Saturday, November 13

Americans are fat.

Americans are fat.

Let me give you a second to let that settle in.

For years we have been discussing ways to end the obesity epidemic in this country, but none of them have targeted the root cause of our ever-expanding rear ends. America is in need of a serious makeover when it comes to the way we teach our children how to eat. Here's the catch: that change has to come from overweight adults who struggle enough to create a healthy lifestyle for themselves in the age of fast-food family dinners and microwaved...well, everything.

In the past few years, especially during my time in France, I have become fascinated by cultural eating habits. Sometimes I feel like a victim to my country's eating disorder, as it is extraordinarily difficult to change habits, especially those established as a child. I was originally shocked in Paris to find many families didn't own microwaves accompanied by a severe lack of American-like snack foods.

These things quickly grew on me, though, and showed me that it is possible to eat well in 2010. I had also prepared myself for many cultural eating differences by reading books. One in particular, French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano, an insightful look into the classic French lifestyle changed my entire perspective.

During the recent midterm election, I took major notice of one advertisement against a proposed tax on junk foods. The advertisement showed a curvaceous woman pushing a cart full of questionably healthy foods ranting about how the government has no right to tell her how to feed her family (I am paraphrasing horribly).

San Fransisco has pushed to remove toys from kid's meals that do not meet certain health standards. A woman on the news was fuming about how she could make proper choices for her children, and she would be the one to choose whether or not her child received a toy with their meal (which I'm pretty sure was always McDonald's choice anyway).

So, let me get this straight. Americans are extremely fat, much fatter than Europeans. We are clearly making poor decisions about proper lifestyles, but we will not allow anyone to tell us what to eat because "we can make our own choices." Does anyone else see a lapse in logic here?

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, November 6


Honestly, I don't have a theme or anything coherent to say. My brain has been on frazzle mode for the past week trying to stretch myself in various directions for all of my commitments.

What's important though, is that I'm going back to Paris in 11 days! I'm extremely excited to eat croissants and sit on the smelly metro, but I haven't had much time to prepare myself because of previously mentioned commitments. I absolutely must finish this journalism school application before leaving. Yikes. If that doesn't light a fire under me I'm not sure what will.

 Consequentially, my blog is suffering from my lack of spare time. Sorry, kids. At times, having more on your mind makes it more difficult to write, and here I would have thought the craziness would have provided me with endless material!

Though, here's a strange thought: I'm actually enjoying the cooler temperatures. I missed out on a proper Michigan fall last year, and everything from the crunch leaves to the wind gusts makes it feel more like home.

Tuesday, October 26

I'm still 22, damnit.

This past week has gone by so quickly, yet it feels as though so many things have happened. There's been a frost, a wind storm, an early birthday dinner, an emotional breakdown, and a whack on the head with the trunk of a car. A pretty average week in the life of a twenty-two year old, I'd say. And as my last week as a twenty-two year old, I'd prefer making it as typical as possible.

I find years to be more accurately measured from one birthday to the next or one Autumn to the next (if you're uncomfortable with birthdays. In my case they're almost the same) than by measuring a calendar year beginning in January. Because really, who wants to begin their year with the most miserable weather imaginable? Did I mention that I'm from Michigan? Birthdays and Autumn offer a more natural measurement of time passed.

Twenty-two has without a doubt been my best and most unique year yet, though I suppose every year has been that way. I spent the majority of 22 in a foreign country, and honestly, I'm not sure I'd recognize my 21 year-old self if she walked up and said "I'm you from a year ago, fool" (she liked to imitate Mr. T), and that's exactly what I wanted from this past year-- to grow. (On a side note I did see a hilarious commercial in France featuring Mr. T with a French voice. My brain warpped out for a second, unable to comprehend what it had just seen.)

While turning twenty-two in the most beautiful city on earth was definitely more exciting than turning twenty-three in Dexter, Michigan, I'm no less excited about the year to come than I was about the one that has just passed. If that one could exceed my expectations I have no doubt that every year to follow will have the capability to do the same.

So here's to turning 23 and to what I know will become excellent year!

