On the Island of Vieques

sunset on beach with palm trees

black beach vieques

That photo above? Yeah, that’s what I like to call a Fraulein Maria moment. Something that makes you stop and think, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”

That’s how a trip to Vieques feels.

vieques beach

Vieques is an hour and a half ferry ride from the city of Fajardo. The cost of the ferry is something like two or three dollars per person. If traveling on a busy weekend and need to catch a specific ferry for the day, you will want to arrive early, to be sure you secure yourself a ticket. This is also the same place you’d catch the ferry to Culebra, a different island (which I have yet to visit!). If you struggle with seasickness, you could also take a short flight for around $30.

According to the Internet,* Vieques is located 8  miles east of the main island of Puerto Rico, has a local population of 9,301, and thrives on tourism. Logical, since it’s beautiful. You can spend your days beach-hopping, snorkelling, and sampling delicious fried food (try not to feel too guilty about it while you’re there, okay?). There’s also a bioluminescent bay, which we must return for. The island was also home to the former U.S. navy base, leaving parts of the island looking a bit like a scene out of Lost, bunkers and all.

There are two main towns on the island. The first you’ll see is Isabel II. (The other is Esperanza. Those photos are at the end). To travel freely around the island, it’s convenient to rent a jeep. You might think they rent jeeps simply so that you feel cool, but you actually need them to access certain beaches and areas.

isabella II

isabella ii

A sight for sore eyes, huh? We stayed here, at Tropical Guest House. The rooms were clean and the breakfast was cheap, but the friendly staff is what makes the place special.

vieques guest house

vieques

After checking into the hotel, we decided to grab something to eat at El Resuelve and then start our afternoon of beach-hopping.

vieques food

The beach-hopping was a little harder than we bargained for. I mean, who really wants to say goodbye to a beach like this:

caracas beach vieques

caracas beach vieques

Yes, that’s me wearing a shirt on the beach. Uh, I live in Montreal and it’s winter here. I’m not asking for a burn. I did lose the shirt for a while, okay?

caracas beach vieques

Oh, hey there, Jordan…

caracas beach vieques

Oh, hey there, super white sand…

caracas beach vieques

Because we’re suckers for large waves, we headed over to the rougher side of the beach. I was definitely taken out more than once by forces of nature.

caracas beach vieques

caracas beach vieques

Once the guys also tired of wave jumping/falling, they set to work. Serge has a [top-secret] contraption that he uses to engage in a hobby which Jordan [geekily…sorry, pal] referred to as the “original form of remote sensing.”

A kite with a camera. The results are impressive.

This go ’round, there was a hitch. From the other side of the beach, we saw the kite sink into the tree line. Oops! Look closely at this tree. Really closely.

caracas beach vieques

There is a person in there. Serge had to scale the tree to untangle his kite and the camera.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a little confused about what was happening. Nora and I were convinced that there was a fine on the horizon for the coconuts which happened to, um, fall out of the tree while Serge was untangling things.

caracas beach vieques

They were a little too green to be too tasty, but was still a nice treat later in the afternoon.

Turns out, the park ranger was more curious as to why it looked like these two tourists were “fishing in the wrong direction.” Kite line looks an awful lot like fishing line, I guess.

The kite lived to fly again.

caracas beach vieques

After packing up here, we headed toward La Playa Negra, or the Black Beach, which was recommended by the woman working at reception at the TGH.

It takes a wee bit of hiking to reach the beach, but it is worth it. The trail is not difficult (actual a stream bed), but you might struggle avoiding gifts from the free-roaming horses along the path.

vieques horses

They could maybe use a nice brushing, but hey, they’re wild.

black beach vieques

After about ten minutes of strolling, you’ll start to see some of that sea again.

black beach vieques

So, at first, when looking left, it only looks like there are black streaks for sand.

black beach vieques

But then you walk to the right.

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

I was busy doing a bit of sandcastle pirate flag building.

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

It wipes off just like sand, I promise.

black beach vieques

While at this beach, we only came across about four other people. By the time the sunset came, we were on our own. It’s worth re-posting…

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

The sun on one side, the moon on the other…

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

In the evening, we ate at La Gran Parada. I had the mero, which I now know means grouper. (The French word is similar also, so now I know it in two languages). I enjoyed my meal, but the coconut sauce was a bit sweet by the end. Good meal, though, and cheaper than some other options in the island.

