What’s Coo5king?

What’s cooking?The Cooking Pot

The question reminds me of an emergent reading book that I’ve used with my young students. Mrs. Spot, Mrs. Spot, what have you got in your cooking pot?

Just one week after committing to working on my big writing project,–the memoir–for ten minutes daily–just ten minutes each day–I’ve got something else cooking. A couple of something elses, actually.

The memoir is, therefore, being returned to the back burner–its default position it seems–where it can simmer quietly while I focus on the front burners, one of which is heating up real quickly and needs my immediate attention and the other which will require occasional stirring over the next eight months while its contents slowly thicken.

So, what’s cooking now, you ask?

Without much effort on my part, I have found myself chairing a committee to put on a 5k race. The PTA at my school started kicking the idea around last fall. I happened to mention, at one of the meetings, that I was on the board of the local running club and could find out a lot of good information for us about timing runners, insurance, advertising, choosing a date that didn’t conflict with other races in the community, and other considerations.

Shortly after my kind offer, I was holding a large pot and a recipe card with nothing on it except 5k, preparation time three months, actual cooking time two hours.

And, though the starting gun just went off, I can already feel the heat of a burner set to high.

You see, the 5k is happening in April. That gives us just three months to bring this concoction to fruition.

I must say that I did take the pot willingly. Though I have plenty going on in my life, organizing a 5k race sounds like a lot of fun. A small race like this is all about the kids, the joy of exercising, and building community. How could it not be fun?

(I say that now.)

So, yes, I gladly took the pot when it was offered.

Since we’ve never held an event like this at our school and since I’ve never been involved in planning a race, let alone taking the lead, this 5k will be produced (almost) from scratch. I say almost because my experience with running a few 5k’s will help tremendously in thinking through the hosting of one. The first night that I felt the heat, I awoke at 1:30 a.m., realizing I needed to start listing my ingredients. Now. The burner is on high, already, the blue flame visible, licking the air, in my face, because the pot is not yet on the burner, not yet on the burner because there’s nothing in it, nothing in it because I hardly know, at this point, what’s required, nothing in it because I’m just toeing the line, toeing the line of a long list of preparations, a long list that does not yet exist.

By 2:30 a.m., I had a three-page planning chart.

Me? Cooking from scratch? Who’d a thunk. What I know at this point is that I want my 5k to turn out better than most of my cooking endeavors have. Thank goodness for the great team of ancillary cooks–fellow teachers and parents–that will be in the kitchen with me.

potsOn my other front burner, I have a less demanding recipe, but something that, nonetheless, needs my attention as well. Over here I’m whipping up some French cuisine. This dish requires reading and researching and learning as much as I can about the country of France, which is where my daughter is going for her Rotary Youth Exchange experience, which will start in August or September.

So the 5k is on high, the French cuisine on medium, and my memoir? Well, it is once again on the back burner, on low, back to low priority status. But here’s the thing with the back burner. As long as there’s a pot on it, and as long as that burner is on, even if it’s just on low, I’ll tend to it. Perhaps not in the sense that I’m adding any more ingredients or even stirring it all that often. But I’ll be continuously breathing it in, mulling it over, as it wafts through my kitchen, in and out of my thoughts. I’ll consider next steps, once it takes its place again at the front of the stove.

So, that’s what’s cooking. That’s what Mrs. Spot has in her cooking pot–planning a big event from scratch, slowly thickening her knowledge of France and the youth exchange experience, and, always, stirring ideas for the memoir.

France Vicariously

Yes, I realize that I’m not the one going to France; it’s my daughter who’s going to be the exchange student. But I can’t help myself. I’m going to take this opportunity to learn as much about France as I have time for.

If I was starting up a whole new blog I suppose I would call it Vive la France du fait d’autrui. Or maybe just France Vicariously, since I would know for sure then that the words were in the correct order.

No, I do not parlez-vous français. My daughter is in French III class, but no, she does not speak French either.

It was right before Christmas when we learned she’d be spending her junior year in France. I wanted to put something under the tree to get our great learning adventure underway, so I started with these three little dictionaries that I found in our local Barnes & Noble.


We got a few good laughs from these literal meanings:

J’ai un coup de pompe. I’m feeling tired. Literally, I’ve been hit by a pump.

Il y a du monde au balcon. She has big boobs. Literally, the balcony is crowded.

