I Promise You an Herb Garden

When I told one of my dear friends that I was feeling a bit blah lately, she surprised me with a cute herb growing kit to cheer me up! I was touched by the caring gesture, but I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of trepidation, too. What if… the herbs don’t grow?

My maternal grandmother had a green thumb, but unfortunately for me, it’s not hereditary! My previous failed attempts at keeping even low-maintenance house plants alive discouraged me from developing a deep interest in gardening.

In my household, it’s my patient husband who tends to our little backyard garden. For the most part, I help by staying out of the way. But when the time comes to rake and collect all of the fallen crunchy leaves, I’m happy to do it!

As for the herb growing kit, I’m going to follow the instructions to the letter. I want my herb garden to grow!

top: basilic, coriandre
center: ciboulette
bottom: persil, thym

If it doesn’t grow, at least I can say my French vocabulary grew by five words:

basil: basilic

chives: ciboulette

cilantro: coriandre

parsley: persil

thyme: thym

Another way to say chives in French is civette, which sounds like civet, the cat-like mammal found mainly in Southeast Asia. For clarification, I asked my dear friend in Toulouse which word he uses for chives and he said ciboulette — so that’s the one I’m going with, too!

Sowed on June 9, 2021

Wish me luck! 🌱

Do you like gardening? Tell me in the comments below!

Hate is a Virus. Mind Your Microaggressions

Hate is a virus

To say the worldwide health crisis is taking its toll on our collective mental health is a gross understatement!

But the added stress doesn’t give anyone the right to take out their anger and frustration on others.

Stop Asian Hate

It has taken me a long time to speak out and condemn the recent increase in violence, racially-motivated attacks, and discrimination against Asian Americans because, frankly, it hurts. As an American of Filipino descent, it hits too close to home.

The crimes are not only racist, they are ageist and misogynistic.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, there has been a surge in hate crimes against Asian people, many of whom are elderly, as well.

And, although it hasn’t officially been called a hate crime, the mass shootings at three spas/massage parlors on March 16, 2021 in Atlanta — where six of the eight people killed were Asian women — brought widespread attention to the increase in violent attacks against the Asian community.

It doesn’t help when you hear defense attorneys for suspected attackers claim that their clients have mental illness or did not know the race of their victim(s) or did not intend to kill! All of these statements only serve to minimize and undermine the severity of the crimes. We need to call it what it is: Asian hate.

Like many people, I was shocked to see the disturbing images on TV and social media, but I’m not surprised. There’s a long history of bigotry against Asians in the United States.

In my post where I share the results of my DNA test, I talk about the word “Oriental” that was used to describe people of Asian descent.

from my birth certificate issued in San Francisco (1973)

Although the word basically refers to something “from the East” (relative to Europe), it historically had pejorative, offensive, and derogatory connotations when used to describe people.

The term was replaced with “Asian American” in 2016 (yes, only five years ago!) when a bill was signed to eliminate the term “Oriental” from federal law.

Microaggressions

Many acts of hate and discrimination are often violent and physical, but not always. Most of the time, acts of hate and discrimination aren’t obvious or dramatic. In fact, these daily occurrences rarely make the nightly news.

The term, microaggression was coined in 1970 by Harvard professor, Chester M. Pierce, MD. Subtle and often unintentional, microaggressions communicate negative bias against marginalized groups.

For example, mispronouncing or misspelling someone’s name is a microaggression. It may not seem like a big deal, but doing so sends the message that you don’t respect the person enough to learn the correct pronunciation or spelling.

Growing up, my maiden name was butchered so often that I grew accustomed to knowing they meant me whenever they called out, “Darleeeene,” extending the vowel as a way to stall while figuring out how to say my maiden name. Before they could mangle its pronunciation, I’d let them off the hook by saying my own name to save us both the embarrassment. I’ve also endured getting teased for having a name that “sounds like a disease.”

Simply put, microaggressions are low-key acts of exclusion. They make you feel like you don’t belong.

my kindergarten picture

The first time I felt like I didn’t belong was in elementary school when I was placed in English as a Second Language (ESL) class separate from my friends. It was only after my college-educated and English-speaking parents told the school administrators that English was the primary language spoken at home that I was put back in the non-ESL class. At the time, I was happy just to be back with my friends! I can only guess why the school put me in ESL class.

Sometimes microaggressions make you feel special, but not in a good way. Instead, you feel like “other.”

While I was browsing eyeglass display stands for a new pair of frames, an optometrist suggested I try on a particular pair because it had a wider bridge. He said it was “Asian fit” then blurted out, “Oh, we don’t say that anymore.” (Was that comment supposed to be… an apology?!) The incident made me switch to wearing contact lenses.

How I wish I had been quicker to react and asked a simple question like, “What makes you say that?”

