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French Visa Renewal, Round 3

28 Jun

Remember in French Visa Renewal, Round 2 how I said it was not for the faint hearted?

Well, I wasn’t kidding.

Yesterday was probably been the most frustrated and upset I have been. I have been stressed, angry, have cried, and had a tension headache for two weeks.

First, I do not know why this is such a stressful process, it just is. It gives you the right to stay in the country and continue with your studies and live a peaceful life. They do not make it easy. I keep telling myself, “If they made it easy, everyone would do it.”

After being sent hither and yon by my school’s immigration office without one offer of help or offer of research or offer of infinite wisdom of what to do for AJ’s visa, I went back to school after making an appointment (mind you this is the THIRD time I have been in the office) to get my visa stuff done– because that is what I pay tuition for.

Some documents were not up to par– which is to be expected. But after already been sent hither and yon the person has the gall to tell me that I should go to another office to get someone else in the university to help me call over to get the necessary corrections. WHY? There is a phone right there and they could have called right then and there. Some of the documents, I even had on me in digital form and could have been simply printed if I was asked. But, no, send me away AGAIN to run around.

Then on top of that the person tells me that I may be rejected and I might have to go myself to another Prefecture de Police outside of Paris because we are moving. She even suggested that maybe I should go do it myself.

Then the one woman turns to the other woman and starts talking in French to her LIKE I’M NOT EVEN STANDING THERE and starts talking to her about what students do and what we think and how other offices conduct business. Again, I am right there, I can hear you. I can understand you. When leaving the building, she saw me and pretended like she didn’t see me– straight out snub. At the end of the day after I ran around desperately collecting these documents, I sent an email with the attachments. Again, the woman rudely responds to the other woman LIKE I’M NOT THERE. Infuriating.


I lost it.

Not only was I told to shove off and do things myself, but the person was rude and I was disrespected. Numerous times.

Am I looking forward to Round 4 on Monday? No.


Au Revoir

12 Jun

Things have been busy since classes ended in May. After classes AJ and I went to Copenhagen, I had finals, Graduation, my mom’s visit to Paris, and <Whew.> Before I knew it June had arrived.

Over the past two weeks or so I have embarked on a new KAC Johnson business — tutoring and teaching privately. Elementary and middle schools (or kinda their equivalent) in France end the school year at the end of June. So in order to make some dough over the summer since I won’t have student loans or a job, I made up my own job. Well, it’s something that I have been doing for about 8 years now: teaching language.

I have a wonderful 19 year old who I am coaching for her English verbal exams for business school, a pair of brothers moving to Dubai due to their parents jobs, and a  set of twins. Things are moving along in the world of KAC Johnson Enterprises. (Just don’t tell the French government!)

Last week was my last week at one of the elementary schools I taught at this year. Next week will be the last at the other school. I will miss some of the teachers and I really hope some of the kids apply themselves to learning English so they can have  a good command of it one day.

What was really wonderful is that the principal (the directrice) had a little get together with coffee and madelines to say good bye. I even got a basket of chocolates as a thank you. What was best was that some kids, IN ENGLISH, said, “Thank you, Mrs. Johnson.”

Coffee& Madeleines

Wham bam. I have had a successful year in kiddie land!

I do not know exactly how contracts work in France or if this contract will be extended to me again. I will see how KAC Johnson Enterprises goes this summer in teaching and coaching to determine if I’ll have to keep that option open.

Overall, I have enjoyed my days teaching in a real French school. Well, kidlings, for this year, Au Revoir.

Photo credit: Timothy Y Chambers

My Graduation

27 May

I gradumerated!

On Sunday as part of my final farewell as the Graduate Student Council Social Director, I held Sunday Brunch for the graduate students and their parents and guests.

Monday, Memorial Day, I walked across the stage as a graduate student! Yay, me!

P.S. My mom is adjusting to Paris. How do you like the Eiffel Tower? “It has holes in it.” The best part of her visit so far? Getting caught in a manif (a strike).

For now, I’ enjoying my special graduation breakfast/snack… escargot aux fruits rouges, escargot aux raisins, et fougasse all from my fav bakery, Du Pain et Des Idees.

Du Pain et Des Idees - Yumm

Hard Decisions

24 May

Paris Texas

In the almost 10 years that my husband and I have been together we have faced some tough decisions, but the great thing is that we always end up on top. This week (not to mention this month) has been hard. It has flown by. We had to face a hard decision this week — to stay in Paris or go home to Texas.