The next day, we woke early, enjoyed breakfast at the TGH, and then headed by the lagoons, snapping photos of mangroves for JLong, and then stopped for some snorkelling at Punta Arenas.

vieques jeep

vieques mangroves

vieques mangroves

Again, there were not many people at the beach, but there were a few critters on the look out for tourists. I snapped a couple photos of plants before heading to the access point.

vieques

Check this out!

vieques orchid

Thankfully, we had three snorkelling masks, so with a rotation, all of us were able to do some exploration. Jordan and I are definitely newbies when it comes to viewing underwater nature, so when we even small fish at the very beginning, we were content. Our companions were a bit more experienced, though, knowing what to look for and where to look for them.

black beach vieques

vieques

We saw large schools of fish and even a sting ray. Ahh!

Before leaving, we ventured toward Esperanza for some beach food. And I couldn’t resist snapping just a few more photos.

vieuqes

vieques

vieques

We had to face reality and head toward the ferry for the return trip. We were a bit early, so strolled again in the streets of Isabel II.

vieques

You know, Jordan and I had talked about how neither of us were really “lay on the beach” kinds of travellers. I like museums, hiking, food travel, architecture, etc. But I think we’re slowly converting.

The idea of scuba diving still kind of creeps me out, but even seeing what lurks beneath the surface with a snorkelling mask is quite impressive. I also find it fun to take photos when the scenery is begging to be photographed.

So, while we’re still not lounge on the beach while tanning and sipping umbrella drinks kind of people (okay, if you forced me to drink something delicious with rum in it, I might acquiesce), I am definitely not opposed to vacation filled with enjoying an easy read to the sound of the waves, snorkelling, taking photos, drinking coconut water for a fraction of the supermarket price, or even flying kites.

Beaches aren’t so bad, really.

vieques

*************

*The Internet being the Wikipedia page for Vieques.

Puerto Rico, Take 2

Remember when I went to San Juan at the end of 2012? Golly, it was lovely. So when Jordan found himself taking a quick trip there earlier this month, I was more than happy to let him search for an affordable ticket for his wife. And find it he did. Faced with the decision of spending seven days in snow-covered Montreal with no regular-session classes at work (classes resume this week) or spending seven days wandering in 75 degree weather in the Caribbean, I made the obvious choice.

san juan 2014

We flew into San Juan in the evening and were greeted by a friendly, familiar face. We were taxied to our friend’s place. We were greeted with pizza and Medalla [the local brew]. This friend, by the way, is the kind of friend that everyone should have. She might get sick of us, but if she does, she doesn’t show it. I promise that we don’t take your hospitality for granted, Nora!

old san juan

The next couple days, along with the following week’s weekdays, Jordan went to university to work, discuss, you know, whatever it is that they do there. I made a point to explore on my own. I managed the train and the bus system. Funny how I still feel like this is a huge accomplishment every time I do this in a new city. Of course, at the first opportunity, I returned to Old San Juan, which I so adored photographing. I snacked on a mallorca, which is a Puerto Rican pastry that is sure to leave you covered in powdered sugar, and sipped on coffee in the plaza. I also headed to the Café Poetico for an afternoon stout. I learned a bit more about Puerto Rican history this time than last, thanks to the Museo de las Americas and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Both are super worth the small admission fees. I also made a stop for a bit of tortilla and a very indulgent dessert at Kasalta.

san juan 2014 san pedro's cafe

Monday and Tuesday, I mostly drank more caffeine, read near the pool or the beach. I did visit the same cafe twice in one day: Hacienda San Pedro. I flipped when I saw the prices. The coffee was so good and so affordable. Tourists, please stop paying three times the price for sub-par coffee drinks at that chain you’re oh-too-familiar with. I also took a guided stroll near the university, as Serge [Nora’s s.o.] led me to a few places with wonderful street art. San Juan is teeming with it. [More of it at the end of the post]

san juan street art

As always, hope you enjoy the photos 😀

san juan 2014

san juan 2014

san juan 2014

san juan 2014

old san juan 2014

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan street art

puerto rico street art

san juan street art

We fled the main island on the weekend, heading for Vieques. Those photos are too plentiful and beautiful to add into this post. I’ll be sure to post soon enough, I promise.