How I wish I could tell you that these things really didn’t happen. But I’d be lying because I experienced them all. I still do sometimes. I’ve also witnessed similar (and worse) things happen to other people.

So, whether you’ve been on the receiving end or you’ve unintentionally committed a microaggression, the good news is that we can heal, we can learn, and we can change!

Hate comes from fear of the unknown. We can overcome ignorance with education. There are hundreds of books and articles on how to be anti-racist.

A couple of resources I turn to again and again are tools compiled by UC Santa Cruz:

Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send

Interrupting Microaggressions

I encourage you to read these resources and share them with everyone you know. Let’s have the difficult conversations!

I’ll be doing the same as I always strive to keep learning.

Together we can stop the hate. ❤️

The Awesome Music Project Published My Music Story

I shared my music story (stylized #MyMusicStory) with The Awesome Music Project (AMP) and they published my contribution today (May 24, 2020).

Based in Canada, AMP’s goal is “to build a community that can accelerate solutions to mental health through music” in Canada and beyond.

I’ve always believed in music’s therapeutic quality, so I was more than thrilled to answer AMP’s call for submissions on their website asking for readers to write about “a song or a concert or a musical moment that had a powerful effect on you.” Each day in May, they are publishing one story for Mental Health Awareness Month on their website.

AMP hopes to fund more research initiatives involving music and mental health. They have worked with researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Music and Health Research Collaboratory (MaHRC) of the University of Toronto who are studying the benefits of music and music therapy. The researchers have found that music reduces stress, eases depression in kids and teens, reduces agitation in dementia patients, and benefits babies born prematurely.

“This song makes me feel normal and that I fit in”

Columbia Records (2012)

There are so many awesome songs that it was definitely challenging for me to pick one. For my music story submission, I finally decided to write about “Born and Raised” (written and performed) by John Mayer.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Once in a blue moon, you encounter a beautiful piece of music that heals you. At this stage in my life, the song makes me feel normal and that I fit in.”

To read the other 185 words of my music story, visit the AMP website:

#MyMusicStory: Born and Raised

Watch:

John Mayer Performs “Born and Raised” Live on Letterman

I hope my music story inspires you to share, too. Tell me in the comments below: What song has made a powerful impact on you?

In 2013, I Wrote a Book of 40-Syllable Poems and Called It ‘Quarantine’

For the past few weeks, not a day has gone by without encountering the word ‘quarantine’ – usually used as a verb meaning “to isolate to prevent the spread of a disease.”

As a noun, quarantine means a period of 40 days. It comes from the Latin word, quadrāgintā, which also means forty.

Today is April 25, 2020 and it’s Day 40 of shelter in place (in Northern California, at least). So does that mean our quarantine is over?

Sadly, no. We still don’t know when restrictions will be eased or lifted.

I Wrote a Book of 40-Syllable Poems and Called It ‘Quarantine’

In 2013, the year I turned 40, I wrote several 40-syllable poems and published them along with some of my favorite snapshots at the time.

I called my project ‘Quarantine’ because I wanted to emphasize the theme of forty: 40-syllable poems written by a 40-year-old. Yeah, I thought I was so clever.

But not in my wildest imagination did I think that there would be a pandemic and that most of the world would be living under quarantine.

It was the furthest thing from my mind when I decided on a title for my book of poems and snapshots.

“inside/outside”

These days, I think about the word all the time. The idea that we may be in quarantine indefinitely has even inspired me to write a new 40-syllable poem that I call “inside/outside”:

outside

we show our shells

inside

we see ourselves

outside

we cover face

inside

a change of pace

outside

we are exposed

inside

beneath our clothes

grace, strength

who knows?

Quarantine book of poems coverBlurb.com

My gift to you

If you’d like to read my book, click on the image above. Then click on “Preview” to view all 40 pages.

I hope all of you are doing well and staying safe.

Siblings: Your First Built-in Best Friends

Since 1997, April 10 has been recognized in some parts of the United States as the unofficial holiday called Siblings Day!

If you have brothers and sisters, then today is the day to acknowledge them and to celebrate that special bond you share.

Though we may not know it while we’re growing up, siblings are our first built-in best friends. That’s what I tell my daughters. After all, you go through life together in your formative years, for better or worse.

I have a total of 12 siblings.

I always say this when playing the “Two truths and a lie” game and people almost always think this fact is the lie!

Sounds trivial, but it’s true: my 12 siblings and I share the same father.

I also happen to share a birthday with one of my older brothers. We like to joke that we’re twins born exactly 7 years apart!

From time to time, I’ll get news about my siblings through random Facebook updates. But for the most part, news about my siblings funnels through our doting, yet diligent aunties on my father’s side. They don’t have kids of their own, so instead, they keep tabs on all of us, their beloved nieces and nephews.