Tu me gonfles. You’re getting on my nerves. Literally, you make me swell.

Je lui ai roulé un patin. I French-kissed him. Literally, I rolled a skate to him.

I’d say, from these examples, that this dictionary is definitely written for teenagers.

In addition to the confusion that such literal phrases will create, we also learned that French hipsters from the suburbs of Paris started “verlan” – a form of French slang created to confuse the uncool. Verlan works by rearranging the order of letters or syllables of a word. A sort of French Pig Latin, it sounds like.

And, of course, there are the French abbreviations, symbols, and acronyms used when texting.

:—) Je t’m +. C ni is the equivalent of Tu es un menteur. Je ne t’aime plus. C’est fini. You’re a liar. I don’t love you anymore. It’s over.

The smiley face emoticon with the long nose means liar. Bonjour Pinocchio.

How about this one? Cpa5p means C’est pas sympa. That’s not nice. Yes, the fourth character is a five.

That really isn’t nice. They’ve got their basic French, crazy literal phrases, verlan, and Frexting. (This is why I’m perfectly happy to be doing the French experience vicariously.)

After Christmas, we ordered several books, the one that grabbed my attention the most being Au Contraire! Figuring Out the French.Figuring Out the French During the Rotary Youth Exchange selection process, we learned that France is one of the most difficult countries to go to for an exchange. But why? Surely, we cannot just say that the French loathe Americans. There has to be more to it than that.

Mort Rosenblum, in Mission to Civilize: The French Way talks about how surface familiarity can be deceptive. “Outsiders go wrong by looking at France through their own optics. It is always a jolt for veteran travelers to find that culture shock in France is more severe than in Saudia Arabia or Bolivia. Elsewhere, things look and sound different, so you expect them to be different. France looks like home, or at least like familiar old postcards and paintings. Surprise.”

The authors of Au Contraire! say that the surface similarities and hidden differences can lead to situations that are uncomfortable, confusing, comic, or catastrophic. One example is this. When Starbucks launched its French business in 2003 they imported their friendly U.S.-style customer service. Patrons were initially shocked and appalled when the baristas asked for their first name after placing an order.

Calling someone by their first name? It is clear that my daughter will be guilty of many a faux pas during her time in France. I hope to learn what I can ahead of time and share them with her and here on my blog as well. She, in the meantime, will be busy learning the basics of the language.

For now, c’est fini.


They said we’d know by December 17th or 18th. They said the letter would come by mail. U.S. mail. In the mailbox.

December 17th came and went. No letter.

December 18th came and went. No letter.

And so I was awake in the wee hours of the 19th, not realizing at first that it was the day, the day the letter would arrive, that had me awake, feeling anxious.

Please, I prayed, let it say yes. Let it say she’s been selected.RYE

Please, I prayed, let it say no. Let it say that she won’t be going away, that she won’t be leaving me.

How could I want it to say anything but yes? This is what my daughter wants. This is her dream. To be chosen as a Rotary Youth Exchange student for her junior year in high school. What an incredible opportunity. Why would I want the letter to say anything but yes?

How could I want it to say anything but no? This is my baby. My friend. My roommate. My daily joy. How could I send her away for ten months?

But December 19th came and went. No letter.

That left the 20th. Friday the 20th. Surely they wouldn’t make us wonder all through the weekend. Yes, the 20th had to  be the day.

But the 20th was problematic. Amy was leaving school early with her swim team for an out-of-town two-day swim meet. She wouldn’t be coming home on the 20th, wouldn’t be home until late afternoon the following day.

“What if the letter comes, Amy? What should I do?”

“What do you mean, what should you do?”

“Should I open it?” How could I not?

“No! Wait for me!” Of course. Of course, I knew I should wait for her. It was her letter. It would be addressed to her. But how could I wait?

And then, there it was. The letter in the mailbox.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI brought it inside. It was well sealed. I held it up to the light. No luck. I texted Amy. Your letter came.

I wasn’t expecting a return text right away. She was at a swim meet, after all. But, she responded within seconds.


My older daughter was there, home, on the couch. “She wants me to open it!” I told her.

“Well, do it, Mom. What are you waiting for?”

“I don’t know.” Yes, I did. “I guess it seems like she should be here.”

“She said open it, didn’t she?”

“Okay.” I slipped one finger under the flap on the back and lifted it carefully, a few millimeters at a time.

