Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful Thursday 11/26/15 - Happy Thanksgiving

Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that I began 1/10/13—read why here
I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!

While Thanksgiving was a normal work day for me this year, Damien and I made a pumpkin pie tonight—with the can of Libby's Pumpkin that I'd brought over with me to France.

Then, we got to hang out with all of these lovely people:

And as if I didn't already have so much to be thankful for, Damien found out today that he got the 3-month contract job that he'd interviewed for on Monday. He starts on Monday, December 7 in Rodez!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Facebook-free: Justin

Facebook-Free: Justin

I'm happy to introduce our next interviewee for my Facebook-free Project: Justin from Saskatchewan.

The basics:

Age: 23
Location: Saskatchewan, Canada
Passion: Learning
Length of time with FB account: 5 years
Amount of time since leaving FB: 4 years

Walk us through your decision to leave. Was it planned? Spur of the moment?

One day I logged on and realized that the Facebook definition of "friend" is different from what I consider a friend. I was reading through the posts and didn't care for anything I read, I thought about condensing my friends list to real friends and family so I would only have about 50 people.

But, I figured that my friends and I would keep in touch anyway if it was important to us via text or email so I couldn't really find a use to have Facebook anymore. I was also comparing my life to other people's and spent way too much time thinking about other people's trivialities. There is a quote by Theodore Roosevelt: "Comparison is the thief of joy," which I found to be true. A few months after barely using it and disliking nearly everything that people would post on it, I just deactivated it and never went back.

Main reason for leaving (in one sentence):

It didn't add anything to my life and distracted me away from just living.
• • •

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Safe within the walls of Aigues-Mortes

One day earlier in November, Damien brought home fougasse from the grocery store, a specialty sweet "cake" made in the Aigues-Mortes region. Wikipedia says the dessert is "based on a Brioche dough, sugar, butter, and orange blossom."

When telling me about it, Damien mentioned that Aigues-Mortes wasn't far away—about a half hour—and that we could easily visit it on the weekend. Here's where it lies in comparison to Palavas:

Map of Aigues-Mortes, France to Palavas-les-Flots

We had stayed in Palavas every weekend prior to that (with one afternoon in Montpellier on Halloween) so we were both on board with going that Saturday, November 14. 
• • •

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Horseback riding in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France

Horseback riding has been on my life list for some time now, and as of one week ago—Saturday, November 14—I can now cross it off.

I think I've been on a horse twice in my life before this—both as a child. The first was to take a picture of my siblings and I at someone's farm (I'm not sure who), but I feel like they were maybe church people from my childhood town. (Parents, any idea who/where this was?)

Ah, look! My brother found the photo evidence:

T.J. and Rebe on the horse... with Charlie?

As I remember it, they put me up on a horse first, while grabbing another child to put behind (or in front of?) me. I remembered having seen people kick the sides of horses in movies to go fast, so I curiously gave my horse a light tap to the sides with my boots. Sure enough, then it started moving! The horse owners scolded it and told it to stay still. I never did that again!

• • •

Friday, November 20, 2015

Where do you get your news?

Nadine Ajaka wrote a must-read article in The Atlantic earlier this week, called "Paris, Beirut, and the Language Used to Describe Terrorism."

In the article, she points out that the words journalists choose to describe world happenings completely shape how society views these events, and in turn, society's reactions.

Taking a step back from word choice, I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind readers that news sources each have their own agendas and influences. They can easily put their own spin on the news by what they choose to report and feature, and how they choose to present each story.

While this is true of all news forms—television, internet, newspapers, radio, etc.—I used the websites of three news sources to illustrate this point today.

On November 20, 2015 at 11:35 AM (local time in Montpellier, France), I took the screenshots below of:
  • The Guardian — admittedly my preferred online news source the past few years
  • CNN — a name I used to associate with "real news" in my childhood
  • Le Monde — a French daily newspaper
Take a look and compare:

The Guardian

• • •

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Peace for Paris, peace for the world

Last night after a long day of work, Damien and I ate dinner and then watched a show on Netflix. Afterwards, I read in bed for awhile while he watched another show (on Netflix) in the living room.

So no one was watching live TV, and I wasn't on the internet.

We cut the wifi before going to bed, like we usually do, and slept soundly—ignorant of what was unfolding on the other end of the country.

I woke up early in the morning to go to the bathroom.

I happened to glance at my phone after slipping back into bed, and saw a tweet from my brother asking "Are you safe?"

Half asleep, I tried to remember the last thing I'd tweeted. What was he referring to?
• • •

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Facebook-free: Mustafa Ascha

Facebook-free: Mustafa Ascha

The Guardian recently published this article about a study done in Denmark, in which half of the group of Facebook users had to quit cold turkey for a week. Their results found that those off of Facebook felt 55% less stressed than the control group.