This morning, I reached out to my younger brother. He and I have the same Mom so he is the sibling I’m closest to since we grew up together.

Although he is younger than me, my brother is wise beyond his years. Always logical, he is the voice of reason in our family. He’s also one of the hardest working people I know. Even while working full time, he went to college, then successfully completed grad school, too! It was his strong work ethic, will, and determination that inspired me to go back to grad school.

So… I wished my brother a Happy Siblings Day. His response? “What? Is that a thing? OK, happy sibs day!”

Typical kid brother reply, isn’t it? But it was the perfect response. Would you expect anything less from your first built-in best friend?

My brother and me at Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point (1979)

Tales from the Presidio of San Francisco

Baker Beach

For three and a half weeks in the summer of 1996, I worked at the Presidio of San Francisco on an international volunteer project. Along with the National Park Service and CIEE (Council on International Education and Exchange), I hosted 11 participants from Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

This was my second workcamp (a commonly used term for volunteer projects like this one), but it was my first one as a Group Leader. I wanted to spend my summer doing something meaningful, while giving back to the community. I wanted to meet new friends from around the globe. I wanted to show them my city! I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to understand the big wide world out there. Gather ’round the campfire and sing kumbaya, everybody!

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

My group and I loved the idea that we could learn from each other through this cultural exchange and volunteer project.

We envisioned that at the end of it, we’d return to our respective homes, individually satisfied that our collective effort helped beautify parts of the historic Presidio. Our mission of serving as goodwill ambassadors accomplished!

But seriously…

As we all know, the vision sometimes does not match the reality.

The truth is: the workcamp was a vacation! You could say it was more camp than work! It provided over three weeks of freedom from the monotony of our student or professional lives at home.

While we did work hard, we mostly hated the meaningless work we were assigned to do (Replace tennis court nets? Inventory appliances in former housing units? Assemble metal shelves?)

assembling metal shelves

clearing brush outside a small museum

Home Life

We stayed in one of the former barracks and each of us had our own room. We took turns preparing meals and cleaning our shared living areas.

On the weekends, we enjoyed some fun activities. We rode Muni buses across town and strolled through Golden Gate Park. We camped out at the World War II-era Battery Chamberlin and took swigs from a shared bottle of Southern Comfort whiskey. We slept in our sleeping bags on cots in eerie D-Block prison cells on Alcatraz and watched Half Dome take on an orange hue as the sun went down in Yosemite!

Alcatraz Island

Yosemite National Park

One of our meals with another volunteer group

Reflecting on my group leader experience

While I was confident in my flexibility and my high tolerance for challenging situations, I must admit that I was stepping out of my comfort zone when I accepted the Group Leader role.

During the workcamp, my people-skills got sharper. As a leader, I had to be more sensitive to what people were thinking and feeling. Cultural differences also inform body language, which I found challenging to decode at times. For example, standing close to someone’s face may be perceived as either aggression or friendliness depending on one’s cultural background.

Unlike the workcamp I had participated in the summer before — where there were two co-leaders who worked cooperatively — I felt there was no such support at this workcamp.

Since I didn’t have a co-leader, I had to motivate myself, emotionally pat myself on the back, and support my decisions. That part was tough.

This workcamp experience really pushed me to discover my limits, too. My patience was tested — to my surprise — by the park ranger assigned to oversee our project.

What an insufferable bully! He often withheld information from me. When I wasn’t around, he would share information with the group. Of course, that made me look and feel foolish. I felt undermined. Not one to get confrontational, I just ignored it.

Well, today (over 20 years later!) I reflect and decide that I should not have ignored it. I recognize it was a missed opportunity to work out different working styles and navigate personality clashes. Sometimes people just don’t click despite their best efforts and that’s OK, too. After all, we just needed to get along. We didn’t have to like each other.

You live, you learn

I remember a popular song at the time was “You Learn” by Alanis Morissette. How her lyrics ring true: you live, you learn!

Let’s just say I learned the hard way that a local person does not necessarily make the best tour guide.

Either that or my new friends just asked all the hard-hitting questions, like “Why is it called Dolores Park?” or “How much is one of those Victorian houses?” (Fun fact: one of the “Painted Ladies” on Steiner Street was on the market recently for 2.75 million dollars!)

I was, however, able to:

  • share my firsthand account of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (Terrifying shaking for 10 seconds that felt endless)
  • point out Galileo High School, which was O.J. Simpson’s alma mater (It’s in the Russian Hill neighborhood)
  • coach my new friends (who wanted to sound more local) to say “San FrIncisco” but never San Fran, or worse, Frisco! (cringe!)

Still, there were many things about “The City” that I didn’t know.

