” but can’t be used in the 'that’s not worthy of my attention context,') I find myself getting weird looks from teammates and giggling to myself more often than usual.

On Wednesday, I was helping coach the little kids’ practice when I took the giggling a step further and laughed so hard I cried. The kids were warming up with some basic Judo drills (ahhh Europe!), and my station was learning how to fall the correct way – tucked chin, not using your arms to cushion your fall, curving your back so you roll a little bit, etc – when one of my little players who is probably only around 25 kilos (55 pounds) went so stiff and plopped so hard while making a priceless face that I cannot put into words just made me lose it. After she fell she gave me this look like, ‘Wow,THAT did not feel right,’ which just made me laugh harder until I had to walk away to recompose myself. I couldn’t explain what was so funny since once again, I found it untranslatable. ;)

That brings me to Thursday. After our morning practice I went to the sideline to lay down and put my legs up against the wall to stretch. After I moved to get up, I looked down at my sweat marks that had transferred to the ground, and saw a beetle. Now, I was a psych major in college, but I think creating ink blots out of my own sweat is a little over the edge, probably even for Rorscach.

I think it’s fairly normal for people in my situation to lose it a little bit around this time of year. I’ve been here 4½ months now, seeing the same people and places day in and day out. Thanks to daylight savings time, there are only so many hours of sunlight I see each day; the weather is getting colder, keeping me indoors, and the Aquarium trip really let me down. I mean with all those things going on, it’s almost shocking I’m still coherent at all...

November 14, 2011


Some of the 2,500 fish
 Today I decided to go to the Limoges Aquarium. Ranked #28 of 38 things to do in Limoges, and having a day off from basketball, around 1pm today I thought, “why not?” I put on ‘real people clothes’ (jeans and a sweater as opposed to my normal sweatpants and sweatshirt), popped in my earbuds, and strolled toward town to see “plus de 2,500 poissons!”

Now I didn’t count, so I can’t be sure, but I think they might be falsely advertising the 2,500 fish. First of all, I didn’t need to put on real people clothes, since I was the only person in the entire aquarium. Secondly, if I wanted to, I probably could have run around the whole aquarium in less than 15 seconds. After I got over the realization that it was listed #28 of 38 for a reason, I decided to make the most of my time with the fish.

During my visit, I saw sharks, sting rays, turtles, seahorses, catfish, Nemos, and what I thought were the most disgusting/interesting attraction: eels. There were three eels in a tank together, two of which were white with black spots on them, and the other looking like it came right from Ursella’s underwater lair in The Little Mermaid. I watched them slide over and under one another as they opened and closed their mouths and wondered whether or not they got along with each other like the fish from Finding Nemo did. Gosh, it must suck to live in a tank.

Anyways, the best part of my trip to the aquarium was the English translation of the signs next to the different tanks. My favorite, which I took the time to write down said, “The seas house gods and fabulous monsters (that’s a pretty loaded statement) but they also hide real treasures you can discover…the tank in front of you presents this particular environment as we have recreated it with porcelain debris (naturally, treasures and porcelain debris are basically one of the same) …if you look closely, you might see seaweeds have developed on the porcelain debris. The fish in the tank do not live in a polluted environment (very reassuring, thank you enthusiastic sign!)!”

After seeing the aquarium, I’m a little concerned about what the 29-38th attractions in Limoges entail, but we’ll save those for another day…

November 7, 2011

Let's Dance...

Back by popular demand, this is a blog about me being awkward.

After our game on Saturday, my teammates and I decided to go dancing. I need to preface this story by painting a picture of what it means to go ‘dancing’ in Europe. First of all, you don’t actually leave to go out until 1:30am, and even that is early. Just like you never want to be the first guest to arrive at a party, a 2am club arrival is borderline inappropriate. Now for those of you who know me, you know that 2am is bed time. Back at home, 2am is actually, “I’ve already been asleep for three hours what do you want from me?” time. But because of the time difference, I do tend to stay up later when I’m in Europe. Even so, 2am is still “I’m in bed snuggling under my blankets” time.

