Friday, September 26, 2008

The Details, Part 2: The Timeline

September of 2007

Rebecca applies to the UIUC teaching exchange program

Thanksgiving 2007

Rebecca is accepted by the UIUC teaching exchange program.

January 15, 2008

Rebecca is asked by Poitiers' English Dept (PED) to send them an application, too.

late January 2008

Jeff looks into visas, learns that we must wait to apply until 2 months before we intend to leave.

February 1, 2008

Rebecca's application is accepted by the PED.

June 30, 2008

Rebecca contacts the PED to ask about her work agreement from the french labor department (ANAEM). The Chicago Consulate's website says this will be required for approval.

July 3, 2008

The PED sends Rebecca's contract, suggesting that it will be sufficient in lieu of the ANAEM agreement.

July 10-17, 2008

We complete the applications as detailed on the webpage of the Chicago consulate. This is one week of frantic copying, translating, and notarizing. Jeff's application totals some 100 pages of documents.

July 18, 2008

First appointment at the Chicago consulate--we are denied visas on the basis of not having an agreement from the ANAEM. The contract, Madame du Consulat explains, is insufficient.

July 21, 2008

After emailing the PED to give them our unhappy news, we are contacted for the first time by "Monsieur A" in the Human Resources department. Monsieur A informs us that he has just submitted the request for the ANAEM agreement. We are told that it is a "long, disagreeable, and complex process".

late July, 2008
The ANAEM application goes to the Paris Sud office instead of the newly opened, but apparently poorly publicized, Poitiers branch, where it is promptly lost.

August of 2008

All of France goes on vacation. We lose contact with Monsieur A and the PED.

August 31, 2008

We spend Rebecca's birthday on hold with an Evil Online Booking Agency, trying to change our date of departure.

September 4, 2008

Original date of departure to France

September 5, 2008

We reestablish contact with Monsieur A and the PED. They are surprised to hear that we don't have visas, but reassure us that everything will work out eventually ("On y arrivera..." meaning "We will get there...").

September 12, 2008

We spend 4.5 hours on the phone with Evil Online Booking Agency (EOBA) trying to change our tickets again. They made us hang up after making the change to the first reservation before we could make the second change. After becoming delirious during the 4 hours on the phone, Jeff neglects to mention that the new tickets should be sent to the same address as the last tickets, not the old address in Illinois.

September 15, 2008

Second date of departure

September 16, 2008

After several more emails from us, Monsieur A assures us that he has contacted both the ANAEM and the Chicago consulate, and that everything has been worked out.

September 17, 2008

Jeff calls EOBA to inquire after Rebecca's new airline tickets and to request that his new tickets be re-sent to the correct address. After putting him on hold for an hour, the Lovely Customer Service Lady explains that while Jeff's new tickets are paper tickets, Rebecca's are e-tickets...because it's much less confusing that way (?). Jeff wonders how many more times he will have to supply EOBA with his new address before they get it right. Lovely Customer Service Lady responds dryly, "Well, how many more times are you planning to change your flight?"

September 18, 2008

Unbeknownst to us, the ANAEM agreement is sent to the Boston consulate by mistake.

September 19, 2008

Second appointment at the Chicago consulate--we are again denied because they have received no ANAEM agreement. Madame du Consulat suggests that maybe it was sent to Boston by mistake, but she isn't sure. We have no idea how she knows this, and Madame du Consulat is unable to give us any more information. She suggests we call the ANAEM office in Poitiers and ask them to fax the agreement directly to Chicago.

September 22, 2008

Due to the time difference the ANAEM office is open from 2am-9:30am CDT. We make several attempts to call the ANAEM branch in Poitiers, but without knowing the proper information to locate the file, are unable to make it past reception. It doesn't help that we call within an hour of closing one wants to talk to us.

September 23, 2008

We return to Madame du Consulat, without appointments, and though she has still not received the proper documents from the ANAEM, she approves our visas. We are told that some mysterious exception has been made, (maybe because classes are about to begin?).

September 25, 2008

First day of classes at Poitiers

October 3, 2008

Current date of departure

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Details, Part 1: How to Get a Visa

When this whole journey began, I sought out other people's opinions and experiences, just as many of us do when we enter uncharted waters.  Those of you who know me (Rebecca) know that I have been in school for about 22 consecutive years.  Leaving school temporarily to travel was certainly something I thought about, particularly when I had a bad work week, but then always pushed out of my head, mostly because it seemed like a logistical nightmare.  Well, it is.

So when I applied for the job in Poitiers and got it, I asked others for advice.  How did you go about finding a place to live?  What did your partner do while you were abroad?  How did you get a visa?