It didn’t help when the park ranger told me one time:

“You don’t get out much, do you?”

Did I mention he made the disparaging remark in front of our group? Oh, that Jim – such a charmer!

But you know what? He was absolutely correct.

Say what?

That’s right. I choose to look beyond the snark and distill the sweet advice instead: Do more exploring closer to home! Play tourist or traveler in your hometown! Look inside yourself!

  • Only then can you begin to understand the big wide world out there.
  • Where are they now?

    Over the years, seven of us from the Presidio workcamp have managed to keep in touch. We have traveled to each other’s hometowns and a few of them have returned to San Francisco for a visit. For the workcamp’s 20th anniversary in 2016, I set up a Skype call and we had a virtual reunion.

    A sort of kumbaya for the digital age, wouldn’t you agree?

    If you have participated in a similar work project or cultural exchange (paid or volunteer), what did you learn from your experience(s)? Please share in the comments below!

    If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in my post >> Volunteering in Hérisson, France

    Note: It appears that CIEE does not offer the international volunteer project program at this time.

    To learn more about other educational exchange programs that they offer, visit their website here. (This post is not sponsored.)

    *Today is Palindrome Day: 02/02/2020!*

    It’s also Super Bowl Sunday: Kansas City Chiefs vs San Francisco 49ers! 🏈

    The Results of My DNA Test

    23andMe

    The results of the DNA test I took recently have arrived!

    Before I show my results, I want to share my list of predictions that I had written before I mailed my sample for testing:

    A word about ‘Oriental’

    Both of my parents were born in the Philippines, but on my birth certificate, my parents’ “color or race” was listed as “Oriental”.

    Although the word basically refers to something “from the East” (relative to Europe), when used to describe people, it historically had pejorative, offensive, and derogatory connotations.

    Imagine that: I have a document that captures the implicit bias and subtle institutional racism that was prevalent in the 1970’s!

    For me, “Oriental” wasn’t a part of my identity growing up. On the rare occasion the word would come up, I’d joke and tell people, “I’m not Oriental, rugs are!”

    However, by the time my brother was born, in 1977, they stopped using “Oriental” and his birth certificate shows our parents as “Filipino.” What a difference a few years make! Although Filipino is not a color or race, this change was a sign of progress.

    from my birth certificate issued in San Francisco (1973)

    It was only in 2016 that a bill was signed to eliminate the term “Oriental” from federal law. The term was replaced with “Asian American”.

    >> video: PBS Origin of Everything “Why Do We Say “Asian American” Not “Oriental”? (7 minutes)

    In my opinion, even the term “Asian American” is too broad. On the rare occasion when I’m asked about my heritage, I say I’m Filipino. But will that change after I see the results of my DNA test?

    Here are the results of my DNA test:

    23andMe

    As I expected, my results show I’m Filipino (Filipino & Austronesian 94.4%):

    23andMe

    It appears there was some truth to those family stories and legends about having Portuguese ancestry, after all! (Spanish & Portuguese 0.5%) That makes sense as the Philippines were under Spanish colonial rule for over 300 years (1565-1898):

    23andMe

    I was surprised to learn that I have Bengali & Northeast Indian (0.4%) and a trace of Southern East African (0.2%) ancestry. I find these particular results fascinating, but I wonder: from which side, though? (Family’s got some ‘splainin’ to do…)

    23andMe

    23andMe

    The results of my DNA test also came with predicted trait characteristics, based on my genetics, such as:

    My preferred ice cream flavor:

    Correct! I love chocolate

    Wake-up Time:

    Spot on! I am a night owl

    But sometimes the predictions were a little off, like the following about cheek dimples:

    Now that I have ancestry results, what’s next?

    While the results of my DNA test mostly confirm what I’ve known to be true, the information about me having Bengali & Northeast Indian and Southern East African ancestry has piqued my interest. I want to learn more about those regions and their respective histories, cultures, traditions, food, music, and languages.

    I’m also inspired to add “take a genealogy trip” to my big book of dreams!

    As I take a moment to reflect on the past, I think about my ancestors from five to eight generations ago. Beyond what they looked like, I wonder what their lives were like. Of course, I also feel immense gratitude, for without any of them, I wouldn’t be here.

    At the present time, however, I have no interest in finding possible genetic relatives.

    It sounds cold, but for me, I don’t yet see the value in trying to connect with genetically similar, but distant relatives, when I have blood relatives nearby with whom I don’t spend nearly enough time! Same goes for good, close friends: family isn’t always blood, as they say.

    Finally, how will I identify going forward? No change: I’m Darlene, an American of Filipino ancestry. 🧬

    [updated: February 2021]

    Have you taken a DNA test or done some ancestry travel? Tell me in the comments below!