At the end of the article, one of the researchers mentions that she'd like to see what would happen to participants if they quit for a year. Well, today's Facebook-free interviewee, Mustafa Ascha, is going to tell us what it's like to be off of Facebook for over two years. Over to you, Mustafa!

The basics:

Age: 26
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Passion: Clinical and translational science
Length of time with FB account: Age 17 to 24, on and off
Amount of time since leaving FB: Two years, give or take three months

Walk us through your decision to leave. Was it planned? Spur of the moment?

It didn't benefit me enough to justify keeping it. Constantly checking Facebook, as if I depended on my online friends to feel fulfilled and satisfied with my sociability—it began to consume even the real-life parts of my social life.

Humans are inherently social, and Facebook is an immediate fix for our desire to be with others. Just like refined sugar/concentrated fats become addictive due to their immediate physiological reward reinforcement, so does the immediacy of Facebook intensify our social reward pathways—without any of the necessary content to deeply satisfy human needs.

Obviously, the argument against my perspective is that Facebook is meant to augment sociability, not replace it. Again, I think the analogy to sugar is apt. Facebook is refined sucrose/fructose, where we're liable to eat dessert first if we don't pay enough attention to ourselves. To take an analogy too far, we might end up nutrient deficient, yet obese, and with metabolic syndrome.

Finally, whether or not someone is able to constantly consume sugars and stay healthy, having Facebook makes me both easily identifiable and verifiable. I prefer to have singular control over what people can know about me, even if it sounds paranoid. I can imagine a future where textual analysis allows identification of a person's writing with a high probability. It sounds dystopian, but we're also on our way to such technology.

So, yes, it was planned. But only in the sense that it was usually in the back of my mind. I didn't have a set date when I would cancel it. Instead, the weight of the arguments against Facebook tipped the scales, one day, probably when I noticed myself shirking other responsibilities so that I could refresh my wall.

Main reason for leaving (in one sentence):

It took too much attention, distracting me from enjoying my life on earth, and scared me to know people could find and identify me at any given moment.

• • •

Sunday, November 8, 2015

French progress via video

When I took my 6-week intensive French course back in May and June, every couple of weeks I filmed myself speaking in French (cringe).

This way, I'd have something tangible I could look back on to see improvement. Rewatching these now, I can pick out lots of errors, so that's something—even in the most recent video from October! I now know some words that I didn't know then (like flamingo, it's flamant rose, not "flamingo" like I say in the latest vid!)

Even if you don't speak French, I think you'll notice a big difference between the very first one and any of the more recent videos.

I'm now in the intermediate stage, and it's hard to see progress—even though I've been operating in French for the past month after moving here (minus work and blogging). So I'm planning to keep doing a video every month, in the hopes that I'll have evidence of some progress.

I'm sharing them here to show others that language learning is most often a long, gradual journey. Heck, I took my first French class ever five years ago during my senior year of college. After graduating I very lightly dabbled in French from time to time, but didn't make another concentrated effort until my recent course in Montpellier (finally).

• • •

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Behind the scenes: Learning to swim at age 26

You guys, I can't believe what I did tonight!

Damien and I just got back from the local swimming pool—my first time in a pool since we visited the London Olympic Pool in July—and something amazing happened.

Seriously, this night made history (in my book).

But perhaps I should take us back to the beginning, so this moment will have some merit when I share it.

For starters, I am not a swimmer.

• • •

Monday, November 2, 2015

Zombies, Grammar Books and Nasty Plumbing Problems: Halloween 2015

We may be living on a postcard, but that doesn't change the fact that I cleaned shit out of our shower on Saturday morning.

Actual shit.

...for the second time.


Rewind to two weeks ago, when we noticed our shower wasn't draining very well—but nothing seemed to be clogging the drain. When this happened, the toilet bowl would also be slow to empty when flushed, filling high with extra water.

Damien took a plunger to the shower, which surprisingly pulled up a ton of sewage (crap!) in the shower. Turns out the toilet and shower are somehow connected, and there's some sort of water receptacle in the garage (on the other side of the bathroom) that needs to be pumped out every six months or so. No one had been living here before us, so we'd made it overflow... or something.

The apartment owner (Damien's best friend's mom) came over right away with a water pump (wet vacuum?), and sucked up water in the garage. She was on her way to a wedding that day, so she wasn't very thrilled to have spent the morning dealing with our crappy water. I just tried to stay out of the way (aka in the house), as I wasn't really sure what was going on in the garage, nor what I should do to help.

• • •