Getting Started With a New Language

Because I’m constantly trying to convince my family that they should join my in learning French (how fun would it be to speak with my family!), I am sometimes asked questions about where they can get started. This makes me super happy because then I know they’re considering it! How great would it be to share a coffee with my sisters in French (or the somewhat broken French we’d be speaking).

mosaiculture

Below are some of the resources I recommend for anyone who asks me who how they can get started or dabble in a language. Some of these are great if you just want to learn a little bit about what the language sounds like.

Getting Started

  • Your local library! My former workplace offers Mango (over twenty languages) free of charge for library card holders. Many other public libraries offer web resources, CDs, movies, and books for language learners.
  • When I was spending some time commuting in our last month or so before leaving Tennessee, I used a French-in-your-car method to get used to some new pronunciation. There’s no one to hear you putting on an exaggerated accent. I used the one that my library had available, but if you’re going to put some money into them, maybe check out some of the reviews.
  • DuoLingo: This is my top suggestion for complete newbies. It’s free, lets you speak, write, read, and listen. There’s a great application you can use on a tablet or mobile device, but the website works great, too. Feel free to add me (I’m LeMoine!)
  • Busuu.com: Similar toDuoLingo, but with a bit more of a social networking feel. I enjoyed using the Premium Version back in the day, but it is only available for a trial period of seven days. After that, you can still access many free lessons, but with a more limited scope. At that point, I think you’re better off returning to DuoLingo. Unless you have more spending money than me.
  • Netflix.com: If you’ve got internet at home and are trying to learn a language, you should pay the 6.99 monthly to access videos in your target language. Okay, this maybe only applies for French, English, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, Portuguese, Italian, and German. I can attest that you’ll have plenty of Spanish and French material.
  • Radio Lingua Resources: If you’re digitally inclined and can download the iPods and then listen to these in your car, I would recommend them over the typical learn-in-your-car courses. Each class is about 15 minutes, and they start from zero. They do not have every language, but if you’re in the market for French, Spanish, German, Italian, or ESL, you’re in luck.

Once You’ve Gained Some Momentum

Depending upon how dedicated you are, you’re probably going to want to expand from those resources after a few months. If for no other reason than you might get bored with the language if you don’t actually interact in the language with another human being. Now you can start concentrating even more on language used in real life contexts.

  • Conversation Exchange Website: This have been an enormous blessing for me while in Montreal. I’ve met some really great people who are committed toward learning a new language while helping me learn mine. For face to face meet-ups, this is more helpful if you live in a large city, but if you’re looking for chat/Skype practice, you will be able to find a partner as well.
  • Again, check your library! What your library offers is going to depend on where you’re located, but many libraries offer some sort of ESL or foreign language classes. The Friends of the Library in Montreal offers French conversation courses for beginners, intermediates, and advanced learners.
  • MeetUp: If you live in a bigger city, you might find some like-minded people who are interested in practicing, too.
  • Netflix.com: Keep watching movies to listen to how native speakers interact with one another.
  • Internet Reading: Find newspapers, children’s books, or ebooks in the target language. You can read children’s books online at the International Children’s Digital Library in several languages, find newspapers published where they speak your target language, or online e-books in your target language.

I hope this resources will help you get started in your search. Soon, my family and I will be chatting over coffee in whatever language I badger them into learning!

 

How to Survive your Spouse’s or S.O.’s PhD Comprehensive Exams

The husband recently became a PhD candidate!

How is this different than a PhD student?

The comprehensive exams (usually referred to as simply “comps”).

He passed. I’ve got to tell you, I was probably happier than he was.

Back during my SDSU Briggs Library days, I worked for a wonderful woman named Ellen. She had a husband who was a geography professor (you can see that she and I had more than one thing in common, huh?). Since she worked full-time during the academic year, she wasn’t always able to join her husband for geography conferences (which I know may sound nerdy, but are actually extremely fun to attend even as a non-geographer). During this time, she referred to the spouses of geographers who were left behind as “geography widows.”

The month of November and part of the month of December had left me feeling like a “PhD student widow” or a “geography widow.” But alas, the caterpillar student went into hibernation, returning with his candidate wings. Too much? Yeah, probably….