Tuesday, October 19

Designing a Busy Life

Oy vey! Becoming a part of the real world again has been a wonderful experience so far, though I'm sure it's effects will be short lived.

On Monday I woke up at 6:20, the earliest I have been up in months, to prepare for my 1:15 commute to Birmingham for my first day of retraining with Lindamood-Bell, the company I worked for last summer tutoring students with learning disabilities. Birmingham is an adorable town, tres chic, and as I arrived a bit early I had some time to pick up a coffee at Starbucks and gaze in the dark windows at Antrhopologie with coffee stained drool sliding down my chin.

After a few hours of observing consultations, I began to make my way back to Dexter for lunch when I suddenly heard a rattling sound coming from the front right side of the car. Not willing to take chances on my survival, I pulled into the nearest parking lot which was thankfully that of a Panera Bread Co to call my dad and eat a delicious panini.

Turns out there is a whole slew of problems with my car, and I'd rather not imagine what could have become of me had I continued driving it in such terrible condition, but as a consequences for my luck, I had the pleasure of spending the rest of the afternoon sitting in my dad's office reading about retirement plans and playing solitaire on my phone.

Today was pretty great compared to yesterday, as I spent all day in a web designing class tinkering around with html and CSS codes, loving every minute of it. Weird, but I'm glad I enjoy it. Hopefully after taking the next two classes I will feel comfortable making my own site! Stay tuned...

Mom and Alex come home tomorrow from Italy... maybe. They're flying Air France, and if you've been watching the news at all lately my skepticism won't surprise you.

Ugh, sorry for the boring post. My latest writing project has been my memoir of my year abroad so I've been sacrificing my blog child. As we all know, there's just not enough time in a day!

Saturday, October 16

Pretentious Pasta

Thank you, Melissa Aney, for your fancy alliterations that will hopefully bring the masses to read my blog.

"What do you miss the most about France?" is a question I have received multiple times, and I believe I have now spent enough time in America to answer this question in a bullet-pointed list.

  1. People.
    • One in particular, but there is a handful of people that I miss like crazy.
  2. Culture.
    • A general enough topic to include everything from fashion, to eating habits, to public transportation, though I miss a little of it all. It's not so much the food itself that I miss (though I did just ask Kelsy to bring me back a bag of pasta noodles because I prefer the shapes that they sell in France), but the way people eat. Eating is taken seriously, and mealtime is a sacred part of the day. It sounds stupid, but it just doesn't exist like that here in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
    • On several occassions in France I saw two straight men arguing about the order of a menu-- what wine should accompany which course-- and receive no questioning about their sexuality, in the meantime wearing nice shoes and looking you in the eye when they say "cheers".
  3. Knowing that even on a boring, lame ol' day, there is something innately fascinating about my life.
  4. People watching.
  5. Two euro (or less) bottles of wine.
  6. Picnics on the river.
  7. Espresso.
  8. Despite meager wages, my independence.

Thursday, October 14

Fall in Michigan: Photo of the Day

It's been two years since I've seen Fall in Michigan, and it is glorious! The picture doesn't do justice to how beautiful the trees have become. Is it always like this in Michigan in October?

Tuesday, October 12

Living Life on a Treadmill

No amount of ridiculous multitasking can make me feel fulfilled. I knew that when I got back into the American goove I would feel bored, and so I have tried to combat this boredom with taking on ridiculous amounts of work, which has made my innate knack for being too hard on myself kick into full gear when I begin everything and finish nothing. Ok, that's not completely true; I finish plenty of things, but the teenage bully inside of my head likes to tell me that I suck and calls me a dummy. So rude. I am, feeling the quintescential twentysomething sentiment: I have the world at my fingertips and I want to do it all. Right now. I have overloaded myself with things to do and I feel as though I'm running fast on a treadmill, going nowhere.

Doing it all is just a distraction from the fact that I am not loving my current situation. I don't like feeling unproductive, and so I have taken on another J-O-B, my old job, in fact, working with children with learning disabilities, a job that I really enjoyed in the past. It will be nice to get out of the house for work!

Something that I have surprisingly learned is that I love having adult responsibilities like paying rent and utilities and having to do everything for myself. Though, that's not something I would have realized had I not moved home for a while. Thank you, Universe, for sending me a lesson.