    I Just Took a DNA Test 🧬

    I just took a DNA test…

    Giphy.com

    …because I’ve been longing to quote this sassy song lyric from Truth Hurts by Lizzo (above) forever!

    Well, that *and* I thought it would be fun to find out more about my ancestry!

    I took advantage of a Cyber Monday sale (I saved $40) and bought two DNA kits: one for me and the other one I gave to my husband for Christmas. I figured taking the test during the blah period between Christmas and New Year’s would be fun. (After all, one can only do so much baking!)

    So this past weekend, we each spit in our respective vials, sealed up the packages, and mailed them off.

    And now we wait. We wait with bated breath for the email telling us the results.

    While I wait, I guess I’ll bake another flaugnarde or watch Lizzo’s 2017 video for Truth Hurts, which topped the music charts in 2019:

    What do you think of DNA testing? Tell me in the comments below!

    Behind the Scenes of a Senior Portrait Photo Shoot

    j’adore the studio’s décor

    Senior portraits are not ordinary photographs. They commemorate an important part of a young person’s life: the pinnacle of their high school career as they embark on a promising new phase in life. In that regard, taking senior portraits is a rite of passage in itself!

    That said, I did not take a senior portrait for the yearbook.

    At my high school, senior portraits were taken in a single day during the summer in the school cafeteria. If you couldn’t make it, you were out of luck as they didn’t have make-up picture days.

    I thought, Besides, I couldn’t possibly take time off from my minimum wage part time summer job of warming hamburger buns, scrubbing potatoes, and dispensing Frosty desserts just to take a picture for the yearbook! Pfft.

    I know, sour grapes! But I do take some comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone. Adding insult to injury, my high school yearbook had a page listing the names of “Camera Shy Seniors.” We’d outnumbered the seniors who’d had portraits taken! So there!

    But I don’t feel bad about missing out. Well, not anymore, thanks to a vicarious occasion I call: My Daughter’s Senior Portrait Photo Shoot!

    I’d like to share what I learned:

    📸You need to travel to the photography studio

    Since my daughter’s high school works with a studio, senior portraits are not taken at the school cafeteria. For this photo shoot, we drove over 20 miles/ 32 km to the studio.

    📸You need to arrive at the studio with hair and makeup done

    📸You pay a sitting fee

    The fee you pay varies depending on the type of photo you want: yearbook photo only; yearbook photo and one outfit; yearbook photo and two outfits; and so on.

    📸You wear fake clothes for the standard yearbook picture

    My daughter got a velvet drape Velcro’d to her over her clothes.

    little sister snapped this pic

    📸If you’ve selected an upgraded package, they will take your portrait in graduation gear

    You are fitted with a gown along with a cap and tassel with graduation year. Then they’ll have you hold a leatherette diploma folder that’s gold-leaf embossed with your high school’s name in a fancy font, like Old English

    📸If you’ve selected a further upgraded package, you go to another room with more backdrops

    You can pose in regular clothes to show your personality. I saw some students wearing dance attire or athletic uniforms. One student posed with their pet! My daughter posed with her violin that she’s been playing since she was in middle school.

    📸The entire photo shoot takes about 30 minutes (unless you take the yearbook photo only, in which case, you’re done in 5 minutes)!

    After all the pictures were taken, I thought I’d be directed to another room to pore over sets of digital proofs. I thought I’d be unabashedly gushing over them. I thought I’d be suckered into buying prints of all of them. (And I would because proud mama.)

    But I thought wrong. After all the pictures were taken, the studio said they would send an email with a link to view proofs and purchase prints. How efficient!

    In terms of poses, props, and backdrops, overall, I’d say this senior portrait photo shoot was pretty similar to baby photo shoots they do at shopping mall studios! The only difference is who’s in tears! I’m not crying, you’re crying!

    Wishing the Class of 2020 all the best! 🎓

    Did you take high school senior portraits? Share your experience (and senior portrait, if you’d like) in the comments below!

    Meaningful Photos: a Mindfulness Practice

    Photo collage made with MOLDIV

    Meaningful Photos is one of many science-based practices for a meaningful life curated by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

    For this mindfulness exercise, the how-to states:

    “[Take] 15 minutes per day for one week to take the photos.”

    Instead I did the following:

    From my phone’s camera roll, I selected nine favorite photos that were taken over the past year or so. I figure I hadn’t deleted them for a reason – the photos are meaningful to me!

    So here are my nine photos and my nine answers to the question:

    “What does this photo represent, and why is it meaningful?”

    Top Row:

    Left: This is a picture of the sky over Paris, taken from the Meudon Observatory and Park. It is meaningful because it reminds me that my attitude can make or break my day. People will sometimes say, “It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky” as if clouds were bad/ugly things that mar an otherwise good day. I was feeling pretty good and positive being in Paris, so no amount of cloud cover could get me down!

