About Me · California · Family · USA · Utah

We did a 12 hour road trip with our cats

“What are you doing about your cats?!” said about 100 people upon learning of our move.

Obviously we took them. We bought a little kitty tent on Amazon a few weeks ago and made a nice kitty fort in my back seat for them to snuggle up in during the drive from Orange County to Salt Lake City. While the tent was in our house, they loved it.

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Obviously our plan didn’t work out in the car. Our cats DO NOT LIKE to be locked up. They cried and scratched incessantly. Hazel broke the zipper of the kitty tent and escaped in less than 20 minutes, although not unscathed. She was so desperate to get out that she tore up her nose on the zipper. Once out of her kitty prison, she howled and roamed all over the car, driving Erwann crazy, as he was trying to keep her from going under my brake and gas pedals.

Poppy was mostly chill from the start, but would also cry occasionally. Erwann had to pin Hazel on his lap the entire drive from Costa Mesa to Las Vegas. She would sometimes be calm, but every time she looked out the window she would start to howl again. She dozed off just in time for our first stop.

Along with the tent, we had also bought some kitty harnesses and leashes. I had tried to get them used to the harnesses to no great avail. However, crunch time had arrived. We stopped for gas just outside of Vegas in 108 F. I put the kitties in their harnesses and on their leashes to be able to give them some water and just get out of the car for a minute. They were not pleased.

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Erwann and I were not pleased either, because we let Poppy out of the tent to discover that she had peed all over. We decided to ditch the tent all together and make them a little bed in the back. We blocked the seats so they couldn’t go underneath and gave them free roam. This worked much better. They settled in pretty quickly and spent most of the final hours sleeping on our laps.

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We made one more stop in Fillmore with the leashes and harnesses. The girls still weren’t loving it, but it wasn’t as hot as Vegas, so it went more smoothly.

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We rolled into Salt Lake around 7:30 pm, set up the kitties with their food, water, and litter box, and cleaned the cat pee out of the car as best we could. They are still on the traumatized spectrum almost a week later, but they’ll be fine. They have been drinking a lot of water because they refused to do so during the voyage and seem happy to have plenty of beds to hide under.

Poor kitties. We sure love them though, so I’d say they’re also very lucky.

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About Me · California · USA

What I Learned in Grad School

My mom’s new favorite thing to make me repeat is, “It was worth it.” She seems to think that at some point in 2014 I said that a master’s degree wouldn’t be worth it. I’m pretty sure that never happened, so of course I’m happy to admit that, yes, it was worth it. I learned a lot, and it feels awesome to put “Master of Science in Education with concentration in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages” on my resume.

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Here’s some stuff I learned during this valuable process.

  1. Being a grad student doesn’t make you special. It makes you the system’s bitch for at least two years.  I’m also discovering that it doesn’t automatically prepare you to enter the workforce. Image result for funny grad school meme
  2. It’s much harder than a bachelor’s degree. MUCH HARDER. The study and learning methods I used during my undergraduate were not useful to me in grad school.  Image result for funny grad school meme
  3. It’s much less fun than ~college.~ No time for parties. No money for parties. No energy to make new friends.Image result for funny grad school memeImage result for funny grad school meme
  4. It takes a f****** toll on your mental health. I later found out I wasn’t alone in that. It’s not about avoiding it. It’s about endurance. Image result for funny grad school meme
  5. How to put theory into practice. I’m not sure how or when I learned that, but I did, and it’s actually cool. I see theory in my practice everyday. I find myself explaining things that seem like common sense. They’re not common sense. Apparently I absorbed something. Image result for happy surprised gif7. How to take better criticism. I’m a sensitive person. This is still tough for me, but I’ve improved and am generally more open to feedback. Image result for hurt feelings gif

My darling family drove 12 hours from Utah to attend the official ceremony today. Now we’re packing, packing, packing, and moving on Wednesday.

On to the next chapter.

About Me · France · Italy · Normandy · Rome · USA · Utah · Wedding

How I Found My Tribe

A few days after my wedding, Margaret, Aaron, and I went for a long hike in the mountains by my parents’ house. We were covered in dirt and sweat, but we made it to the beautiful waterfall and were now on our way back down the mountain. Somehow we walked right passed the bridge we were supposed to cross to continue to the trail on the other side of the river. I thought I had been following the trail, but eventually realized that the “trail” was no longer such. We had been hiking all day, and the thought of backtracking up the hill to find the bridge and relocate the real trail was not a bit appealing.