Anyway, I know there’s a lot of advice out there on how to do well on the actual exam, but who is thinking about the poor spouses and significant others in this situation?!

I made up my mind that I would limit our conflicts during this month and make a conscious effort to be supportive. That said, I didn’t want my entire month and a half to revolve around the proper way to tiptoe around my own apartment. This is my advice on how the rest of us get through “their” month of distress.

  • Limit your teasing of his/her research perch in your home. They may arrange a strange sort of fort in the living room. They may look hilarious in their workstation. But I promise there will be time to tease them about it later.
  • Don’t plan events. Sure, you may want to have people over to make you feel like [U.S.] Thanksgiving is an actual holiday. Don’t. And if you feel like complaining about it, just spoon more sweet potatoes into your mouth.
  • Call or text all of your friends to schedule chats over coffee. Yep, those coffee shops were inviting. I stayed out of his hair as much as possible.
  • Find something to dedicate yourself to for a month. I amped up my French practice a bit. I started taking some semi-formal lessons a couple times a week during the month. We were also in the middle of our “Only Eat Homemade Bread” challenge, which let me focus on yeast and what not.
  • Accept that this is a “giving” month. And find a way to make the best of it. I knew Jordan wasn’t going to be helping with much of the cooking for a while. So I took this as an opportunity for me to explore new foods I liked. If I have to be solely responsible for a task during one month, I might as well make it fun.
  • Ask them how their day was. Even though you can pretty much guess. Every time I returned home during the month of essays, I tentatively said hello, gauging his reaction. If there was only a head nod, I kept more to myself. If he seemed stir-crazy and happy to see a person, I took the opportunity to chat.
  • Prod them to take a break when they look frustrated. Prod them to get back to it when they seem to be wasting valuable time. They will thank you for this later.
  • Let things slide. Sure, it’s frustrating when your spouse [hypothetically, of course] uses all of your monthly internet data to download large amounts of satellite imagery. You [again, hypothetically, of course] want to stream things online, benefit from that Netflix plan you have, but just can’t because there are still 16 days left and you only have 11 GB left…But it’s okay. It’s just one month. He or she did not [hypothetically] do it on purpose.
  • When/if the oral exam is pushed back, don’t cry. Be strong. Remember that the vulnerable student needs you to be strong. Again, just an “if”scenario here…
  • Celebrate according to their wishes. The husband is an introvert. So I knew that a three-hour oral exam was going to wear him down a bit. A huge party would not be his thing. Cake and Breaking Bad episodes were what the doctor doctoral student ordered.

meringue cake

Now, gently remind them how helpful you were the next time you don’t feel like cooking, even though it’s your turn.

********

In all seriousness, nice job, Jordan. It wasn’t so bad. But I’m happy neither of us have to do it again.

The Holiday Season in Quebec | Les Fêtes au Québec

holidayfoodphotos

Good evening all. Merry [late] Christmas and Happy [also late] New Year! Or, er, I mean Joyeuses Fêtes ! I hope that your holidays have been all that you were hoping. This year, as I mentioned in the previous post, marks our second holiday season in Québec. Last year, we had a good time, trying our own hand at making a bûche de Noël (yule log) for Christmas day and dancing in the New Year at Montreal’s Old Port.

Since last year, I’ve gotten to know much more about Québec and the holiday traditions. That is not to say that we have been able to partake in all of these traditions, but you know I do my best, right? Also, clearly having only been here a year and a half makes me no expert. Still I’d like to share a bit about our holidays with you. New Years Eve Montreal Old Port

Comparatively speaking, the traditions here are not so different from what we are used to, but there are many things that are new to us as well. The first main difference you might notice as person from the U.S. is that since Thanksgiving is in early October here (and really not very important at all–people are just thankful for the day off), there is no “Respect the Turkey” campaign. By that I mean that the Christmas carols, the egg nog and gingerbread lattés, and the Christmas lights arrive in early/mid-November in force.