Overwhelmingly, most of the people I talked to seemed not to remember the exact logistics of the process.  They said things like "Yeah, it was really tricky."  Or "Jeez, it took forever."  But when pressed for step-by-step explanations, it seemed that most people had deleted the details of the trauma from their memories.  "How could they forget something like that??"  At least this is what I remember thinking.

But now I realize that it isn't that the details had been forgotten, it's that these details remained thoroughly opaque throughout most of the process.  And sadly, though I had hoped to record the details of my application process so that they might benefit some future applicant in the same position, many of these details remain obscure to me.  However, in the spirit of open source information sharing, I will attempt to provide a rough timeline of the process (at least as Jeff and I experienced it).  Stay tuned for Part 2...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Visas...sans blague

Details to follow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Adventures in Chicago

Returning to Chicago was pretty difficult because it meant things had not gone the way we had imagined them. We put everything into storage thinking we would not see it again for a year or so. This included keys to our tandem in Chicago, keys to my friends' apartment in Chicago, and our CTA cards. Luckily, when I called my friend Eric, he was still around and happy to have us stay at his place. He even made a new set of keys for his apartment so that it would feel more like home.

(This is Eric and Stacy in their cozy apartment.)

Unfortunately, we weren't so lucky with the tandem...

...the lock had to be cut because we didn't have an extra key. Eric, being the bike guru he is, happened to have an angle grinder in his apartment that made short work of the U-Lock. After a little oiling and air, we were on our way to a great week in Chicago.

First up, dinner and a movie. Despite the cliche nature of this pairing, I can't think of a much better way to spend an evening. And afterwards, we stopped by Binny's Beverage Depot with their instant wine chiller and we did a little relaxing by the lake...

Sunday was the inaugural race in the Chi Cross Cup, a cyclocross racing series in the Chicago area. The sport of cyclocross was designed as a way to take advantage of terrible off-season conditions of northern Europe, and so it goes until February. We went to watch the races at Jackson Park near the University of Chicago and we relaxed as people biked and ran and jumped, and sometimes fell down. This racer (below) came out of this incident "okay", meaning bloodied, dazed, and with a few nasty cuts to the forehead, but (most importantly) with no damage to his bike.

The best part of cyclocross is the short, closed course which provides for a great spectator sport. It is easy to move around the course from a hairpin turn, to a barricade that racers must carry their bike over, to a high speed straightaway. Of course, spectating is only half the fun. Usually, words of encouragement or derision are close at hand for heroic performances or costly mistakes.

Eric and Aaron are alternately heckling (bad) and cowbelling (good) some of the cyclists as Jeff looks on.

After the racing was over, we (Jeff and Eric) decided to try for ourselves. No wonder they don't have a tandem category. Coordinating dismounts, barrier jumping, and remounts quickly proved to be VERY difficult.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Return to Chicago

After some back and forth with various parties, and a lot of time spent holding the phone with various customer service reps, we are headed back to Chicago. We hope that a little face time with the consulate will speed us toward a solution.

We have an ally in France in the form of someone in the Human Resources Department at the University of Poitiers. He has been working tirelessly on our behalf to cut the through the bureaucracy of the process. Hopefully, his work trying to speed things along at the ANAEM (the French department of labor) will prove fruitful and we will come back to Raleigh with visas in hand.

If we don't get our visas, at least we got to say goodbye to all our friends in Chicago. It will be nice to visit someplace we know, where we don't have to scour the internet and alternative weeklies trying to figure out where to eat or what movie to see. Best of all, we have a tandem bicycle waiting for us in Chicago at my friend's apartment. It may need a little repair, but it is much better than riding the trains and buses into the wee hours of the morning.

In some respects this convoluted visa process has been good preparation for what is to come when we have to apply for residence permits once we arrive in France. There are a few horror stories floating around the internet that make the visa process seem effortless by comparison. Whatever the future holds, we will try and keep a sense of humor about it and maybe even offer other people tips that will help them keep their sanity during their negotiation of this maze.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Camp Cooking

Since we like to cook and our camp cooking tends to be a little more involved than some people, I will do my best to explain our method for cooking while camping. The amounts of various ingredients will be intentionally vague. You may have to look at an ingredient list and imagine what it will taste like with various ingredient ratios to figure out what you will like.