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I scanned my surroundings and noticed that the trail was just on the other side of the ravine and across the water. We decided it would be faster to go down the muddy slope, cross the river, and climb up the slope on the other side. All too quickly we realized what a stupid decision this had been. It had rained recently, so we were immediately slipping and sliding down the damp slopes. But, it was too late to change our minds, so we laughed at the mud collecting all over our bodies and clothes and just kept on sliding.

At that moment I realized that these kinds of crazy, poorly thought out, and hilarious experiences are those which build the best friendships imaginable. All of the sudden, it felt like I was an international student in France again, part of me wishing I had been smarter, another part laughing hysterically, and another part petrified, all while having no other choice but to carry on. Sometimes during our year in France my American friends and I thought we had made a mistake in going there for a whole year, but all we could do was laugh and stick together until we made it to the other side. Even in the worst of times, we knew that the scary or horrible experiences would be unforgettable moments that would build lifelong friendships.

One particularly horribly unforgettable memory in France was waking up every Friday at 5:30 am to catch a train and be at work to teach English to middle school students at 8 am. Aaron, Margaret, and I all taught in a small rural city called Lisieux. Officially we were language “assistants” but in reality we were untrained English teachers. Lisieux was about a 20 minute train ride away, and we taught from 8 am until 5 pm every Friday. In order to take the train, walk to school, and begin class on time, we had to catch the 7:20 train. In Caen, the city where we were living, Thursdays were the best nights for students to go out to the bars. There were always parties on Thursday. My friends and I never went to these parties because we had to work, but they went on in our dorms without us every week. It was rare that we got enough sleep on a Thursday night due to the noise.

On top of that, we hated teaching. The students were between 12 and 16. They lived in a very small city in the countryside, so they didn’t see the use of English. They knew that we weren’t their real teachers and wanted to use the time in our classes to goof off. What’s more, we didn’t have sufficient training as “language assistants” to give engaging lessons. Dreading the following day, I always spent most Thursday nights lying in bed awake.

The only thing that made these Fridays bearable was my friends. Getting out of bed was made easier with the thought that I would spend the train ride with my friends. Although we were usually silent on the way to the train station, we would normally buy coffee and something sugary once we arrived. After perking up a bit, we would spend the time on the train bouncing ideas off of one another. None of us ever had a solid plan of what we were going to do on Friday; we all relied on each other for classroom activities.

During class, we would always send each other text messages about the happenings of our day. Aaron: “They’re fighting over the $1 prize for the game.” Alisa: “They’re rolling cigarettes.” Margaret: “They told me I have a big nose.” When the long day finally finished, we would meet up at the train station and spend the ride home venting and unwinding from the tiresome day. Aaron and I had been friends right from the start, but it took this uniquely miserable experience to bring me and Margaret together. We had always been cordial, but sharing those train rides was the building block of Margaret and my friendship.

Arin and I on the other hand, were already friends before we went to Rome, but we were bonded together after surviving a truly terrifying experience. There we overheard some American girls staying in the other room talk about whether or not their boyfriends back in the U.S. were cheating on them (they were). We saw the same old men from the restaurant at lunch on the news that same night. We giggled every time we got the opportunity to say, “Prego!”

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We left our bed and breakfast to go back to France at about 4 am. Our flight was at 7 am, and we had to catch the shuttle to the airport well in advance. It was pitch black when we left. Upon arriving in Rome, we had walked through the train station to get to our bed and breakfast. At 4 am however, the train station was still closed. We had to walk around the station to get to the other side. Arin and I felt terrifyingly exposed with our red and blonde hair. Numerous homeless men spoke to us in Italian. At one point, a car full of Italian men pulled over and signaled for us to get in their car. We held each other, praying that we wouldn’t get kidnapped and guiltily thinking about what our mother’s would say if they knew what their daughter’s had gotten themselves into.