McGill Christmas Lights Montreal

And although Thanksgiving isn’t in November, the concept of Black Friday (vendredi noir) is beginning to catch on here. No, it’s nowhere near as crazy. Traditionally, it doesn’t exist here, but as the shopping day fiasco was starting to draw Quebecois shoppers across the border, stores have needed to compete by offering some large discounts near home. Now, at first thought, this seems like a shame, right? I mean, I apologize sincerely to anyone I offend here (I know there are many out there who see Black Friday as a shopping day for family bonding), but I am not on board. I prefer slipping in a morning of deer hunting before snacking on Thanksgiving leftovers and putting up the Christmas tree with family members. And because I take my baking a bit seriously as of late, I also see Black Friday as the day when I prepare oodles of cookies for the upcoming parties. But after talking with people here, I understand why it isn’t as sad to lose in the battle against Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving just another Thursday, never really held significance to begin with. Yes, you can still argue that the over emphasis on the commercialization of Christmas is a problem…I’ll grant you that.

sourdough xmas tree

Aside from the season seeming to start a bit earlier than in the States, the holiday season continues on in a very similar fashion to what you might expect. The Catholic Churches will offer Christmas concerts, the [newly-opened] Target will play Mariah Carey throughout the store, the snow will fall…and fall….and fall again. The shopping crowd picks up tempo up until the 24, and all of your favorite cafés will offer holiday versions of your favorite caffeinated beverages.

I really did enjoy having reasons to traipse around some of the larger office buildings in the downtown area (for work). If you’re into holiday decorations, it’s worth popping into some of these places (you can avoid the cold for the most part if you use the underground network) to view the huge illuminated wicker bells and [sometimes tasteful, sometimes hilariously tactless] electronic garlands.

Luminotherapie Quartier des Spectacles Montreal

Speaking of decorations, we have made it a [two-year] tradition, to make an early December trip to visit Place des Arts to stroll through the Luminothérapie installations with an egg nog latté in hand. They are installed in mid-December and let you pretend that you enjoy the snow. By the way, when ordering that egg nog latté here, be sure to giggle at the name you use when ordering it: latté au lait de poule (literally translates as hen’s milk latté). Love it!

entre les rangs installation

I assure that I was back since the snow has fallen (but just haven’t been back with camera in hand).–>

Although for the most part you will hear the same Christmas carol melodies you’ve heard all of your life, you won’t necessarily be able to sing along. Often, with newer songs [of the Santa Baby ilk], the lyrics will be in English, but with more traditional songs, like Jingle Bells and Oh, Christmas Tree, the lyrics you’ll hear will often be in French. This is even true for I Saw Mama Kissin’ Santa Claus, otherwise known as J’ai vu maman embrasser le père Noël. Have a listen to these French version of the two aforementioned carols.

Personally, watching Christmas movies is one of my favorite parts of the season. Jordan’s completely against watching Home Alone and/or Elf one more time. Thankfully, my students were not! I’ve done some asking around for any Quebecois Christmas movie suggestions. Generally, people mention Mon Oncle Antoine (My Uncle Antoine), a classic even when not in the mood for a Christmas movie and La Guerre des Tuques (The Dog that Stopped the War). The first two can be found on YouTube…not sure how long that will last since I’m sure it’s against copyright, but still fun for me. Unfortunately, no subtitles, so you’ll probably want to understand un petit peu de français to enjoy them. Or rent them from iTunes–you can typically find them with subtitles there.

As shocking as this may be (sarcasm, indeed), Québec doesn’t play along with ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas, but this doesn’t mean that there are not plenty of Christmas-programming-filled airwaves in December. The cake-taker is Télé-Québec’s Ciné-Cadeau filled with some of the classics, such as Astérix et Obélix (which I’ll admit was new to me this year…you should have seen all the jaws I made drop in disbelief...but Cassandra?!, it’s been translated into over 60 languages, why haven’t you seen it?!) and Les Aventures de TinTin. When I ask (only for the sake of making English conversation, of course) what I should be watching during December, most students simply reply with Ciné-Cadeau. That said, Radio-Canada (Ciné-fête) does a nice job playing a mix of dubbed movies like A Christmas Carol and The Father of the Bride along with French-language films during the break to keep all little French-learners like yours truly happy while off from classes.

christmas party

Our work holiday parties, and those I’ve heard about through my students, seem to fall in line with what I would expect from typical holiday parties in the States. Generally, the classier the place you work, the classier the party. Co-workers sometimes have department parties, as well as larger parties for the whole office/company. Secret Santa exchanges and small office gift exchanges are commonplace.

