This week, we have a rather personal post. With COVID restrictions loosening and more people getting vaccinated, summer travel is making a comeback. A good friend of mine will be heading to Paris for two weeks this summer, and it got me thinking…will this magical city be the same as she remembers? Or will it be completely turned on its head after dealing with the spread of a deadly disease?
I thought back to when I studied in France as a student…the smells, the sounds, the atmosphere, the struggle to understand fast spoken French. I remembered some of the first people I met – their zest for life, their desire to be free to do as they wished, and their clear devotion to their family and friends. Thinking back made me ask myself, Will things be all that different? Will people still have their same dogged determination to live life, experience life, cherish it?
Plus que jamais. (More than ever)
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that nothing can take away the French people’s zest for life. The joie de vivre exhibited by so many French people (and observed by non-French travelers) is never going away, even during and after a pandemic. There is not a great deal that I’m sure about, but there’s one thing that we can always count on!
I have a heartwarming story for you this week…I have a friend who works as a computer science teacher at a school in Alexandria. As you have probably guessed, the French language is not something that she encounters often in her job. All that changed about a week ago.
My friend (who speaks fluent French) was instructing her class on how to make websites, and she made one for a world language club as an example. She then had a student say how much they wanted to learn French, but didn’t yet have the resources/books to do so. The next class, she shared a French/English dictionary with them, along with some worksheets. Now, she helps her student learn a little French every computer science class!
Just goes to show how you can teach someone about something they love, even in an unlikely place! May 3-7 is Teacher Appreciation Week, so don’t forget to show teachers how much you appreciate them all month (and year!) long.
Bonjour tout le monde! This week, we posted an interview with D. Alfaro, one of the vendors that we partnered with for our conference in August 2020. She was kind enough to donate masks to some of our conference participants, and we wanted to spread the word about her incredible products. Bonne lecture!
What kind of products do you make?
I started out making dog clothes about 8 years ago, but over the years I have added other items such as bags, wallets and purses into my store.
What is your most popular item (s) ?
Before the pandemic, it was a tie collar. I use all recycled men’s clothes to make them so they look very high quality when they are completed. During the pandemic, my biggest seller was a face mask with material that was from The Office and Schitt’s Creek.
Do you make products only for dogs, or for other pets as well?
I have made products for cats and I got to make a bowtie for a pig once! That was a lot of fun.
What are some things that inspire you when making your products?
For dog clothes, I love dressing dogs up in human looking suits. It is so fun to go out and find used men’s clothes, match shirts with suits and tie. When I watch TV I pay extra close attention to what men are wearing to see what looks great. I love creating combos. For the newer stuff, I just think about things that I need in my life and what I like for bags and try and create them.
What is your favorite item to make?
I would say the Poop N’ Fancy dispensary bag. It something that doesn’t take too much time and has instant gratification. I can make a bunch of them if I am feeling the itch to use a lot of fun fabric at one.
It’s so interesting that you have customers from all over the world. Can you tell us about one special international order you completed?
I am an actress as well, so there was someone who loves my work on a particular web series I did. She started following me and about a year after that I started my dog clothes business. She ended up ordering two hoddies from me and I sent them off to France.
I read that your pet chihuahua inspired you to start MuttsNBoltsCreations. Tell us about her!
Oh man, Xena is my most favorite little creature. I can’t believe something so small could have so much personality. My spouse is the one that picked her at the pound, but Xena decided that I am her person. She is always with me at home. It doesn’t matter what room I am in, she is there finding some sun to lounge around in. Sometimes she gets into these moods and she runs in circles as fast as she can all over the house. It always makes me laugh. She loves to wear her clothes, she knows how to put her arms into the arm holes. I think she understands that they keep her warm since she has no fur on her underside. I only make her little fleece sweaters to wear since she is very much a tomboy. Xena has definitely stolen my heart.
Could you tell us about some products you make for humans? Your very creative masks, for example?
Before the pandemic, I was strictly a dog or cat only company. I did make the bags but I had never made anything for humans. I lost my job in March, so I figured I had sewing skills, why not try making masks. I know a lot of my nurse friends were running out of PPE so I made them cloth ones. That’s how the mask business started. I was able to donate about 250 masks to frontline workers when there was a PPE crisis. To date, I have made about 3,500 masks. The only other products I make for human are these baby bibs that are different that typical bibs. They are called Baprons. They are much easier to put on the baby and it covers more of their clothes.