“Mom, hurry up! Just tear it open!”

“I can’t.” I sped up a little though until the flap was entirely unsealed and the letter was visible.

I removed the letter from the envelope and held it to my chest.


“It’s too exciting. I’m scared. I’ve never been this scared to open anything before.”

I unfolded the top third and scanned for those crucial first few words. There they were. It is with great pleasure…

Relief. Relief, relief, relief. Relief that my daughter won’t experience the disappointment of not being selected.

I read those five words aloud then, and, once again, put the letter to my heart.

“Come on, mom! Where’s she going?”

It would be in the next paragraph. I folded the bottom third down and there, in capital letters, wasOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

FRANCE. Her original choice, the country she wanted to go to in the first place, when she started this process two months ago, back when she thought she could choose a country and they’d say okay and that was all there would be to it.

“FRANCE!” I told her sister. Her sister who will be off to college next year. Her sister who knows, as I do, that the time for them to separate after all these years of growing up together will be much easier if they leave home at the same time.

And then I cried. I laughed and I cried. I went into the kitchen and came back to the living room. I sat down. I stood back up.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said.

“Mom, let her go. She’ll be fine.” My daughter looked at me as if I was crazy, as if surely I had to have agreed to letting her go long before this point, this moment of getting the letter.

“No,” I explained. “I mean right now. I don’t know what to do with myself.” I was too thrilled–too needing to talk to Amy, to hug her, to celebrate with her–to do anything else.


The months of preparation begin now.


10:23 p.m. on 12/6/13

in a bed

in a hotel room

snowing and a single digit outside

it’s so cold in here

even with the thermostat past ninety-five

and i can’t snuggle


not even my dog


won’t let my face touch the pillow

just my hair

won’t let my skin touch the blanket or the comforter

just the sheets

i assume they’ve been washed

stomach rumbles

was expecting some dinner this evening

that didn’t happen

lack of communication

too cold to go out and get some

wifi isn’t working

lamp is too low, too dim to read by

so i just lie here



While I’m here in this motel room, my daughter is in the hotel meeting room. She’s mingling with inbounders and rebounders and other outbound candidates like herself. It’s District Rotary Youth Exchange weekend. She and 39 other candidates from across the state are vying for 28 available spots in 20 different countries.RYE

Inbounders are exchange students from other countries who have landed in the state of Colorado. They’re here, at this weekend event, as ambassadors to their community and country. Tomorrow they will “sell” their country, trying to get the candidates to list it as one of the top five places to which they’d like to be assigned.

Rebounders are students from our state who were abroad last school year and are now back at their local high school. They attend to talk about their experience and answer any questions the candidates and/or their parents may have.

Outbounders are what the 40 candidates hope to be – leaving their family, house, school, friends, and community for the life-changing opportunity to be a foreign exchange student.

Also here this weekend are more than 50 Rotarians from around the state. They will observe the candidates all weekend as they participate in structured activities and less structured social time. And they will conduct 120 interviews, two with each candidate and one with each candidate’s parent(s).

After a three-hour parent meeting this evening, I have much to consider as I lie here–cold, hungry, alone, uncomfortable–but all I can think about is what my daughter, if granted this opportunity, might feel like those first few nights that she lies in a strange bed, in someone else’s house, on the other side of the world, a new family to get to know, with cultural and language barriers, an ocean away from her people, her home, her life, the bed that has held her all these years.

How will her poem read?


A Moment in Time is a shared blogging experience, where writers document and share their stories from the same moment on the same day. The day and time for the next A Moment in Time is posted by Randee every few days in such a way that you’ll have a heads up on the exact moment to which you need to attend and focus on and, if it’s significant in some way, write about and add to the list.

To read what others were doing at this moment in time, click on the link below. And, think about participating in the next moment in time.  🙂


Parent Letter for Exchange Student Application

When my youngest told me, a few months back, that she wanted to go to France as a foreign exchange student next year, I didn’t panic. I knew it would be a long process and, by leaving it up to her to find out what she had to do to make it happen, I would know if she was really serious about the idea.

She talked to a counselor at school, contacted the agency that arranges the exchanges, and, with interviews happening on Monday (this Monday!), worked all weekend on her ten-page application. I had to contribute a letter that would serve to introduce my daughter to the host agency and families. Since this was much of the writing I did today, I thought I’d share it on my blog.