Monday, October 4

This should have been my first post.

Sitting in the dining room of an old stone house in Bretagne—the sun had just began to shine for the afternoon, all of the other house guests were taking a nap—I had become inspired in the tranquility of the moment to reflect on the twelve months that I spent in France, a topic that could fill pages that I have attempted to consolidate into a short article.
I’d begin by saying that living abroad was an experience like none other, and say, as many others have, that it is without a fraction of a doubt the best thing that you can ever do with your youthful freedom before becoming tied down by various adult responsibilities; but I won’t do that, because there exists so much more to these months that deserves le mot juste, and I feel patient enough right now to find those perfect words.
I’ll throw out some adjectives. My time in France was eclectic, wonderful, educational, painful, lonely, empowering, depressing, expensive, frightening, boring, life-changing, stressful, and at times horrible. I mean, honestly, you could look up any adjective in the English language and it would apply. But that’s what being in a foreign place did for me; it put me in a place where even when I felt excruciating emotional pain, I could somehow feel proud of feeling that pain in such a beautiful place. Being troubled in Paris is a lot more poetic than being troubled in Hicksville, U.S.A.  Look at it this way: you get to look at great shoes and cool architecture while feeling sad. A Nutella crêpe doesn’t hurt, either.
I made a decision long before venturing on my French journey that in my life I want to live with the highest highs and the lowest lows. I want to know what it’s like to feel disabling pain so that I can better appreciate what a gift every day is. (On a side note, it is amazing how easy it is to forget pain once it has passed, which is why I believe we are to experience it many, many, many times in life).  Experiencing these highs and lows does not necessarily mean living in extremes. It means taking risks; going outside of your comfort zone to test your limits, like moving to France or eating liver paté for the first time.
I would find any other way of living extremely boring, which is why despite how much I try to keep myself occupied as a repatriated American, I still somehow feel unfulfilled. It was by taking a risk and living in France that I have learned that I can fluently speak a foreign language if I try hard enough, that I’m a control freak, that I hate receiving advice and criticism from others, that I someday want to become a teacher, that I actually like seafood and children (two things I had always condemned), that I am extremely proud to be an American citizen, that there is no perfect place on earth, to be happy in the moment, to be flexible, and to get along with people from an extraordinary range of backgrounds… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… Life is hard. That’s what makes it so wonderful.
There is nothing more interesting than constantly being around people who are not like you… though at the same time you realize that all humans, no matter where they come from, have certain inalienable human qualities, and therefore you will always have something in common with the most unlikely of individuals. Though we may eat or drink differently, and we may differ in what we consider “good taste”, all people need to eat, sleep, and love. Sometimes it’s amazing how similar we actually are.
And here I am saying the things that sound so cliché, but I suppose it’s because they are so true. If you’re feeling bored or stuck it’s probably because you need an adventure. Though I have only lived for 23 years, I have done nothing that I am more proud of than living for one year in a foreign country, and nothing more confusing than moving back to the one I’m from.

Here’s to a new chapter in which I will undoubtedly learn some new lessons… hopefully not the ones I already have. I believe George W. Bush said it well when he said “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame… shame on…the fool can’t be fooled again.”

Thursday, September 30

Workin' off that starch

Now, I don't want to jinx myself, because, after all, I am quite proud of this, but in desperation to escape the doldrums of feeling as though my life is going backwards, I have inspired myself enough to begin frequent exercise.

Well, I suppose one could also attribute my sudden motivation to my father having signed me up to run a 5k race this Sunday which will finish quite triumphantly on the 50 yard line of The Big House, aka the closest I will ever be to football greatness (which was surprisingly never one of my great dreams).

Dreams. Speaking of dreams, my brother woke up this morning, came downstairs, took the orange juice out of the refrigerator and while engulfed in his pouring technique said "Hey, I had a dream you died."

I responded with a confused "good morning".

I digress.

Not only did my brother find me alive this morning, but he found me alive, and in the best physical shape I've been in the past four years. Unfortunately, I think we all know what four years of college in Siberia (Grand Rapids, Michigan) can do to a girl.