The pros and the cons were strong in either case. First, I am graduating (“walking”) on Monday so technically I am done with course work with only my thesis to write. This, in theory, can be written almost anywhere. Yet, my case study is here in Paris (as of now). Also, my goal is to use my thesis as a stepping stone into a PhD program and my department chair wants me to be in Paris if “we” are doing this together. My professional goal is to become a university professor. I dream of myself as someone between my current department chair person and Anthony Bourdain.

If we go to Texas AJ and I could start working and bring some INcome. It’s a tough decision because AJ did not work at all while he was going to school and now he works as a stagiere and makes enough money to pay the interest on his school loans every month. I have been working part time, but it is only 10 hours a week at a little more than AJ makes. Together, it is a lot different from the professional salary level we were making. I am worried that if I went back to work (PT or FT) that I would put off my thesis and never get it done. I know this is true because it is hard to write picture books, much less a thesis, when you are working full time.

Paris is also quite expensive, especially if you are two students and only one person is working PT. Thankfully we had the good sense to plan ahead. But it is hard to wrap your mind around how much money (in USD) that you spend in Paris. But, as AJ always points out  we have a roof over our heads, we are together with the cats, we are fed every night, and we are in PARIS!

So, what decision did we make?  To say or to go?

A Day Off

20 May

Yesterday I took a day off. All day.

I can’t remember the last time a took a day off to just relax and watch some TV shows and movies — and not feel guilty about it. It rained all day, so I consoled myself that it was better that I stayed in.

When I graduated from undergrad I remember distinctly one day where I was home with a day off from work and no school. I didn’t know what to do with myself. So, I sat on the couch with a new kitten on my lap and read a book.

I find myself reflecting on the fact that I could be doing some research on x while AJ is a work. For example, today when I had my head in the washing machine pulling clothes out I thought, “You know, if i want to write my thesis is an ethnographic style I should read a lot of ethnographies.” I have a hard time turning my brain off.

May was an exceptionally tough month. I told myself that after finals, papers, and the end of graduate course work I would need to take some time off. Read a book, rework query letters and resubmit DRAGON BREATH (one of my picture books), maybe tackle another picture book I’m working on, MY DAD IS A GRIZZLY BEAR, and then start looking for a part time job. (See my last blog post for my to do list). I am also trying to whittle down my packing list for the Camino de Santiago.

It’s hard when we have go-go-go lives to take a day to yourself and decompress. Which is why I am looking forward to the coming months… although I have a feeling it will be just as much as an adventure as  a time to relax the mind.


To Do

17 May

Here is my to do for the next few weeks:

1. Host my mom.
Mama Cunningham is coming for her visit to Paris. (Hey, she loved Mexico and Columbia, she should like Paris, too.) Her one request: No Louvre!

2. Graduation ceremony.
Classes are over. I am participating in the AUP graduation ceremony but will not be awarded my Master’s degree until the completion and defense of my thesis.

4. Plan.
Establish case study and thesis writing schedule.

3. Read!
Get more and more info for my thesis research.

4. Read a book.
For leisure. Guess I’ll be riding the metro a lot.

5. Send in queries.
Rework query letters and send them out to literary agents to try to find a publisher for one of my picture books.

5. Reapply for French visas.
This time AJ will be a dependent under my student visa.

6. Sign new lease for apartment.
Upgrade to a whopping 31 meters (~300 square feet)!

7. Move to new apartment, Aug 1.
With 6 bags, 2 cats, and all the junk we collected over the past year.

8. Get the cats their annual vaccinations.
I will have to walk down 7 flights of stairs, over a few blocks, and back again from the vet’s office. With almost 40 pounds of cat.

9. Walk the Camino de Santiago.
Just bought tickets from Paris CDG to Pamplona. Walk from Pamplona to Burgos with my aunt and uncle. Perhaps do all 35 days of the pilgrimage?

10. Take a breath.


Thinking about my Thesis

8 May

Last Thursday I turned in my Thesis Prospectus and today, Wednesday, I’m going to pick it up and get feedback.

The road to getting to my thesis topic was a hard and rocky one. One that kept me up at night, had little “note to self”s everywhere, and AJ constantly listening to my ideas, my crying, and the same phrase, “I just want to be a badass!”

The week of Orientation the Masters students from my program sat around in a circle and our program chair gave us a brief pep talk. She then went around to (what I’m assuming was) all of us and we got to pitch her our thesis idea. “Karin, what you want to do is History, no one here does that. You need something more contemporary.” Entendu.