It’s great to see that part of the proceeds from MuttsNBoltsCreations go to animal shelters. Any way we could support them?
Right now, I am donating to Danielle’s Accidental Cat Rescue. She has been doing a lot of wonderful work getting kittens off the street and getting the older cast fixed so they can’t reproduce. I like to find small rescues that aren’t too big and are really wanting to do more but can’t financially. The Bolts in my company name was meant to also represent other furry animals.
I think it’s so important to adopt from pounds, shelters and rescues and not shop for pure bred animals. There are so many wonderful animals out there that need a loving home. Mutts make the best pets and they are less likely to have medical issues compared to pure bred ones.
This month, we had a chance to sit down and interview Morgan from Morganic Handmade. She an incredible vendor from Etsy who was kind enough to donate masks to our conference participants last year. We hope you enjoy the interview!
French in DC: How long have you been selling on Etsy?
Morgan: I’ve been selling stuff on Etsy since 2016- my boyfriend and I used to screen print designs onto cheap clothing and make stickers. In 2018, I started selling handmade hemp clothing.
French in DC: What made you want to start selling clothes?
Morgan: I started making/selling clothing after I tore my ACL and had full reconstructive surgery in 2018. I started sewing clothes to stay busy mentally while I healed my physical body.
French in DC: Can you tell us about the dyeing process?
Morgan: I use all natural plant dyes to color all of my fabric. Natural dyeing is an ancient art that involves cooking down raw plants and extracts to extract their natural color. Natural dyes take multiple dye baths and colors take from days to weeks to achieve full palette potential.
French in DC: What makes organic clothes more durable / better for the planet than non-organic clothes?
Morgan: Because my garments are made of natural fibers (hemp/organic cotton/merino fabric blends) they are biodegradable! Plastic (polyester) clothing that will eventually go into a landfill will never break down, because it’s a synthetic material. Hemp can also be grown without the use of harmful pesticides, takes far less water to grow in comparison to cotton, produces twice the amount of fiber to acre in comparison to cotton, it is the most durable natural fiber – four times stronger than cotton – naturally antimicrobial, naturally anti-fungal and naturally UV protective.
French in DC: What do you like most about creating and selling clothes?
Morgan: I enjoy having a creative outlet to express myself. I never really cared about clothes growing up but love how we can express ourselves simply from the color and textures we choose to wear.
French in DC: Have you been able to pass on your love of fabrics and organic clothes to others? If so, how?
Morgan: Yes! I am always advocating for natural fibers and teaching my friends/family about how good natural fibers are for our body and Earth.
French in DC: Where do you get your inspiration for making your clothes?
Morgan: I am inspired by the outdoors – mountains, trails, trees and rivers are where I draw most of my inspiration from.
French in DC: Tell us about Hood River. Is that where you harvest the materials to make your clothes? Does being outdoors inspire you?
Morgan: I don’t locally harvest all of my dye stuff, only a small portion for special projects – but do love foraging for dye mushrooms, lichen, oak galls and leaves for eco-printing! “The Gorge” is the ultimate outdoor playground nestled along the Columbia River. It’s a magical region that offers access to world class mountain biking, kite boarding, wind surfing, kayaking, hiking, skiing and snowboarding. Everyone in the Gorge gets after it! I am certainly inspired by the outdoors and all the Columbia River Gorge has to offer.
French in DC: What are your favorite products to make?
Morgan: I love making hoodies and hats most..probably because I wear these things the most.
French in DC: If someone is looking to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, what tips would you give them? How can they make incremental changes?
Morgan: Say no to single use plastics! Say no to fast fashion! Anything that goes in a plastic bag can easily go in a mason jar or tupperware. You can even reuse old plastic zip loc bags just by washing them and hanging them to dry. If you like to drink from straws, get some glass straws.
French in DC: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
For our online conference last year, we were thrilled to have Charlie & Maïa from the YouTube channel Street French as our keynote speakers. This past week, we had a chance to interview them about their story, their advice for French learners, and how language learning is a never-ending journey.
French in DC: How did the two of you meet?
Charlie and Maïa: We met through the website Couchsurfing. Charlie was visiting Paris for a month in 2013 with the idea of meeting French people there, making friends and practicing his French. He messaged a lot of people on Couchsurfing to meet up and show him around and Maïa was the only one who answered.
