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.

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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.
About Me · Family · France · Normandy · Paris · Portugal

Christmas in France, New Year’s in Portugal

Douce France, how I had missed you and your bakeries.

We arrived in Paris the evening of Christmas Eve, picked up our rental, and headed straight to Grandma’s house. We ate a delicious meal of veal, potatoes, green beans, quiche. We exchanged gifts, and showed wedding videos to Erwann’s grandma and sister. We were thrilled to find out the next morning that the bakery was open even for Christmas, and rushed over to buy our first real French baguette.

We often find “French” stuff in the US, and we always get excited when we find something kind of good. Trader Joe’s has a decent baguette, and there is a really good cheese shop nearby as well. But in returning to France, I’m afraid we have been poorly mistaken for the past two years. Our mock French cheese and Trader Joe’s baguette don’t even come close to the real thing. But that’s actually okay, because it makes it that much more exciting to come back.

After lots of bread for breakfast, we visited Morgane’s chickens. Apparently it’s tres a la mode in France right now to have hens. Whodathunk. Once we’d had our fill times two of food (turns out French grandmas are just as eager to make you eat until you explode as American grandmas) and and snapped some photos, we headed off to Normandy to see Erwann’s mama.

I loved being back in Normandy. I lived there alone in the dorms at the university in 2011-2012, but I also returned in the summer of 2013 and spent several months actually living with Erwann, his mom, and his stepdad. This time it really felt a bit like a homecoming. I felt so comfortable and at home in their house, it was so nice to see them again after the wedding. Unfortunately, we had less than a week in France, so our time in Normandy was a bit packed. But we got to see all of our friends, and I was able to wander around my old stomping grounds. And of course there was also Minette.

It was a short but sweet trip. Before we knew it, we were on the road again back to Paris. We were mostly there to see family so we only had a few hours to wander around the city. It was as beautiful as ever, and not even too cold. We were able to grab a drink “en terrasse” while discussing if we could ever imagine living there. Erwann went back and forth all night between, “Oh man, it would be so cool to live here,” and, “Oh man, it would really suck to live here.” This trip really has us torn between two continents. We have loved ones on both, and they both also have their list of cons.

After some more grandma time and some yummy couscous, we hopped on a plan to Portugal to spend the rest of our European vacation with Erwann’s dad and stepmom. We had Christmas for the third time, and I got a beautiful new watch and amazing new (French, of course) perfume from my new in laws. Last night we kicked off New Year’s Eve with a beautiful sunset on the beach.

Next we ate some Portuguese chicken, and went back to the beach. By some divine grace, there was an ABBA (!!!) cover band playing, it was warm, and we were in good company.

I spent all night staring dreamily at my new husband and feeling thankful for our wonderful year together. At the beginning of 2015, we got engaged. By August, we were officially the Hickels, and now we’re back in Europe. Our life together is truly the most wonderful thing. Erwann is my rock, my sunshine, my love, my family, my everything.

I’m so happy I get to kiss him every New Year’s for the rest of our lives.
Copenhagen · Denmark · Family

Copenhagen

Well, it’s about 5:00 am here in Denmark, and I think Erwann and I are both done sleeping. He’s watching the Jazz game on his tablet, and we’re eating peanut M&Ms in bed. Welcome to our minimoon.

We left for John Wayne airport early on Tuesday morning and flew to Las Vegas. Annoyingly enough, we had to go through security again in Las Vegas, and walk approximately five miles all over the airport. Then of course our flight was late. We didn’t mind too much though. I laid down on the floor and tried to stretch while I still could.

10 hours later, we landed in Copenhagen. Budget airlines are such for a reason, as we saw from our lack of leg room on the plane. Neither of us were able to sleep much, and we were exhausted.

Despite our fatigue, we were still in good spirits! We found our hotel easily, freshened up, and set out to explore some.

Copenhagen is a pretty small city, so it’s pretty simple to get around on foot. There are also a lot of Christmas markets going on right now, so we checked out a couple of those. We got some hot wine, and Erwann was appalled by the customer service at the hot dog stand. I was shocked by the reindeer hides. More than that though, we were taking in the beautiful architecture and colors of the city. It is very unique and beautiful!

 

Next we went to check out the most famous part of the city, Nyhavn. It is so colorful and darling! We stopped at a restaurant for some coffee, but shortly after hit a big wall. I couldn’t even understand words anymore. I saw and heard Erwann talking to me, but had no clue what he was saying. It gets dark really early anyway, so we decided to go back to the hotel, take a nap, and explore some more at night.