November 3, 2013

To the club and families who will host Amelia –

Thank you, thank you for all the care, time, energy, and teaching you will provide for Amelia while she is in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. We are both looking forward to an amazing experience for her.

You will quickly discover that Amelia is a happy and easy-going young lady. She wakes up ready to embrace each day and wants to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. During her first year in high school, she joined the softball team, the swim team, and the lacrosse team, the latter of which she had never played. She hadn’t even watched the sport before! She is appreciative of the people in her life who care for her—her family, her friends, her teachers and coaches. She demonstrates her appreciation with an unwavering positive attitude and by helping out whenever she can. She is a real leader with her group of friends—organizing sleepovers, hikes, river floats, costumes—and manages the details to make things happen. She laughs and smiles and tries to make everything fun and put others at ease. She is reliable, predictable, respectful, responsible.  I like that Amelia does her homework at the kitchen table and visits with me while I work in the kitchen and that we always have good conversations in the car. It is always a pleasure to have her around.

Amelia has always been socially and emotionally mature for her age. She is tolerant and even-tempered. She wants to understand different points of views, different cultures, different beliefs. It seems she can always understand and, on top of that, appreciate the decisions I make as a parent in regards to her—how much money she can have, where she can go and how late she can stay out, why she needs to clean her room, and the few instances when I have had to impose consequences or take away a privilege. The only times that I see Amelia get frustrated are when issues arise in her group of friends and things aren’t as harmonious as they once were and therefore could be. I have also seen her disheartened when she doesn’t do as well as her peers in sports. She makes good decisions and appreciates others’ points of view, so disagreements and discipline are a rarity with her. She is nearly always a complete joy.

I have seen Amelia go after a lot of things in life, even if she knows they will be challenging. She takes some hard classes in school and has to balance time for lots of homework, sports practice, and time with family and friends. When classes get difficult, she talks to the teachers and finds out what she can do about it. This past spring she suffered a concussion and had to navigate the confusing process of how to finish up her classes for the year when she wasn’t able to attend full days or concentrate on school work. It was challenging in that each teacher wanted to handle it differently. She had to be proactive and assertive and, in the end, her grades did not suffer much at all. Also, last spring, Amelia went through challenging lifeguard training and then worked as a guard and swim instructor during the summer. It was a high stress job and she was one of the youngest employees, but she did great. Amelia does not avoid conflict—she will talk to her teachers, me, or her friends when there is an obvious issue—but she also does not create it. She just isn’t that type of person.

As I mentioned earlier, Amelia is quite mature for her age. She worked all summer and saved her earnings and rarely asks me for spending money. She takes care of all of her homework on her own, only asking for help when she truly does not understand something. She is the type to get an entire group of people organized, including who’s driving, how many can fit in each vehicle, departure times, and all of those sorts of details, and then just run it by me to make sure it’s okay. Essentially, she does what I feel that I, as a mother, should do. At age 11, Amelia wanted to live with her father “to give him a chance” and was not one bit afraid to leave her mom. A few years later, she thought it would be best to live with me again and did not show a single fear in leaving her friends and starting over in a new school. To her, it was an opportunity, an adventure. When she mentioned being an exchange student, I told her to check into it, learn what it takes, and get going with the process. This was my way of determining if she was serious about doing this. That’s exactly what she did, with really no assistance from me. There is no question about it, Amelia is independent.

I am proud of Amelia for embracing life to the fullest. She tries many things at school—hard courses, sports, student activities. She also enjoys our community and participates in all sorts of events. She notices beauty around her—nature, city scenes, children—and captures it all in pictures or is sure to comment about it. Amelia asks questions about things she doesn’t fully understand, such as politics, articles she might see in the newspaper, or ideas she is learning about in school. She is curious and interested and appreciative and because of this I really enjoy her company.

Though I will miss her dearly, I hope that Amelia has the opportunity to be an exchange student, mainly because this is what she wants to do. This is her idea, she is trying to make it happen, and if it does, I know that alone—the fact that she was able to bring it to fruition—will be just as gratifying as the actual experience will be. Also, Amy loves her French classes and wants the opportunity to learn the language on a whole other level.

It will be easy to have Amelia in your home. She is quiet around the house and respectful of others and shared living spaces. She will truly be grateful for anything you do for her and will return your kindness with positivity and respect and by not being burdensome in any way whatsoever.


Randee Bergen