That being said, this Saturday I decided that I was going to fully commit to the night. I was going to embrace the fact that I was going to get home really late and be really tired. I committed to the night with every intention of sleeping until noon the next day.  

As 2am rolled around and we rolled up to the club, I was in a pretty good mood and ready to dance. After about two hours of dancing and witnessing a small altercation, the music changed from fast group dancing to a slower, more intimate selection. Now, prior to going out, one of my teammates mentioned that her very tall guy friend was going to be visiting to see our game and coming out with us afterwards. After showing me his picture and getting a solid seal of approval, all my teammates were very excited to see how I might interact with a boy (let’s face it, basketball teams are great - the camaraderie, the friendship, but sometimes you miss being around members of the opposite sex). As the music changed, my teammate came over and told me her friend would like to dance.

I hope you’re ready for this.

I like to dance, I really do. I didn’t when I was young. During those rough teenage years dances were tough on me – I was so much taller than everyone else that I was overly conscious of what I might look like on a dance floor that I forgot to just enjoy the music. I like to think I do a much better job of that now. Of course it helps that because I’m part of a basketball team, now when I go dancing, I constantly have tall people around me and no longer have a hard time letting loose on the dance floor.  

Here’s the catch: I don’t usually slow dance with my teammates. In my 24 years, the times I have slow danced with my friends, boyfriends, or sister, I have always been the same height as, or taller, than my partner. So, as I approached this 6’10-7’ boy to dance with, I immediately started thinking, ‘Oh my God, where do I put my hands?’ ‘Where do I put my head?’ ‘Holy crap, his hips come up to my stomach.’ ‘How is this going to work?’

Thank goodness that poor boy a) did not speak English and b) didn’t seem to notice me giggling to myself. For a whole song I stiffly kept my hands on his hips. Then, one hand moved up to his left shoulder, the other stayed glued to his side. I tried putting both hands on his shoulders, but that just seemed too uncomfortably high of a reach (Is this how most girls feel when they’re dancing with a guy?). Finally, and judge me if you want, I found the most comfortable spot for my hands were up on the outside of his biceps (not a bad resting spot for the obvious athlete ;)).

After about five songs of my struggling to be led (let’s face it, I have some control issues that transfer to the dance floor), struggling to be tall enough for our hips to line up (seriously – IS this what it feels like to be an average sized girl?), and struggling to find an appropriate spot for my arms and head, my teammates called me over and were ready to head home.

So by 5am, I had conquered a new first (dancing with someone taller than me). When I got home I snuggled into my bed, and let the droning sound left ringing in my ears from the club music sing me to sleep.

October 23, 2011

In this town we call home…Everyone hail to the pumpkin song!

In honor of Halloween, I set out in my car on Friday determined to find a pumpkin to carve. They really don’t celebrate Halloween here the same way we do in the States, so after driving around for over an hour, I realized carving a pumpkin might be a tougher task than I’d originally thought. I remembered from my trip to Oradour sur Glane that there was a sign along the main road advertising a shop for vegetables and flowers (a perfect place to buy a pumpkin around Halloween in the U.S.) a little ways down a side road. So I drove Ethel (the name I’ve assigned the beaten-up old car I drive over here) down the dirt path with every hope that I’d leave there with a great big pumpkin. (Side note: I’m glad I watched Children of the Corn AFTER my quest for a pumpkin.) After butchering the French word for pumpkin (citrouille) to the gardener and getting a blank stare and shake of the head in response, I was just about ready to give up my hopes of finding a pumpkin. I hopped back into Ethel and was headed back towards my apartment when just outside of Limoges, I passed a little vegetable shop that looked like it had a pumpkin-esque vegetable on a stand out front.