Not wanting to cause her more grey hairs than was necessary, I didn’t tell my mom the full story about my trip to Rome until three years later. During those days leading up to my wedding, Aaron, Margaret, Arin, and I finally recounted all the silly and sometimes downright stupid things we had done while studying abroad in France. When I first met them back in 2011, Aaron was a guy from Pennsylvania, Arin was the redhead who lived on the third floor, and Margaret was the girl with the cute boots. As a normal girl from Utah, I never expected to form such a strong bond with other seemingly normal Americans. But, through surviving a year away from our country and our families, near kidnapping, and sliding down muddy mountain slopes, I found my tribe.

About Me · Family

Mrs. Hickel

FRI-YAY, it’s Friday! Friday is Alisa day. Monday through Thursday are jam-packed with school and work, and on the weekend I try to spend as much time as possible with my hubby. So, a few weeks ago, I decided to set Friday afternoons aside FOR ME, and only me. Usually I stay at home and nap with my fur babies. Today I had some serious online shopping to do, but unfortunately I had to stop by the county records office to pick up a copy of our marriage certificate. I mailed the original off to the social security office awhile back, and they never returned it to me.

As I was walking through cloudy downtown Santa Ana, I got a phone call from an unknown number. I answered in a slightly annoyed voice, because I hate phone calls and I hate strangers. To my surprised delight, there was actually (what sounded like) a polite and efficient government worker named Justin on the other end of the line.

“Hello, is this Mrs. Hickel?” he asked.

SQUEEEEE! Mrs. Hickel! That was the first time a stranger referred to me as Mrs. Hickel. A bunch of people have been calling me Madame Hickel for over six months, but that felt more like a joke, because “Madame” sounds so old. Mrs. Hickel, on the other hand, sounds more real. It sounds like me, and I’m happy that people (and the U.S. government) are starting to refer to me that way.

Although we’ve only been married for six months, as of last week, Erwann has officially been my boyfriend for four years. It definitely feels like four years have passed, because so much has changed. On the other hand, our relationship still feels fresh and exciting, so it’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. We met in 2012, and I know we both feel lucky to have found each other.

In 2012, Erwann introduced me to all the best French things that I wouldn’t have found on my own. It wasn’t until he came into my life that France started to feel like a second home. We also spent a month in Portugal and then four months apart. In autumn of that year, he came to Utah for his first Thanksgiving and his first Utah winter. In Utah, Erwann said he felt like he was in “the real America.”

In February of 2013, Erwann’s tourist visa ran out and he had to go back to France. We spent another four months apart. In May, I graduated and immediately left to spend the summer in France and Portugal with him. Erwann spent the summer working at horrible temp jobs, trying to save as much money as possible. At the same time, he was also searching for any possible job in the U.S. Finally, he was offered something in Orange County, California. I was somewhat reluctant, but mostly ecstatic that we were AT LAST going to actually live in the same city.

And so for the first time in our relationship, we settled into real life. Over the next two years, I bounced between a few jobs, all of which I hated, and Erwann worked hard to refine his coding skills. We made some friends, adopted some cats, enjoyed the brutal Southern California winters, and whined about the traffic. By the end of 2014, I had quit my first “real” job and decided to go back to school. Erwann’s visa was going to expire soon. We had talked about it and decided to get married, but it was not yet official. Christmas came and went and there was still no ring.

Then, in January 2015, Erwann surprised me with a weekend trip to Catalina and proposed to me over dinner. The time between then and August is all one big blur of wedding plans, unemployment for Erwann, my stressful first semester of grad school, hating my new restaurant job, finding my first teaching job, and then WEDDING WEDDING WEDDING. After all the madness, we struggled to settle back into real life. The whole year had led up to that big day, and it was all so much fun. Going back to work and school sucked for both of us. However, we then got to plan our first trip back to Europe in over two years, and I spent the holidays with my new French family.

After that, as always, it was time again to calm down and get back to normal life. And here we are. We go to work, we watch TV, cuddle kitties, sleep on the weekends, and make plans for our future. As it turns out, normality as Mrs. Hickel ain’t so bad.