After some much needed sleep, we went out to get some dinner.

I think we got pretty lucky. We were trying to eat at a restaurant recommended to us by the guy at the front desk of the hotel, but it was closed. Instead we found Karla’s. It was a tiny little place with only three people working there. The waitress was so nice to us and recommended a traditional Danish meal of pork, red cabbage, and potatoes. It was delicious and felt so good to get some real food.

After only one day in Denmark, I have a very good impression of the Danish, and not just because of the waitress who fed us yummy food. Everyone is helpful (and of course speaks perfect English). And so tall! Erwann and I blend right in.

After dinner, we went to the amusement park called Tivoli. We saw the Christmas lights and ate sugar roasted almonds. At this point, we’d just about had enough and went back to the hotel to go to bed.

And now here we are. Tomorrow (today??) we’re off to Paris!

About Me · Family

My Mask

On a nice sunny day about a month ago, I decided to take myself to lunch at Chipotle. I sat outside and ate my chicken salad with guacamole while enjoying a group text conversation with my besties. It had been a good day a work, and I didn’t have to go to school. I was doing well. When I finished lunch, I walked towards the parking lot. I started feeling funny. By the time I got to my car, my legs were very numb and tingly, I couldn’t breathe well, my vision was scattered, and my heart was racing. I immediately got choked up and started to cry. I got in my car as quickly as I could, and waited for about 20 minutes for it to pass. I was able to get home, but my legs continued to feel heavy, and I was irritable for the rest of the day. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew I didn’t like it, and I was scared.

A few days before that, I was in one of my professor’s offices and started to feel dizzy, and my heart began to race. My professor noticed and asked me to sit down. I figured it was dehydration or something, so I drank some more water (even though I had been carrying a water bottle with me all day), and waited for about 20 minutes before I felt better.

On another instance, I was driving home from school and having trouble focusing on the road, and began to think I was starting to see things. Shortly after that, Erwann and I went to see my old friend perform in a musical. We were talking to him afterwards and I suddenly began feeling dizzy and wanting to be alone. That weekend I ran into someone I know at the grocery store and again, out of nowhere, felt numbness in my legs, dizziness, and a desire to withdraw from everyone and everything. The feeling lasted throughout nearly the whole day. I was panicking.

It was at this point that I realized that I really needed to do something. Since I was 15, I have dealt with bouts of depression. Even so, I had never felt so mentally unhealthy as I was a few weeks ago. It was affecting my work, and making me uncomfortable and unhappy while I was teaching. I lost all my motivation to do well in school. I would get out my backpack and stare at it for hours, unable to make myself do anything. I wasn’t sleeping. I spent hours laying on the living room floor with my heart racing, my legs tingling, and my head spinning, with an overwhelming feeling of dread, even though I knew I was safe at home with my husband who loves me.

So, I decided to get some help, and went to see a counselor to work out whatever this was. She asked me to describe my overall mood, and it was then that I realized that it was describable in one word: grumpy. A guy passed me on his skateboard on campus and it made me feel cranky for a good 30 minutes. I heard someone whistling off tune and it made me want to scream. I smelled some other guy’s gross cologne and wanted to slap him. The tiniest things were setting me off, and it was exhausting. My counselor gave me some techniques to be more assertive about things that irritate me, and I set the goal to stop letting this affect my life so much.

This week, she asked me if I ever feel irritated during our sessions. When I thought about it, I truly never had been. She thought this was strange and asked me why, and without hesitation, I knew the reason. As intense as it is to go to the counselor and talk about all the stuff no one ever wants to talk about, it’s the one place where I feel like I don’t have to put all this energy into pretending I’m okay when I’m not. It’s not okay to introduce myself like, “Hi, I’m Alisa, and I am internally having a really intense struggle with anxiety.” But it’s more socially acceptable, if not desirable, to be cranky. I have worked really hard to build this mask to hide my elephant in the room, but it makes me angry when it works. When people assume that I’m smart, confident, and happy, I get frustrated. I wonder how they could possibly expect me to do smart, confident, and happy things when I feel the exact opposite. Then I remember that they expect those things from me not because they are big fat jerks, but because of me, and what I have led them to expect of me.

Again, it’s not like I can walk around with a big sign that says, “Be nice to me! I have issues!” but I realized that I need to stop pretending, and that to be in a better place, I need to start being more honest. So, I’m not sharing all this deeply personal information about my mental health on my blog to get attention or pity, but in an attempt to be more outwardly candid about who I am.

So there. Hi. I’m Alisa. I have issues, but I’m working on it. Nice to meet ya.