After investigating the small shop, I knew I wouldn’t be saying, “It’s the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” anytime soon, but it didn’t matter, because I was 25% certain that I actually found a little citrouille to take home and try to carve. My skepticism fully disappeared after I got the top off my vegetable and found none other than pumpkin seeds inside! So after popping some seeds in the oven with a little olive oil and salt, I turned on a scary movie and got to work on my design…

I guess I should mention that living alone can be… well… lonely. After my first couple weeks here I noticed that I wasn’t entirely alone however. In my bathroom there is a spider that lives in a hole above the pipes and comes out to say hi every once in a while. I have tried to capture her and put her out the window, but I think she might be related to the same spider that bit Spiderman, because she has super-spider speeds. Anyways, I gave up trying to catch her, named her Charlotte (I admit, originally with the hope that she might suffer the same fate as the spider from the classic story), shortly after became attached, and now consider her a pet.

So, in honor of my pet Charlotte, and in honor of Halloween, I present my great pumpkin!

Happy Halloween!

October 10, 2011

Team Win

team with our fans after the win

I think one of my favorite things in basketball is when a team pulls together to get a win. It’s like a good boxout, or setting a good screen that gets one of your teammates open…a strong team win just feels so…communal. Like everyone did just what they needed to in order for the team to accomplish what they set out to – win.

Our game this weekend, was in Le Havre, France (in the upper Normandy region)…a loooooong hike from Limoges.  After losing our last two games, we knew this game would be really important to keep us in the running for the rest of the season. Le Havre was also 1-2 going into the game, so we knew getting a win in their gym with the same things at stake would be a challenge. Even so, I could tell my teammates and I were collectively determined to come away from this game with a “W.”

After what I could call the worst toss of a jump ball in the history of my playing basketball (seriously, it’s not that hard to throw a ball straight up in the air), and losing the tip, we went down by ten fairly quickly. I picked up a second foul in the first quarter (again, ugh (this is really not a good habit I’ve gotten into over here)), and watched from the bench as my teammates went on scoring runs which Le Havre continually answered throughout the second quarter. Finally, in the third quarter, we went on a run that Le Havre struggled to answer, putting them on their heels as we headed into the fourth only down by four. With the momentum in our favor, we pushed and pushed until we finally took the lead and never looked back. We ended up winning 62-55.

I didn’t have a particularly good game, which almost made this game even more refreshing in a sense – because now I know I don’t have to play a perfect game in order for us to get a win. Next week we’re back at home against Reims, a must-win game for us!

September 26, 2011


Saturday we had our second game of the season. I won’t say much about it, other than as good as we (and I) played in our first game, we played just as badly in this one. I have to wash my hands of it or I will drive myself absolutely crazy. So…

Yesterday I went to Oradour-sur-Glane, a small town about half an hour from Limoges that was destroyed by the Nazis on June 10th, 1944. A new town was rebuilt right next to the town that was destroyed on that day, but the ruins remain as a memorial to those families that were massacred as well as to serve as a reminder of the atrocities that occurred during World War II.

When I got to Oradour-sur-Glane, I was immediately humbled. It is amazing to me to see what hatred can develop into. Before going to visit the memorial, I had little knowledge about why the town was attacked, but learned shortly after that the massacre of 642 people was a retaliation of the supposed capture of one German official by the Resistance. I walked along the streets of the town that was left to rubble and climbed the steps of the town’s church where the women and children were locked, gassed, and shot at on that June day. I couldn’t help but think about how any human being could have such coldness inside his/her heart to be able to murder so many defenseless people. Outside the destroyed buildings were signs of the names of families that had lived inside, along with their held occupations. Walking along the deserted street and looking at those signs, it made me think about how each one of those 642 people killed on that day had a life, interests, friends, beliefs, and individual characteristics that a sum number does not justify.
In the rear part of the town was a cemetery filled with graves of the people from the town. The graves were covered with flowers, plaques, and reminders of that day, many of which read “Another Uncle,” “Another Mom,” or “Another Dad.” I don’t think I will ever understand war, but looking at those graves I couldn’t help but pray that all of the soldiers that are off fighting in wars can make it home to their loved ones again safely.