French in DC: When did you create Street French?
Charlie and Maïa: We created Street French in June 2016.
French in DC: What made you want to create Street French?
Charlie and Maïa: We were both giving private French lessons before we even met and we saw how much progress people would make by focusing on practicing speaking. We were heartbroken at the idea that some students would spend up to 5 or 8 years learning French and still wouldn’t be able to have a simple conversation. Charlie had then the idea of writing a book and making videos about what really helped him to learn French and to be able to use it in real life situations.
French in DC: What do you like most about teaching French? Why is it important to learn how to speak French in a casual setting, as opposed to more formal situations you might find in a classroom / textbook?
Charlie and Maïa: What we love most is bringing value to people’s lives, making them feel more confident with their French level, teaching them to be more proactive in their language journey and then seeing them get excited and sharing experiences they’ve had or people they’ve met. We also love to teach cultural context behind certain words and expressions : How we would say something, in what situation, how else you could say that, etc.
As a bonus, we get to meet really great and interesting people!
When it comes to why it’s important to learn casual French, it helps a lot to understand the culture and make friends. Usually it’s so much easier to connect with someone if they see that you maybe have a stronger accent but that you speak more like a native and you’re using common vocabulary, expressions, sentence structure, etc. The opposite can sometimes create awkward situations. It also allows the students to express themselves in French like they would in their native language because they might use a lot of slang with their friends and family so speaking really formally all the time in French wouldn’t make sense for them.
French in DC: Tell us about your French E-Courses.
Charlie and Maïa: We’ve carefully selected specific tenses and grammar concepts you need to be able to speak French and that French people actually use in their everyday life for our main e-Course “Zero to French’’. It also incorporates all the different e-Books and e-Courses we’ve created over the years.
We go over the basics, teach past/present/future tenses you need, share an interesting Word Map concepts that Charlie came up with that helps any beginner to start making simple sentences. We give you some cultural concepts about interacting with people and go over more complex concepts too.
Then, we also teach you how and why to practice on your own and where to meet French speakers to practice with. We definitely believe that learning (in a classroom or with our e-Course) should be paired with putting yourself out there and practicing the language in real life situations as much as possible!
French in DC: We saw on your website that you sell these adorable Lion à vélo stickers – we bet there’s a story behind that! How did you come up with that design?
Ah that’s funny! Charlie has quite a wild imagination and would always talk about animals and the lion kind of represents Charlie coming to France and making new friends. He’s still our mascot, though we’ve been adding some new animals to the pack over the years.
French in DC: Do you connect with other French teachers outside of Paris – is there a network, for example?
Charlie and Maïa: Instagram is definitely our main network. We interact with a few other French teaching accounts, we support each other and shout each other out sometimes.
We also get contacted by French academic teachers from all over the world with specific cultural questions. They enjoy that we share current events and media French people actually watch today. They’ve told us that we are their French source when they have questions about the evolution of the French language, such as the use of non-binary pronouns or with the feminine form of certain job titles, etc.
(Here’s a blog we made about non-binary pronouns in French) :
French in DC: French pronunciation (and learning the language in general) can be pretty tricky for non-native French speakers. Any tips you would give on how to improve your speaking?
Charlie and Maïa: Students usually need to slow down when they speak because if they can’t pronounce something well slowly, they definitely won’t be able to do it when speaking quickly. That’s the main issue we see when it comes to pronunciation. It can be slow and tedious, but there’s just no other way to get better at it, you have to take things slow in the beginning.
It’s also really important to study French phonetics, we have a video series on that on our youtube channel:
When you watch videos on Youtube you can slow them down and really practice and pay attention to how French native people pronounce certain things. You can also record yourself pronouncing certain words as well and compare.
It’s about a lot of repetition/practice, knowing it takes a long time, accepting that you might never sound a 100% like a native speaker, understanding that pronunciation is not THE main goal and remembering that it’s more important to be able to hold a conversation than to say a word perfectly. We see so many people being so self-conscious about their pronunciation that they don’t allow themselves to speak French at all because of it, which is really sad.
French in DC: Some French language learners have faced challenges with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as not being able to afford lessons and not being able to travel to a French-speaking country. What would you say to someone who wants to learn French who is feeling a bit discouraged right now?