About Me · Uncategorized

I got off Facebook for 40 days and here’s what happened

My mom and I love Lent. If you don’t know, Lent is a Catholic tradition during which you’re supposed to give up something challenging as a symbol for Jesus’ 40 day fast. This happens every year during the 40 days before Easter. I know, I know, we’re not Catholic, we don’t get it, we are ignorant, blah blah blah, we don’t care, we do what we want because we’re rebels like that. A few years back, we gave up chocolate. Once I stopped buying vending machine food (an impressive feat for a starving college student). The craziest thing we did was give up sugar. I don’t recommend that. This year, my mom gave up all processed food. I wish her the best of luck in her endeavor. As for me, I decided to give up Facebook. I know, that’s like a million times easier than processed food, but whatever. It’s different, and I didn’t want it to be food related this year. It was an interesting experience. To be fair, I started writing this less than 20 days into my experiment. But, I quickly began to notice some stuff that I thought I should document before I forgot.

1. It’s not that bad. It’s more of a habit than an addiction. The only thing that made it really hard is when I was sitting around and pulled out my phone absentmindedly, I always had to make the effort to remind myself not to open Facebook. It’s just so automatic, which brings me to my next point.

2. During those moments when I was just sitting around, on my lunch break for example, I got kind of bored. Like, what am I supposed to do while I eat alone, just stare at the wall? It was weird. But it was kind of good too, because I started thinking about bringing a real book or something instead of staring at my newsfeed.

3. I thought my phone battery would last FOREVER. It didn’t.

4. That’s because although I gave up Facebook (and Instagram too, actually), I didn’t give up any other social media such as Snapchat or Pinterest. So in my boredom, or during those times when I just felt the need to *check* something, I usually opened up Pinterest or sent a string of pictures of Poppy and Hazel to everyone I know.

5. However, the Pinterest thing hasn’t been completely detrimental. I spend a lot of my time on there finding fun projects, which I think is worthwhile. We recently took a trip to the local nursery and bought a lemon tree, as well as some potted flowers for me to take care of. New hobbies! It’s been bothering me for a long time that I don’t have a real hobby. Erwann is always busy fiddling around on his guitar, rebuilding an old guitar, or playing basketball. I have always felt like I don’t have my own <i>thing</i>, but now my wheels are turning. I’m not sure if there was a correlation with my absence from Facebook, but I decided to get back into the piano. Again, this has yet to happen, but there is a *plan.*

6. I felt a little bit out of touch. Not because I lost contact with anyone, because I talk to my tribe very regularly outside of Facebook, but because (to my slight disgust) I get way too much of my news from Facebook. I found myself asking Erwann every night, “So, what did I miss today?” I should probably start reading the newspaper or something.

7. It was so nice not to have Jane Doe’s nonsense on my mind. The other day, Erwann asked me, “Did you see what Jane Doe posted about the election?” Then I realized that Jane Doe hadn’t even crossed my mind in a LONG time, and that was a nice realization. I try (but don’t really succeed) at keeping my Facebook as personal as possible, so it was nice to feel a little bit of clarity in only getting authentic updates from my closest friends and family.

8. I don’t know if it’s related or not, but I also called both my grandmas during my time off from Facebook.

9. There is A LOT of other stuff to be doing. I was definitely more productive. I know it sounds so simple, but seriously, if you want to get something done, you should really get off of Facebook. The other night, Erwann was sleeping, and I was bored. Normally I most likely would have wasted a good hour browsing on my phone. Without that option, I got up and pretty much cleaned the entire house at 9 pm. And if you know me at all, you know how absolutely out of character that is. Generally, Alisa shuts down for the day around 6 pm, after which nothing may be expected of her. Now my house is so clean and I have plants.

10. I miss funny animal videos. I know I could look them up on my computer without Facebook, but the fact is, I don’t. Luckily I have my own collection of funny cat videos on my phone.

I’ve still got a few more weeks to go, but I don’t think I’m going to have any sort of earth-shattering epiphanies about The Social Network between now and then. I’m not about to abandon Facebook forever, but it’s been a fun little experiment, and I will definitely be monitoring my time spent there in the future. I like my clean house and my plants.

About Me · California · Uncategorized · USA

Butter me up

I have a very important message for all 10 people who read my blog. Stop everything you are doing immediately and head straight to Trader Joe’s, because you really need to get your hands on their salted French butter.

Oh, P.S., hi, I’m having a love affair with butter. It started at my grandma-in-law’s (is that the right way to refer to her? “my husband’s grandma” sounds so distant) during Christmas when she put fresh baguette and butter on the table with dinner. I was so stoked on the baguette that I was gobbling it up “dry,” which was a big no no to my grandma-in-law. So at her prodding, I paired the delicious French baguette with some butter. Even fresh out of the fridge, it spread smoothly, and melted quickly in my mouth, with the perfect amount of saltiness, and I fell in love.