    Center: This is a picture of my Navigo Découverte transit pass. It is meaningful because it represents freedom. I could tap on and off on various modes of public transportation in Paris. It made me feel like a local and less of a tourist. Plus the lady who sold it to me said the pass was good for 10 years. She told me, “That’s good because you will be back within 10 years!” Did she know something I didn’t? I certainly hope to return to Paris!

    Right: This is a picture of a sunset over Toulouse. It is meaningful because it reminds me that beauty and art are everywhere if you only pay attention. When I snapped this picture, my friend, Rachael, jokingly asked me, “Aren’t there sunsets in California?” Well, of course, but I hadn’t seen a pink sunset from the Pink City of Toulouse, which, for me, doesn’t happen every day!

    Middle Row:

    Left: This is a picture of homemade beef empanadas I made. It is meaningful because it reminds me that the younger me who dreamed of being a pastry chef is alive and well in me!

    Center: This is a picture of me with lavender. It is meaningful because it reminds me to be original. They say, “stop and smell the roses.” Why not say “linger with the lavender?” (Read the health benefits of lavender here.)

    Right: This is a picture of a margarita. It is meaningful because it represents life and fun with family and friends because they give me one for my birthday each year.

    Bottom Row:

    Left: This is a picture of the Louvre WiFi login screen. It is meaningful because it serves as a reminder of how dependent I’ve become on my phone and other electronic gadgets. I was in the world famous museum for goodness’ sake! Yet, there I was — sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor — charging my phone because it didn’t have enough juice for me to take and share pictures of my visit to the Louvre! Had I brought a battery-operated digital camera, I would have had more time to enjoy the museum. In our so-called wireless world, why do we constantly find ourselves tethered to power outlets?

    Center: This is a picture of home from a plane. It is meaningful because it reminds me not to take anything for granted (OMG, oh my gratitude, I am able to travel and on a plane!?!) Also, no matter how wonderful your travels have been, there’s nothing better than your own place with your own bed and stuff at home!

    Right: This is a picture of “This too shall pass” on a crosswalk button. It is meaningful because it reminds me to live in the moment. Don’t worry about the bad moments because they won’t always be bad! Also enjoy the good moments because they won’t last forever either!

    Now it’s your turn. I encourage you to do this Meaningful Photos exercise! If you do, I hope you’ll share your thoughts and reflections!

    Whether or not you snap a photo today, I wish you a good, happy, and meaningful day!

    Why I’m Not Donating Money to Rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral

    A little after 11 o’clock, on the morning of Monday, April 15, I received a text from my Mom. She sent me a picture of her television screen with the message: “Oh my!!! Spire collapsed!!!!”

    a text message from Mom

    I enlarged the image. I couldn’t believe it. Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was in flames. During Holy Week, no less. What does it all mean?

    For the next 15 hours, I was tuned in to France24. During that time, I experienced a bunch of emotions. I was sad as I followed the news intently. Next, I grew concerned: was anyone hurt or trapped inside? Puzzled, I wondered how the fire started. I also felt nostalgic and grateful for the times I visited Notre-Dame.

    Then I feared the worst: that Notre-Dame would burn to the ground and be gone forever. But thankfully that didn’t happen. It suffered major damage to its roof and lost its spire, but Notre-Dame is still there.

    Inside the nave of Notre-Dame (2018)

    On social media, links to organizations collecting donations started to pop up. One after another. Reposted. Retweeted. Repeated.

    But guess what?

    I won’t be donating any money to rebuild it.

    Maybe you’re thinking:

    Say what? Don’t you love everything French? You’re Catholic. Aren’t you supposed to help others?

    I know, I’m surprised at myself, too.

    I just don’t have the heart to donate money to rebuild Notre-Dame because seeing it engulfed in orange and red broke it a little bit. 💔

    It’s not that I don’t believe in supporting worthwhile causes. I do. In fact, I have previously written posts about two that I support. (If you’d like to take a look, read those posts here and here.)

    It’s not that I think Notre-Dame is less important or not important at all. Without a doubt, I have only respect and admiration for all of the people who built the remarkable structure and maintained it throughout the centuries. Not only years, but hundreds of years! That fact blows my mind.

    I believe it’s not cool:

    • for some media to capitalize on, exploit people’s sentimental feelings, and extract money from fans of Notre-Dame/Paris/France when they/we are emotional wrecks at the moment!
    • when there are some people who only do good when it can be seen or when they can be recognized for their generosity. This is Holy Week and a Bible verse comes to mind that roughly means “don’t give oneself credit for providing charity to others; just give and forget about it” (Matthew 6:3).