As for my workplace, we had a small, low-key party in the conference room. The room averaged about .3 alcoholic drinks per person (it was an afternoon party), but the variety of foods (teachers coming from various backgrounds!) was a good showing for the number of people in attendance. I made some homemade black bread (left over molasses!) and took a few dips along. I’ve got to mention that I won a gift certificate for two movies tickets, one popcorn, and two sodas at the theatre. Not sure when the last time I bothered getting popcorn at the theatre was (it’s sooo overpriced), so it was nice treat. More touching, though, were the impromptu party thrown by one of my classes (complete with pistachio croissants from Arhoma!) and the gifts of tea (with mini pieces of candy cane!) and chocolates I received from students.

santa's secret tea from davids tea

Jordan’s McGill department party (for students, faculty, and staff) was a bit classier, requiring some dressing up and the ability to hold your wine glass and eat fancy hors d’oeuvres at the same time. The food was good, and I made a point to sample a few of the bûches de Noël instead of committing to only one regular-sized piece.

Also during December, you’ll start to see Santa Claus (le père Noël) around the shopping centers. And I honestly have no idea why she is there, but next to him there will be la fée des étoiles, or the Fairy of the Stars. Everyone I’ve talked to just seems to accept that that is who she is, but couldn’t tell me the reason. Any readers have any insight? Parents have suggested it’s just a female figure there to help handle those babies who are afraid of le père Noël. Also, since we’re talking about Santa, as you might have read in a previous post, that Elf on the Shelf craze has also swept Québec. I think it’s around for a good while now….

Finally, we almost reach Christmas!

Because of Québec’s Catholic history, the midnight mass has been traditionally important. Attendance, however, along with general church attendance is diminishing. That said, Christmas Eve is much more important than actual Christmas Day. Many people have shared with me that Christmas Day seems like a bit of a let down, because after such a fun night, the day seems too calm and uneventful for being the actual holiday. Interesting, since although my extended family Christmas is Christmas Eve, “the big event” was always Christmas Day for us.

christmas tree

Christmas Eve is when families gather together for the réveillon, or the Christmas meal. Gifts are usually placed around l’arbre de Noël, passed out, and opened after the meal. Gifts tend to be similar to what you’d expect, with stockings factoring in as well. Years ago, just as it was for those of us in the northern U.S., fresh fruits like oranges and pears served as gifts.

But wait, let’s go back to meal. Because you knew I would! Want are the Québecois eating for their réveillon? Good question. Traditions vary from family to family, and many people make breaks from the standard traditions to form their own. However, you’re still likely to find many people gathered around traditional foods such as the tourtière, fruitcakes (people have assured my homemade ones can be outstanding…still too skeptical to invest my time in making it, but maybe next year), turkey, those aforementioned yule logs, sucre à la crème (like a chocolate-less fudge), les tartes au sucre (sugar pies, I kid you not….think brown sugar, maple syrup, and 35% creme), and pigs foot stew.

When considering a tourtière, be aware that there are several versions. I stook a stab at one when my parents came, but aside from that have never actually had one. In case any one is interested, I opted for the Lac-Saint-Jean variety. I’ve done worse, I’ve done worse. But the broth did escape more than I’d hoped…

tourtiere pre-bake

Of note, I’ve heard many people reference the mass-produced, store-bought yule logs/cakes made by Vachon. And not in the good way. It looks to be the Little Debbie of yule logs. And one of my students said they’ve been interdites at her family’s Christmas. Plus jamais !

post-bake tourtiere

This year, since we found ourselves family-less (apart from each other), we joined a few other “Christmas orphans” on Christmas Eve to celebrate. The hostess, a French woman, admitted at the meal that she was intimidated to prepare turkey for two people from the United States. I told her not to worry, since I’d only done it once myself, to which she replied, “Maybe you’ve only made it once, but you’ve eaten it much more than that!” True, true. Honestly, though, our friend and her lovely assistant did a great job with the turkey, the stuffing, and the cranberry sauce. We contributed a spinach, sweet potato, feta, and cranberry salad, a mushroom and cheese galette, more of my homemade brown bread, and a small loaf of sourdough made from our wild yeast baby own starter.