They say that you should never write a paper in grad school that doesn’t advance your thesis. Well, cowboys, I wrote at least one. I can tell you about topics which, well, I just don’t have any interest and hope someone else researches them. Today in the shower I was thinking, “Why is it so hard for me to articulate what I’m interested in? Defining those g* d* research questions thwart me!” (And, yes, I really do talk like that. A bit of intelligence punctuated with curse words.)

My first EVER grad class I was mind numbed. The syllabus could have been written in ancient Greek. But that class turned out to be the best thing that happened to me. Not only because of what happened in class, but the time the professor took outside of class to teach me. And, don’t worry, the professor does not speak ancient Greek.

In that class I turned in a very broad outline and a haphazard abstract. I got an ok grade. I went in to office hours and talked through the idea with the professor. I went to the library and researched ideas that I found interesting. I printed up charts, graphs, and numbers (because, hell, who doesn’t like pictures?!). I rewrote the whole thing and sent it in, with the disclaimer, “Can I come and discuss this with you?”

After class I went and got a coffee and went up to the office. “Oh God, I thought you weren’t coming.” “I just went to get coffee, would you like one, too?” “No, I’ll just have a little chocolate to get caffeine… Anyways, Karin, how are you? How is school?” (BTW, this personal touch is always what I liked about the professor. I should have also taken a cue that the prof was worried that I wasn’t coming because he was excited about my work.)

Our conversation basically led to this, “This is a really good idea. You could use this as your thesis topic and to get into a PhD program.” Haha, I thought, yeah right.

You want to know something silly? After bouncing around ideas from Belgian culture to Thai sexuality, I sat down and thought, What do people say that I’m good at? What do I care about? And my thesis topic is the EXACT same thing as my paper topic that the prof liked… I had had it all along.

So, today I’m going to get feedback from the Dept Chair who was there through all my idea bouncing. It could be bad or good, really, I don’t know. En tout cas, whatever happens today starts the next chapter in my thesis thinking.


7 May

Graduation is and was upon us.

One of my last blogs was about my first weeks of school and how I was mind numbed. Busy is a better adjective. Mind expanding, too. When we arrived in Paris we were both signed up to go back to school. I was much more excited since AJ has never liked the classroom. AJ soon came home with some new spiffy chef jackets, the “apprentice” black and white checked pants, and some ugly white kitchen shoes (they look like the sterile ones nurses or my mom, a dental hygienist,  wears). Off he goes to school. He is one of three boys in his class. But he seems fit in with all the Asian girls.

AJ started producing some amazing desserts. He bought a little cake saver and brought home tarte aux poirestarte aux pommes, chocolate cakes, chocolate raspberry cakes, mango fruit cakes, croissants, bread… You get the idea. The trick to not getting fat? We gave away a LOT of sweets. Before you knew it, AJ was done with classes and he had to choose a place for a stage.

In February 2013 AJ started interning at a boulangerie/patisserie shop. It shared the lab (kitchen), but one half of the store front is a bakery, Au 140, and the other half is a fancy pastery shop, Demoncy D’eglise. Do you know what happened to my chef husband? After working for a month or so, he says that he has an idea of the restaurant, no bakery, that he wants to open. He loves the life of a patissiere. He likes the set hours of working, unlike in a restaurant, you could come in at the crack of dawn, work 15 hours and then head home at 3 am only to turn around and be back at 6 am… after an hour drive into work. The cool thing about a bakery or a pastry shop is when the product is 86’ed, that’s it. No baguettes? Get a pain d’epices instead. Out of croissants? Get my beloved pain aux raisins or escargot pistache/chocolat.

For the first two months (Feb/March) AJ made everything that had to do with chocolate in preparation for Easter (Paques). He once quoted me doing something like 150 kilos or chocolate a week.

This week he started working on viennoiseries. To me and you that means eveything buttery, flakey, and good. Like croissants, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, escargots aux fruits rouges, or escargots au pistache/chocolat…. you get the gist.

Every month he will be doing something different. AJ has his stage until the 1st of September so he will be doing a lot of fun, yummy things. I sometimes wonder out loud who got the better education here. I think we all know the answer to that — both of us.

All of this good came together last week on Monday, April 29, 2013 when AJ graduated from school. Officially certified in pastries. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. <SMILE!>

Now, I hope a few things… First, if he is doing  viennoiseries this week, I hope get a AJ-made pain aux raisins or an escargot au pistache… Next, I hope in our new apartment he will practice his skills in our OVEN! And finally, I hope that he will ever be as good as my favorite bakery down the street, Du Pain et Des Idees. But more on all of those tempting bits and my upcoming graduation soon.