In Portugal, we also ate butter with toast every morning, and I was smitten again. My poor in-laws’ butter wasn’t lasting the week because of me. Eventually I fessed up about my obsession and told Erwann I was actually blown away by how much better the butter was in Europe. That’s when he said, “You know we can buy good butter in the U.S. too, right?”

WHAT?! There are options other than the rock hard cubes of tasteless lard? Yes, and it will change your life. It’s about $3 for a big block, which for us is kind of steep, especially considering that it doesn’t last us much more than five days, but it has turned my life upside down. Knowing that there is delicious butter to be spread on toast with fig jam (another side love affair) and dipped in tea (sounds disgusting, isn’t) is what has been getting me out of bed the past few weeks.

In order to continue slathering salted butter on every meal, I’ve also started easing back into the gym. I did ab stuff yesterday, and my shoulders are sore…? So yeah, that’s how that is going.

I’ve also gotten back to work and school, which have been surprisingly painless so far. Work is an absolute joy. ESL is the best thing that has ever happened to my self-esteem. At 5’10 with blonde hair, I really don’t look like a normal human to some of my students from Asia, but more like a cartoon character. Someone tells me I’m beautiful literally everyday. They are all so sweet. To reward them, I try to teach them as much English as I can. It’s hard to say for sure, but I feel like I’m doing a good job. As cliche as it sounds, I truly feel like I’ve found my calling.

They even sometimes give me snacks, and I got a bunch of Christmas presents too!

As for school, I’m in my last year!!! My classmates and I remarked how we are like seniors now. We know the ins and outs of the program and of its professors. This semester I have my favorite professor for two classes, and at the moment I’m feeling ready to knock another semester out of the park.

I also have a lot to look forward to during the next little while to help get me through. My bestie Margaret just left last week, my mom is coming to visit for a long weekend starting on Wednesday, I’m going to Chicago, Kentucky, Virginia, and D.C. to see my besties in March, my mother-in-law is coming on my birthday in April, and my bestie Arin is planning a trip out here in May. So yep, 2016 and “Snowpocalypse” are off to a great start.

About Me · Family · Portugal

Cats and Doors in Portugal

Things are going just swimmingly here in Portugal. Other than this stupid rain that just won’t let up. Everyone keeps telling us how unlucky we’ve been, and we’re like, “Yeah, yeah, thanks for reminding us.” The beaches would be so much prettier in the sun.

Regardless, there is still a lovely ambiance here, and we’re taking advantage of every moment. The latter has proved unfortunately difficult for me. Since arriving, I’ve felt extreme anxiety and depression. It begins with a clench in my heart, and progresses to hopelessness, wanting to withdraw, and finishes with guilt.I am on vacation in Europe with my husband! I have no reason to feel anything other than euphoria. And I do! The crazy part of the whole thing is the duality of it. Even though I sometimes wake up in the morning feeling hopeless, I still get up, explore, eat, take pictures, and enjoy my vacation. But it’s not easy. Nearly everyday has been a huge struggle. Nothing is easy. Walking, talking to people, showering, sometimes everything feels like a gigantic obstacle. But that all changed, at least for awhile, when we went to the cat colony.

I crouched down to pet one kitty, and another kitty who looked remarkably like my sweet Poppyseed came running up to me, hopped on my knees, tried to climb inside my coat, and started purring. I grinned like a damn fool, and crouched with her on my knees for as long as my circulation could bear it. The rest of the day was long (but fun!) like the rest, with a lot of walking and talking. I waited and waited to feel my heart clench and fill my body with dread, but it never came.Call me a crazy cat lady all you want, but I will go to my grave insisting that it was thanks to Portuguese Poppyseed. I’m considering looking into making her a service animal and taking her with me everywhere. Cats seriously absorb all the bad in their soft fur with purrs and snuggles. That’s why I’ve spent most of my time in Portugal so far chasing after all the stray cats. Most of them are feral and hate me, but I don’t care. Cats are my drug of choice. Other than cats, I’ve discovered that I also have an attraction to cute Portuguese doors.

They have so much symmetry, color, and charm.

Rainbows do too.