First, supplies. We have a small size Rubbermaid container for our cooking utensils. These are things we bring regardless of what we will be cooking. It includes:
Heavy duty aluminum foil (a few 12" squares folded, takes up a lot less room than a roll)
Small plastic cutting board
Chef's knife & paring knife
Spice Mix (we used to make a new spice mix for every camping trip, but now we use Old Bay Blackened Seasoning)
Olive Oil
Sugar/Splenda (for coffee)
Percolator for coffee
Large cast aluminum pot with lid (thicker aluminum and iron pots are especially good for camping to distribute heat and avoid hot spots from your propane stove or wood fire, and a lid for keeping ash out of your food)
Tupperware bowls w/ lids (good for eating out of and storing food in)

Breakfast All Day Broccoli Casserole (Broccoli Cheese Casserole w/ Chorizo).
Small amount of Yellow Rice
1-2 Red Potatoes cut into small cubes
plenty of Broccoli cut into small-medium florets.
1/2 c.-ish Chicken Stock (or water)
1/4 lb. Mexican Chorizo
some Cheddar Cheese
little bit of lazy eggs  (that egg product that comes in small cartons)
1/3 c. Milk

Cook Chorizo in pot until cooked through. transfer to plastic bowl, leaving some grease in pot. Add rice, potatoes and chicken stock, cover and bring to boil and remove from heat to let rice cook. Since it is hard to simmer rice while camping you may have to return to heat occasionally to build up more steam. Once rice is cooked and add broccoli and return to heat to steam broccoli. When broccoli is steamed add chorizo, cheese, milk and egg. Stir and let cook until firm.

Since this is a casserole it doesn't matter too much if you overcook the rice and potatoes a little. I like it when the broccoli is a lttle crunchy and everything else is kind of mushy.

Sweet and Sour Stir-fry w/ Chicken
Chicken breast cut into small strips
soy-sauce (we've been using Bragg Liquid Aminos, a soy based sauce without the wheat that most soy sauce has and no added sodium)
vinegar (red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, or just use a little red wine)
other various stir-fry vegetables (ginger, zuch, red peppers, peas, etc.)
Small chunks soft, sweet, fruit (mango and peaches work especially well)
some sort of thickener (corn starch or flour)
Olive oil

Sautee vegetables in olive oil for a few minutes, add chicken. Mix together two parts soy sauce, four parts honey, and one part vinegar, and a tablespoon of thickener, add to chicken and vegetables. Stir in and cook until liquid starts to thicken. Add fruit and cook until just heated through. Serve.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Camping in the Mountains

After spending time at the beach and the "Little Bavaria" of Michigan we decided to head to the mountains of Western North Carolina. Lake James State Park was one of the best parks we've been to for camping. All the sites require walking 150-300 yards (no loud radios), everything was very well maintained (nice tent pads, picnic tables, nice bathrooms, nearby trash receptacles and water) and afford fantastic views of the lake and nearby hills.

Before we left, we planned out five dinners that all require only one pot. The hardest part of camp cooking is heat control; this is why most internet recipes stick to stews or something similar. For cooking we either use a small gas-powered stove or a fire. The stove doesn't do low heat very well, so then we use a wood fire. Our meals included Broccoli cheese casserole w/ chorizo, sweet and sour stir-fry w/ chicken and peaches, lentils with spinach and veggies, and rice and beans with seasoned chicken.

After we were done camping we ventured the 40 miles to Asheville, NC. The region surrounding Asheville is a hotbead of crafts from painting, furniture making, to glass blowing and ceramics. There are numerous galleries and there was also the Lexington Avenue Arts & Fun Festival while we were there. The streets were packed with people checking out booths selling local crafts and various music venues. There was also some general silliness with bike-jousting and a man trying to set the Guiness Record for riding the tallest bicycle. 

Asheville is full of interesting restaurants and quirky clothing shops. We came home with a few new articles of clothing and many instances of delectably full stomachs.

The last day we were in the area I went on a long bike ride south of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The segment just south of Asheville rises in elevation from 2,100 feet to 5,000 feet and includes a dozen tunnels, all in the space of 15 miles. Grinding up the hills that seemed to go on forever was taxing both physically and mentally. The views near the top were worth it, and descending at speeds nearing 40 mph was exilerating.

Jefe's a little tired...
Back in Asheville, we found a nice spot for dinner before heading back to Raleigh in order to figure out where our next adventure will lead.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Wedding

This weekend, my childhood friend, Tom, and his fiance, Jessie, were married in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Yes, that is corn in the background.
The wedding was outside on a very warm and sunny afternoon
We were gathered in the back yard of Jessie's parents' home.

My brother (in the center) was best man

There was a giant bonfire afterwards,
where people inexplicably threw organs and pianos into the flames.
those guys were from the wedding party, so I'm guessing that this was all part of the plan(?)

flaming organ

Jeff and I camped out on the lawn along with many others. A great end to a wonderful day.

The wedding was just outside of Frankenmuth, Michigan. Downtown Frankenmuth is Bavarian-themed and resort-like. Lots of fudge huts, cheese shops, and fried chicken dinners. There were few restaurants--so we went to one of them twice. One of the dishes at the wedding was grilled chicken basted with beer and butter. I am told it was very tasty but (obviously) not gluten-free and probably not very good for you.
My family+Jefe

Also, yesterday was my birthday.