And seriously, the only advice I received before beginning college about the holy freshman 15 was from my lovely aunt Susan when she said "Stay away from the potatoes. It's the starch that gets ya."

After living through four years of college life I believe I can safely say that it was not the starch that got me.

On the bright side, a year in France seriously overhauled my eating habits. I have learned to take meal times more seriously, and because of this I do not find myself snacking... ever. I had been one of those girls who takes the advice of "eat small meals throughout the day" as "eat whatever the hell you want all day long", and let me tell you. The small-meals-throughout-the-day thing may work in theory, but it did certainly not work in my manipulative hormone-fueled brain.

While in Paris, without any supplementary exercise to my usual strolls to, from, and all over the metro, I actually lost five pounds this summer. Yep, I'm the chick who lost five pounds without trying.

It's now been a whole month since I returned state-side, and since week two I have been exercising four to five days a week. I feel great!

Not that you care (though maybe you do if you have made it this far through my blabbing), but I think the reasons for my success are the following:
  1. Imagining my glory moment running across the 50 yard line in the Big House.
  2. Knowing that I've never run a 5k in over 30 minutes and I don't want to start down the dangerous path of accepting a slower time.
  3. Varying my workout. Running is SO boring, so I run on the treadmill, outside, and also do some video cardio when running sounds like the last thing I'd want to do.
If anything what I've realized through this is that there really no time like the present. Or, as I really think of it, running will always suck, so I might as well start doing it now because it's only going to become suckier if I wait. Right?

Wednesday, September 29

God wants me to have these shoes, no?

Hey, guys, guess what?
Yep, bought 'em. Figured it was like a sign from the universe or somethin', right? Or is it that I subconsciously chose my future shoes to be something that somewhere deep down I knew was already in style this season?

Sunday, September 26

Goat Cheese Tart

On Thursday I made a Barefoot Contessa goat cheese tart for my mom and I to eat for dinner. Let me say, it was delicious! So delicious, in fact that I made it again tonight for dinner.

Motivation for making this yum-o dinner stemmed from the fact that finding appetizing foods to eat has been one of the more difficult things for me since I got back Michigan. Before returning, I had made a mental list of all of the comfort foods that I wanted to eat. 

Well, I'm here to say that I tried all of them-- fried chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches, Wendy's, Arby's, the works, and I haven't found one of them that tastes as good now as it did a year ago, au contraire, I personally find feeling like a grease bomb after I eat to be an unpleasant sensation, but to each their own!

Humph... I guess it's time to learn to cook, though as I mentioned in my entry about the grocery store, even cooking has its challenges because the ingredients themselves can't even compare. Maybe I should channel Julia Childs?

You can find the recipe by going to this site, though I did change mine a little. I give it 5 stars!

Thursday, September 23

Blue Suede Shoes

Despite year-old late fees hanging over my head (whoops, I accidentally stole some dvds before moving to France!), the library has become my escape from self-inflicted house arrest these past weeks. I officially began working on my project for google on Monday, and while I find it fabulous, it involves quite a bit of sitting, clicking, and staring at the computer.

During my past trip to the good ol' Dexter Library I stumbled upon a book titled "My Reality Check Bounced" by Jason Ryan Dorsey, and I had to give it a once over. By doing so I learned that this self-improvement book is aimed towards lost twentysomethings in search of hope (which we are far too young to lose!).

The book caught my immediate attention. While this is without a doubt a thrilling life stage, I can't help but to feel a bit without direction during my first year of unstructured American adulthood. It's completely overwhelming.

So, I checked out the book, learned about my year-old late fees, and tripped over myself while walking out of the building because I couldn't even put the book down while making my exit. I knew I had scored both because I had found a great read and because I probably looked awesome stumbling around in the doorway.

The book discusses defining your "future picture", the image that you see of yourself when you imagine your life at your absolute happiest. Now, being the future-obsessed girl I have always been, I figured that I would breeze past this challenge. Instead, the questions really made me zero in on the details of that image. One of the questions was something like "What shoes do you see yourself wearing to work in your future picture?"
Surprisingly I knew exactly what I saw: blue suede pumps. Apparently I imagine myself living in some psychadelic decade. Silly as it may seem, by imagining this detail of my future life, I have realized that at this point, my real checks would bounce if I purchased these dream shoes, and I have a lot of work to do in order to reach that point.