Escargot au pistache, chocolat from Du Pain et Des Idees

A Year Later

6 May

It’s been a year. No, it’s been approximately 8 months since I blogged last. What got in the way? you ask. School and work.

Here is a brief recap since last September when I last left you…

In September I started classes at AUP and AJ started classes at Ferrandi. In October I started work at two private schools teaching English. In November we visited Belgium and kinda celebrated Thanksgiving. Then winter holidays were spent in India in the much needed SUNSHINE! In the Spring semester I stressed out about my thesis until after a Spring Break trip to Thailand and Vietnam.

Here we are on Lundi, 6 mai 2013 (read that in French so you sound cooler), and we have reached the last day of Master’s classes. Where has the time gone? I’m sitting here at the kitchen table leisurely sipping my coffee, looking a the grey sky, listening to AJ snore, and cuddling with the cats. It’s almost like a weekend off from work in Houston, Texas. But it’s not. I’m in Paris. Sipping coffee, etc.

This weekend a good friend of mine pointed out this lack of work now that classes are done. She texted me, “OMG! What do I do now?” I have the same sentiments.

Indeed, what to do? Plenty.

First, I’m refilling my coffee mug… Now the obvious first choice of what to do is WORK ON YOUR THESIS! Let’s not be too hasty. First I have to find a wonderful Point of Contact to facilitate acquiring research so I CAN write my thesis. Wish me luck.

I also need to start looking for part time work. Since I do not know if my contract for teaching at the schools will be extended, I need to earn a little extra money.

Then we need to reapply for our visas. Oh bureaucracy…

We also need to find out if an apartment we gave been scoping out is still available in the banlieu of Paris.

But for now I will enjoy today, as it is supposed to be 70 degrees, and my last day of class. Then AJ and I will jaunt off to Copenhagen for our first “together” vacation since Napa Valley in 2009. Our next big trip will be doing El Camino de Santiago this summer.

Thank you for coming back, Dear Readers. I will be busy blogging about India, Thailand, Vietnam, Denmark, and the journey about sending out manuscripts for my picture books and working on my Master’s thesis. As they say in French, “Bon courage!”

The Three Hardest Things in France

7 Oct

Things have certainly picked up pace. We have been here for over a month and I have finally accomplished the three hardest things to do in France: get a bank account, get a phone, and get stuff done at the post office.

If you have not been to France if you talk to anyone about any of these three things, whether they have been here for decades or days, they throw up their hands, blow air loudly through their nose, and give you an array of choice words. This, dear readers, is why it took me forever to get simple things done.

Getting a bank account. I did some research while in the USA on the background on each then looked at their offers to AUP students. I also considered what bank our landlord has so paying rent would be easier. This is how hard it was to open an account: fill out form; email it asking to please confirm a debit card for me and AJ; upon arrival in France, picked up the debit cards; and withdrew some money. Done. Hard? Not in the least. But, fun fact- your bank is YOUR bank. If you want something done, you go to THAT bank. None of this branch servicing stuff. Oh and they are in charge. The customer is NOT king in French banking. Also, on-line banking? Still haven’t figured that out.

A phone. There was a rep from a phone boutique at Orientation. After going in to the shop to confirm the info and prices, I was blown off and got totally different info. Oh no! I think to myself, It’s true! Getting a phone is a pain! I go over to another store, Phone House. The lady gave me the prices, what was needed to open an account, and even explained why it was so hard for a foreigner… Well, because you aren’t French. The whole interaction went like this: provide passport and bank info for direct payment; choose phone (white or black) and case; and sign some forms. Presto, phone-o. Was it hard? No. Was it expensive? No. Did you have to have your stuff together? Yes.

Post office. I heard horror story after horror story about people going to the post office and having to wait while the attendant got done with her personal phone call before getting to you. Oh you, you small thing called the customer. So, I go into post office and use the automated kiosk–in english– mainly because there was no line. Bought postage, stuck the postage on. By then there was no line and I walked up to the attendant’s booth. I asked if everything looked good; yup. He even explained that the postage I bought was first class (the fastest, air mail). Was it hard? No. Would I go back? Absolutely.

So reading this you are thinking, “Damn those French are rude and think so little of their customers. What happened to customer service.” But, if you read my experience all the ideas were preconceived and I was afraid of going in for fear of bad treatment or just having to fight tooth and nail just for something so simple. Customer service is indeed different here. Your server at a restaurant is not in your face. The bank rep isn’t trying to sell you crap at every turn. I have not yet run into a rude person. Things have been different, but not hard. The easiest way for me to get things done is to ASK.

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