Charlie and Maïa: This year was definitely challenging… But on the bright side, we saw the fact that people stayed at home as an opportunity to connect with them online way more than before. So we motivated our students to use apps like Tandem, Hello Talk or to go to our French Conversation group on Facebook to chat with people and practice their French:
Even if we’re all stuck at home, you can still practice French by watching YouTube videos, reading articles on quora.fr, etc… it’s just about being creative and not letting anything stop you. If you’re truly passionate about speaking French, you should be able to find a way!
French in DC: What else would you like for us to know?
Charlie and Maïa: Remember learning a language is a marathon. Charlie looks at it like a journey that never really ends. It’s always been his hobby and it’s just something that he deeply enjoys so it never feels like work to him.
Find what you enjoy in the language and do more of that! Charlie was never really a big reader, but he loves to converse in the language, so that’s what he spends most of his time doing and focuses mostly on conversational French. Experiment and figure out how you can “fit” French into your life. If you’re interested in learning more about our style of teaching, check us out on YouTube, Instagram, and we also have a free conversational French e-Course at :
La pleine conscience – French for “mindfulness” – is something that many of us became more familiar with last year. Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis” (Merriam-Webster, 2021).
It’s something that I think can bring about a lot of healing, judging from what we all had to experience in 2021. As many of us remain at home, I feel is it important to look after our mental health as much as our physical health. One thing my assistant Kate and I started doing is keeping mindfulness journals – each day, we write about something that we experienced that we felt grateful for – whether it was a certain thing we felt, tasted, or appreciated. It could even be a new French expression we learned!
Below is a picture that always helps me to feel mindful – from the week I spent in Nice a few years ago. I hope you all can find something that connects you to la pleine conscience as well 🙂
“On ne peut pas arrêter les vagues, mais on peut apprendre à les surfer”, Jon Kabat-Zinn
Another day, another cycle of social distancing. While you’re trying to find ways to stay busy at home, check out some of our favorite French films. You can practice your French without ever leaving chez vous!
De rouille et d’os (Rust and Bone) (2012)
This is a great film about a down-on-his-luck boxer who begins a courtship with a paralyzed former animal trainer. It’s a powerful and emotional work, with an amazing performance by Marion Cotillard. Available for rental on Amazon Prime.
Le Grand Bain (Sink or Swim) (2018)
This charming comedy centers around a handful of 40-something men who are looking for something meaningful in their lives – which comes in the form of their local pool’s synchronized swimming team. It’s full of heart and laughs, a great way to spend an afternoon and pick up some new French vocab. Available for rental on Amazon Prime.
Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément (Blind Date)2015
Personally, I could watch this film over and over and never tire of it! A puzzle-maker and a pianist start dating…even though they’ve never seen each other in person. Sound like your typical romantic comedy? Available on Netflix.
While many (if not all of us) are inside looking for activities to do while at home, I made sure to include something for the kids. My assistant, Kate, teaches Technology at an elementary school in Alexandria. She often uses the website / app Epic! with her students, and you can use and enjoy it too.
Epic! is designed for children ages 3-12, and includes a wide variety of subjects. Subjects include (but are not limited to) History, Language Arts, Mathematics, and of course, World Languages!
There are three world languages total: Chinese, Spanish, and naturally, French. There are some really outstanding French children’s books that I know your children will love. I put the link in this post, so you can get started with your student. Be sure to make an account – parents get 30 days free, and teachers can use it for free.
I think that we can all agree that this has been a tough year…but that doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate a meaningful Thanksgiving together. While we all have struggled this year – due to financial stress, school closures, or family upheaval, we can still find things to be thankful for.
Personally, I am thankful for all my fantastic students, and the joy I get to share with them while teaching French. Although we can’t be in person this year, we can still share many warm, pleasant moments via Skype. As long as we can still reach each other, that’s what counts.
However you are celebrating this year, have a wonderful Thanksgiving chez vous. Joyeux Thanksgiving!
With a pandemic on our hands, it can be difficult to find social outings where you can learn new things and meet new people. But there are still great opportunities out there!
Alexandria, Virginia, located six miles from DC, has a sister city in Caen, France. The Alexandria-Caen Sister Cities Committee hosts French cultural events.
This coming Thursday, November 19, the Alexandria-Caen Sister Cities Committee will host a virtual wine tasting for the 2020 Beaujolais Nouveau. There will be four fantastic wines featured: a red, a white, a sparkling rosé, and of course, the 2020 Beaujolais Nouveau! The link for tickets is below. We hope to see you there!