    For example, some corporations have made huge pledges, which will certainly help expedite the rebuilding of the beloved cathedral. But why be showy about it by disclosing the amount? It feels cheap to me. Can you imagine various corporate logos somewhere on the Notre-Dame of the 21st century? I hope that won’t happen.

    What I’d like to see happen

    In France, cathedrals are owned by the state, not the Catholic Church, so it bears the financial responsibility of repairing and rebuilding it. Since it’s no secret that the Catholic Church is worth billions, in my opinion, the Catholic Church should make a generous charitable contribution to rebuild Notre-Dame. The action would also help repair the Catholic Church’s tarnished reputation.

    Like a gargoyle protecting Notre-Dame’s cultural and historical importance from being watered down and eroded of its sanctity, by not donating, I’m not giving in to cheap, manipulative tactics by some to crowdsource funds.

    There are far wealthier sources. I have faith the Church will do the right thing by making a generous charitable contribution to rebuild Notre-Dame.

    Whether damaged, in the midst of rebuilding, or fully restored, I’m looking forward to experiencing the cathedral again. In the meantime, I’ll be thinking of the hundreds of courageous firefighters who extinguished the blaze and wishing the injured individuals a speedy recovery!

    🕊

    View of Notre-Dame from Vedettes du Pont-Neuf Seine River Cruise (1995)

    Impeccable Royal Manners

    Something that many people don’t know about me is that before I became a self-professed Francophile, I was a bit of an Anglophile and passionate royal watcher!

    This post is an update to my July 1, 2018 post, I’m a Royal Watcher.

    Look what I received today (December 6, 2018):

    For the wedding card I sent them last spring, the Duke & Duchess sent a thank you note along with an apology for the delay. I love their impeccable manners!

    Thank YOU, Harry & Meghan. You’ve made my day!

    A Francophile is Born

    Bonjour! This is my 30th post!

    To celebrate reaching this mini-goal that I’d set for myself when I started this blog about eight months ago (January 2018), I thought it’d be a good idea to go to the very beginning and share my story about how I became a fan of all things French!

    my constant companion in college

    The year was 1985. I was at SFO waiting for a relative’s flight to arrive. To pass the time, I went to one of the many airport shops with the sole intent to buy some Flicks, those chocolate candy disks sold in cardboard tubes.

    Photo: All About the 1970s (at) blogspot

    While in the store, I flipped through some magazines and perused the paperbacks. Then a French-English phrasebook caught my eye. I looked through it and I was entranced.

    • It seemed like many of the letters were not pronounced; lots of silent h’s and t’s
    • Some words had interesting accent marks, like hats over vowels (ô) or a squiggle under the letter c (ç)
    • Many words had the letters q, x, and z in them, which is rare in English
    • And did I mention those fascinating accent marks?

    I was hooked. This new language was like a puzzle I wanted to put together. It was a code I wanted to crack.

    Around the same time, I discovered the music of Corey Hart, one of my all-time favorite singer/songwriters. Although his hits like, Sunglasses At Night and Never Surrender are in English, he was quoted in a teen magazine saying that he was bilingual in English and French since he’s from Montréal, a city in the French-speaking region of Québec, Canada.

    Soon after that, I started watching a new program on PBS, called French In Action. In each episode of the instructional series, characters named Mireille, Marie-Laure, and Robert would act out the grammar lessons in the Capretz Method. It was fun to see all the Parisian sights featured in the episodes, too.

    Photos from IMDb

    It seemed to me that all of these signs were leading me somewhere…I wanted to know more. A Francophile is born! But it wasn’t enough. I decided I wanted to learn how to speak French, too!

    I took my first French class as a freshman in high school. Madame P. had each of us pick a French name, which would be our name while in French class. I picked Catherine (pronounced kat-treen!)

    Several years later, on my first trip to France, imagine my delight as I met my seat neighbor and learned her name was Catherine! She had been working as an au pair and she was returning to Bordeaux. We became fast friends and talked during the entire flight.

    Back to Mme P. … I absolutely adored her: she was an energetic, patient, and kind teacher. As I was preparing to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French (double-major), I sent Mme P. a note (in English) to thank her for inspiring me to continue my French studies. A few days later, I could not contain my tears when I received a note back from her written entirely in French!

    These days, I continue my study of French in less formal ways. For instance, I listen to French pop music, watch French movies with English subtitles, and read French novels and magazines.

    In addition, I have visited a few Francophone places, where I continue to learn stuff they don’t teach you in school. In Montréal, Québec, for example, they use religious symbols as curse words! Who knew a communion wafer could be a profanity! I didn’t know that. Not at all. (Pas du tout. Or should I say, Pantoute!)

    I also feel my Francophilia is spreading to a new generation! When my older daughter was younger, we would have French Fridays and I would teach her basic words and phrases. Today, she is taking advanced French classes in high school and she’s teaching me new vocabulary!