Our Christmas Day was passed calmly thanks to a baked brie, our Netflix subscription, and a lot of that tea.

The weather on Boxing Day was quite mild, so we decided to go out for a stroll in Old Montreal. (I may have had to pick Jordan up at the lab before we went there). Last year, we tried to wrap our minds around what Boxing Day actually is. Everyone spouts the sales and savings at the stores the day after Christmas, both in store and online. (Online sales referenced in the most recent episode of Les Parents, also discusses traditional food). That’s fine, but it was nice to hear someone describe his personal [not-strictly commercialized] version of the holiday. The man, who is now quite successful, came from more humble beginnings. He said that while growing up, he typically received some fruit and maybe a new hat on Christmas Eve, but his parents could only afford to buy them a toy on Boxing Day. His parents went out shopping for his siblings and him, and they were able to open these gifts on New Year’s Day. Stories like this aren’t always highlighted in your standard Wikipedia versions, which reference the feudal period in England and then the modern-day sales.

Last year, I ventured out to buy a pair off of half-off pants. This year, I realized many sales last until the 2nd or 3rd, and simply snapped a picture of the Boxing Day crowd on St. Catherine (the main shopping thoroughfare in Montréal) as we crossed on our way to the older part of town.

st catherine boxing day

We had a nice walk, camera in [mostly my] hand. We were not the only people playing, or actually being, tourists.

DSC_0797 - Version 2

noel eternal storefront

old montreal winter

And folks, we’re getting there. Almost to the end of this holiday season. What’s left?

New Year’s!

In my experience, it seems that New Year’s Eve is typically spent with friends (family sometimes, too, but hey, we’re in our 20s/30s and are not around our family), New Year’s Day being a bit more for your family. More food, of course.

bonneannee (512x384)

As you know, last year we headed to the Old Port, shouted Bonne Année with a few hundred (two thousand?) of our closest friends, and danced a bit–to stay warm, not because we like dancing. There’s hugging and there’s kissing. And then there’s more [but friendly] kissing, because that’s what French Canadians do. Last year, we simply wished people Bonne Année, which has always sufficed for me, my family, and most of my friends. This year, we hosted one friend over for an Indian meal, then went to a small (about 10 people) and cozy (at a friend’s place) gathering, ate a few hors d’oeuvres, discussed what exactly library science consists of, learned that you shouldn’t mentioned chemistry to physicists, and also learned that typically there’s a bit more fanfare in wishing Happy New Year in the French Canadian way. Yeah, I really should have remembered this when sending an email to a conversation partner a day later–my simply and short bonne année felt a bit cold and mean compared to the warm Je te souhaite beaucoup d’amour, d’amitié, de santé et de la prospérité ! (I wish you much love, friendship, health, and prosperity!) I received in return. I promise, I’m not mean, I’m just anglo and unaware.

Another expression I learned from a friend and tried to text to another U.S.er in Montreal is Bonne Année Grande Nez ! while hoping she’d respond with Paraillement grandes dents ! Unfortunately, the cell phone network was a wee bit busy and kept rejecting my messages. Promise friends, I tried to text back!

And the last thing that I truly must mention is Bye Bye. It’s a given in Québec. You might not watch it right at midnight (because hey, there is the internet now), but you’re going to watch it. All my students talk about it, and even Jordan knows about it (sorry, Jordan….) Now, quite honestly, I find the concept genius. Every year, Radio-Canada produces a satirical (think SNLish) summary of the province’s highlights and lowlights. Purists or long-time viewers may tell you it’s been better in the past, but I’d still gladly tune in to watch something like that over Carson Daley (or wait, Ryan Seacrest?) watching the ball drop in NYC. Okay, so Judge Sotomayor actually would have been a draw for me.

Anyway, I learned about it last year, watched it on tou.tv even though my French was almost laughable at that point and I had only seen glimpses of Québec’s news for the first nine months of the year. Still, I understood enough to catch a few things and to ask questions to other people afterward. Yes, I already watched this year’s…be sure you watch an Astérix et Obélix clip or two beforehand 😀

Thanks, pals, for sticking around until the end of this epic-length post. I do truly wish you and yours lots of love, friendship, health, and prosperity in 2014. Otherwise said: Happy New Year.

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