This book has really made an impact on me, and I feel more inspired than ever to throw myself into creating my ideal future, but there just isn't enough time in a day... even when you spend the day watching talk shows and "The Biggest Loser" marathons (though my new television obsession happens to be "Bethanny Getting Married").

If I take baby steps to achieving my goals rather than attempting to make it all happen at once they will become more realistic. My baby steps are the following:

  1. Write something for my blog every day, even if it's only a brainstorm or a draft.
  2. Complete a creative writing prompt every day from the book The Write Brain, by Bonnie Neubauer (a fantastic book for anyone in a creative writing rut or just looking for inspiration).
  3. Spend time every day working on my current article-in-progress.
But out of intense curiosity I am going to throw the question back at all of you: What shoes do you see YOURSELF wearing to work in your future picture? Please leave me a comment with your response!

Wednesday, September 22

An Ode to Smart Phones

Smart Phone Saves A Trip to Chi-Town

Last weekend I made the trek with a few friends, new and old, to Chicago for a reunion with other friends from Paris and from high school. It was a fabulous time!

As dorky as it may sound, I believe that this weekend trip really helped me to rebond with America, and now we can be homies again. I realized that it's really unpleasant to constantly battle with the country you live in, though the cheese is still giving my digestive system a run for its money.

Imperfections exist everywhere, like in Michigan City, Indiana, for example. Apparently it was too difficult for the Northern Indiana Commuter Train system to post online that they would shut down several of their stations over the weekend, including the one we needed. We did not discover this rather vital information until parking, buying round-trip tickets, and waiting at the tracks for a few minutes. Ultimately 21st century cell phone technology came to our rescue to find our route to Gary, Indiana, home of the Music Man song, Michael Jackson, and a boatload of drunks at 3pm.

Only evidence of the trip, though not enough to prove I was in Chicago.

It was absolutely necessary to feel like an explorer in my own country again, something I realized while gazing out of the dirty train window. The midwest is not beautiful, or full of intellectuals, but I remember a time when riding that commuter train into Chicago felt like such an adventure. It was at this moment that I could really appreciate everything I have already done, while at the same time feeling like a complete stranger.

Smart Phones and the Pursuit of Happiness

So in the past three weeks Courtney has learned that while she believes in minimalism and frugality, no one wants to spend the age 22 being bored and restless. What did she do? She bought an iPhone.

I had this idea that moving home would allow me to continue a lifestlyle of limiting every expense possible. I wouldn't spend money on rent, I would limit my driving to save money on gas, and despite this impossible frugality I would somehow be marvelously happy spending my days with the dog and my nights watching television. This was very wrong. I hope I have learned my lesson.

As of tomorrow afternoon I hope to be the proud owner of an iPhone 4, a present I bought for myself because, well, I wanted it. Accepting the fact that some material goods can make me happy was hard, because I now have to accept that my life is going to be expensive. Whose isn't?

A Big Thank You (And Not to Smart Phones)

In the past few years writing has become a huge part of my life, so much so, in fact, that I would like to pursue writing as a career. I really have to thank all of you that have been reading my blogs, my main writing outlet, and giving me such positive feedback! It means the world to me, and because of that I am asking of you to keep me going mentally by becoming an official follower of my blog and leaving me some comments if you have the time!

I am making a promise right now that I am going to start writing daily, and moral support from all of you would help me reach my goal!

Thursday, September 16

Grocery Shopping

Last week my mom handed me her debit card, entrusting me to do the weekly grocery shopping. I had no qualms.

That is, I had no qualms until I arrived at the grocery store, a place I have enjoyed since I worked out my own grocery shopping system when I started college. Apparently these were habits that a year in Paris would have no trouble erasing. I have gone from grocery shopping aficionado to confused European girl in just twelve short months.

