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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Seven in France: Crème caramel and choucroute

Fall in Mulhouse!

02/11/2019: My first full day back in town, I ate lunch with my landlady's family this afternoon – it was nice to see T., E. and everyone else after two weeks away. It felt like home. Partly thanks to the amazing crispy potatoes and Brussels sprouts with bacon. For dinner, the kids invited me to order Thai food with them. I had poulet au basilic and rice, and I felt happy to be back and glad to have been included, but something was still keeping me from truly being myself. I don't know why, but I didn't say a word the entire dinner. Why am I so socially awkward? It was like I was terrified to be a normal human. I don't understand. Plus, it's going to rain for the foreseeable future in Mulhouse, which does not help my mood. But I have to remember that I've got good things coming my way too! It's November; it's Mariah Carey season; it's almost Christmas market season in Alsace, and I cannot wait.

Pasta with mushrooms in a white wine, garlic and butter sauce.

03/11/2019: Lucky me – I also had Sunday lunch with the family. The boeuf bourguignon, very tasty Yorkshire pudding and a slice of delicious chocolate cake, with a side of fiery discussion, made me feel a little more confident in my belonging. I didn't do nearly as much lesson planning as I should have this break, but I'm reassuring myself by saying that I'll have time during the week. Monday might be a slap in the face, though. Then, after two weeks traveling alone, cooking dinner with some fellow assistants and friends was a wonderful reunion. We made pasta with a mushroom, white wine and garlic sauce. Nothing brings people together and lifts my mood like cooking.

04/11/2019: I literally shriek with joy this morning when I realize that I don't have to be at work until 1 p.m., not 11 a.m. like I thought. Monday after vacation, motivation is low, what can I say? After a bit of lesson prep, I cook up some basmati rice with mild curry sauce from a jar and frozen peas – it's not très gourmand, but it tastes good. I love curry, and I haven't had Indian flavors in too long. Shockingly enough, though I'd planned a lesson or two for the rentrée, I still didn't teach anything by myself today! But, I did feel useful – I helped answer comprehension questions during one teacher's lesson on Gandhi, and I helped another teacher give feedback on oral presentations in math class. I felt pretty competent. And after a simple meal of pasta, tomato sauce and chicken for dinner, I felt comforted to be getting back into a routine again.

05/11/2019: I taught my first real lessons today, finally! I worked both with small groups and in front of a whole class, and I felt good about it. When the teacher asked which groups wanted to go work with me on a grammar exercise, basically the whole class raised their hands. For grammar! Cute. The other lesson was a presentation on South African literature to fit with their current topic, and they seemed interested. I like that I'm learning things along the way, too. I forgot my packed lunch in the fridge like an idiot, but I bought an actually pretty tasty microwave carbonara in a box from the supermarket. It tasted like success. Later, I met my friends at an Irish pub, and we drank beer (fruity Mort Subite, my favorite) while listening to live folk music. I feel so, so happy to be included in the group, which features a mix of super fun and friendly people of all nationalities: American, French, Irish, German... Who ever said I was bad at making friends? Let's keep this energy going, Aine.

06/11/2019: This morning, I did something I haven't done in a very, very long time. I worked out. My friend J. played personal trainer and seemed to revel in the fact that I haven't set foot in a gym for over two years – after all the squatting, lunging, etc. I could barely walk and almost fell down the stairs. Those endorphins, though! Right afterwards, I reversed all that hard work and ate a delicious, flan-like crème caramel (kidding! I can eat whatever I want, whenever and it doesn't make me any less of a person). I hobbled to school and left after an hour beaming because my Deal or No Deal lesson in Euro math class went so well. The kids were engaged; we had fun, and I hope they learned something. We won $200,000! Thank you, Howie Mandel! For dinner, I was pleasantly surprised by my frozen quiche Lorraine and side salad with a vinaigrette I threw together (olive oil, white balsamic, salt, pepper). Cheers to feeling relaxed and accomplished.

07/11/2019: Today, I lost my choucroute virginity. In the school cafeteria. Seeing as the dish (sauerkraut and sausages) is such a beloved local speciality, I was really hoping that my first time trying it would be a more glamorous experience. Alas, it wasn't the worst thing I've ever eaten, but I was disappointed – it was salty, heavy, a bit lukewarm and not nearly as comforting as I thought it would be. Well, the first time is never good, right? Hopefully the next one will be better. Anyway, I'm done teaching for the week! Time for a long weekend. First stop, a cappuccino and some writing in an adorable café. Next stop, a couple beers and lots of laughs at a cozy bar, Les Trois Singes, with a couple of friends. Final stop, going to see the new sequel to The Shining.

A very nice spot to drink a cappuccino and chill. The owner was making caramelized peanut cookies while I was there, and I cannot even tell you how good it smelled.

08/11/2019: Happy Friday! I succumbed to a very American craving today and went to the only Starbucks in town. What can I say, they have an amazing (aka tooth-decayingly sweet) caramel hazelnut latte that I'm obsessed with. Then, I did a bit of shopping in the city center and explored the Musée de l'impression sur étoffes, which outlines Mulhouse's history as a hotspot for textile production. It was SO pretty and interesting! Today, as I was leisurely running errands, taking in culture and hopping effortlessly onto public transportation, I felt (for maybe the first time since I've been here) like a real Mulhousienne. Except for when I accidentally walked into a glass door at the museum. That was very embarrassing.

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