    I also taught my younger daughter some French phrases. If she asked for something without saying please, for instance, I’d gently ask her what the magic word was and she’d reply « s’il vous plaît »! So cute!

    Believe it or not, I am not forcing either of them to learn French. But let’s just say that if they wanted to pursue it, I wouldn’t exactly discourage them either!

    In the same manner that food has the ability to gather people together, I believe language opens the door to a deeper understanding of another culture.

    There is so much to learn, so I am careful not to generalize or believe stereotypes about French people and culture. I feel fortunate that I’ve had opportunities to visit big cities in France, like Paris and Toulouse, as well as her small villages in the countryside. Those unforgettable experiences have helped reinforce my French studies from all those years ago. Without a doubt, those experiences have also piqued my curiosity and appreciation even more.

    I could have studied any other language, but I chose French. Or did it choose me?

    Perhaps it is a mutual affinity, who knows! What I know for sure is that it’s an enduring relationship that began more than three decades ago.

    Thanks for reading my story. Are you a Francophile? Tell me your story! Who/what inspired you to become a Francophile?

    For more information:

    • Corey Hart – Never Surrender (link)
    • Corey Hart – Sunglasses At Night (link) 🕶
    • French In Action series (link)
    • Québécois expressions (link)

    Volunteering in Hérisson, France

    In the summer of 1995, I participated in an international volunteer project in Hérisson, France through CIEE: Council on International Educational Exchange (who partnered with Concordia in France).

    As soon as I got home, I wrote an article about my experience and it was published in the Spring 1997 issue of CIEE’s Student Travels magazine.

    My article had to be edited for length for the magazine, but here is my original article:

    I spent last summer on a group volunteer project in Hérisson, a tiny medieval village in central France. Our goal was to spruce up the town’s 10th-century castle.

    Three weeks is a perfect length of time for a workcamp, the commonly used term for international volunteer projects like the one I participated in. There was no time to be bored. We all made the effort not to waste a single moment we had together.

    Our projects included cutting acacia trees lined up along the road that were blocking the view of the castle, pulling weeds, repainting an old rusted gate, erecting a bench, clearing dead branches from the castle’s rose garden, and clearing ivy from the garden walls.

    We worked Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (8h à 13h), with a half-hour break in the middle.

    There were ten volunteers (ranging in age from 18 to 31) working on the project from, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, and the United States.

    There were two group leaders (animateurs): one leader was from Québec, Canada, and the other leader was from Riom, France. She brought along her dog, Mireille, who became our mascot!

    Accommodations were simple, but adequate. We slept in sleeping bags on cots or mats on the floor in a school cafeteria, where we also cooked and prepared meals.

    We did grocery shopping in nearby Cosne-d’Allier. Each day, two of us took turns cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning the shared living areas.

    In our spare time, my new friends and I played cards and sports, like soccer, and a bowling game called pétanque. We taught each other curse words, tongue twisters, and jokes in our respective languages, sang acapella, and frequented pubs.

    While we usually spoke English (since we were all at different levels of French), I did try speaking French as much as possible with the two group leaders. My French vocabulary improved significantly.

    Weekends were especially great. We visited two other workcamps in Vieure and Néris-les-Bains, went swimming and kayaking in a lake, and attended the annual Bourbonnais gospel concert.

    At a festival in nearby Venas, we saw people folk dancing in traditional Bourbonnais costumes! We saw rope-making demonstrations and how they bake brioche in a brick oven.

    There were also animals wandering freely among us in the plaza. At another festival, we danced in the streets to live music.

    We spent the night inside the Chapelle Saint-Mayeul in Le Brethon after our hike through the Tronçais Forest, which is the largest oak tree forest in Europe!

    When we got back to Hérisson, we helped out with a flea market (antiquités brocante) and I helped direct traffic! It was so much fun helping out with the community event.

    The local community in Hérisson was warm and welcoming. Residents would greet us and ask how we were and how our work was progressing.

    After work each day, some of the residents would give us tours of Hérisson. We visited the town museum, an old mill, and the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Chateloy. We also visited the home of an older woman who made hats and she let us try them on!

    Several community members gave us lots of bottles of wine, homemade baked goods, and jam. Their friendliness made me feel more like a neighbor than a tourist.

    It’s a bit of a cliché, but everyone at my workcamp shared the same hopes, dreams, and fears! We all wanted to have a better understanding of different people and cultures. It was the common goal that brought us all together.

    ©1995 by Darlene 🦔 << Hérisson means hedgehog!

    **

    Note: It appears that CIEE does not offer the international volunteer project program at this time.
    To learn more about other educational exchange programs that they offer, visit their website here. (This post is not sponsored.)