From my first steps into the store the experience overwhelmed me, beginning with produce. You don't realize how automated your actions are until you begin doing the wrong thing in the wrong place. I, for example, after putting some what I would consider to be enormous Roma tomatoes into a baggy, spent thirty seconds looking around for a scale to weigh them before I remembered that in America, the customer doesn't have to weigh the produce. Grocery store 1, Courtney 0. (And might I add that the potatoes were as big as my head? Is that normal?)

I had intentions of buying a log of goat cheese until I glanced at the prices and realized it would cost me an hour's worth of work to buy some stinkin' cheese (pun not intended). Do we not have goats in America?

Regardless, I moved on to find my new addiction, fatty yogurt, something I knew would become a challenge for me to find in light n' fit obsessed America. Its funny; I remember observing the teachers' lunch hour at the school where I worked last October and noting in my Courtney in France blog how synchronized everyone's yogurt habits appeared. Seriously, everyone at yogurt after lunch for desert. And, well, a year later I have lost all resistance to the fatty delight, but have learned to continue my yogurt-eating obsession by introducing plain Greek yogurt into my diet. It's geographically close enough, right?

So an hour later I was ready for checkout (and don't worry, I bought more than fatty yogurt and giant potatoes). I ignorantly believed that my adventure was over, unaware that it had only just begun. Here were my first impressions of the checkout process:

  1. Why is there a wall of low quality but ridiculously tempting chocolate staring at me? 
  2. Please, someone get that poor checkout woman a wheely-chair! She must be exhausted standing on her feet while swiping people's giant potatoes all day! And look at that hustle!
  3. Wait, now why is the checkout woman smiling and chatting with me about my purchases? I don't have time for this, I need to get down to the end of the checkout line to bag my...
  4. What?! There's actually an employee whose sole job is to put my things into bags, and they actually give me a preference as to what type of bag... this is phenomenal. 
And when that was all said and done, I could just roll my purchases out in a cart, throw them in the car and drive them home, which cut out the part of grocery shopping where I was constantly concerned about how many liquids to buy because I wouldn't be able to carry them home (which ended up being a nice bicep workout). 

Thursday, September 9

Welcome Back

“Welcome back” is what the customs officer told me after I showed him my passport at the JFK airport.
I was happy to feel welcomed into my country, but the words cut through me, their sharpness forcing me to face the reality that I was now physically in the United States. My mind hadn’t made it yet and was somewhere in limbo over the Atlantic Ocean.
First impressions? You’re not going to be thrilled, nor surprised. Americans are an enormous, babbling, cheeseburger-eating, and poorly dressed species who have nothing to say but insist on constantly making conversation with everyone they meet. The stereotypes are true.
Whew, it feels good to get that sentiment out there.
I must add that the first thing I did after finding my gate at the airport was to buy a cheeseburger at Wendy’s.   American blood runs thick, but the sandwich was slightly disappointing.  
The JFK airport was loud. It was loud to the point where I couldn’t concentrate on finding my terminal on the “Departures” screen because I felt like everyone around me was infiltrating my brain with their personal conversations, their voices echoing in my brain like nails on chalkboard. There’s nothing worse than being able to understand what everyone around you is saying when you'd prefer not to. I actually started to cry, which might also have been due to fatigue, loneliness, hunger, and a desire to see my family.
The first week back has been fun, I’m not going to lie, but I’m also not going to sugar coat the fact that I feel resistant to assimilating back into this culture, and I hope that the people around me can understand. I didn’t spend a year in Paris to come back here and fit in. Excusez-moi.
After the first night in my own bed, I woke up, shuffled to the bedroom door, opened it, and lost my equilibrium. This door is ENORMOUS! Seriously, it is. And later, when I cleaned my ears the exact same thought ran through my head about the Q-tips. Then again when I sat on the couch, drove a car, ate a meal, watched TV, and people-watched at a Subway restaurant. Everything is bigger in… America.
So here I am after a week’s worth of initiation into the country of processed food, patriotism, political ads, peanut butter, and dreams. I plan to maintain my introspective writing skills in tip-top shape by continuing my blogging about my experiences as an expatriate on the journey of repatriation. Hope you’re not sick of me yet!