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Endings… and Beginnings

louvre

When last we spoke, I was alternating between waxing poetic about sunny summer vacations and practically pulling my hair out in anticipation of my move from Paris to California. I am pretty sure that my silence here speaks for itself. As usual, when things got tough, the blog was sidelined. However, I am popping back up to assure you that I made it.

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I want to take a moment to thank all of my friends and colleagues for the time and energy they spent supporting me through the stress of those last few weeks and months of what seemed like perma-crisis mode. I can only hope that our many celebrations were worth it. I still have a backlog of posts I want to write about my last few weeks/months in Paris – to tell you all about the museums, trips and meals I was able to squeeze in before leaving.

gyoza

My story has, in practical terms, come full circle. From California, to Boston, to Paris and back again. Emotionally, however, it is a very different story. I left here at age 22, naïve and idealistic with a list of things I wanted to accomplish in my life that, at the time, seemed to equate to happiness. I return, almost 12 years later, a bit more jaded, much more confidant and knowing that crossing goals off of a list in itself is not necessarily success.

bruges

I learned so much about myself living in Paris. Despite all of it’s beauty and splendor, it is not an easy place to feel at home – especially living alone and not exactly speaking the language. I have a kind of innate confidence in me now – I moved there, I made it work – that no one can take away. Much of that came from learning how to share my ups and downs here. This blog gave me space to find a voice and foster my creativity, whether it was with my photos, crafting or a weeknight meal. More importantly, in this space I never felt alone. I am exceedingly thankful to each of you that read these words, especially those that dropped a kind comment now and then to reinforce that, despite thousands of miles, there are ways we can all remain connected and close.

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After all of my international travel and adventures, I am excited to be reinventing myself again, this time with the backdrop of San Diego and the support of my friends and family. I have started a Researching San Diego blog – you can find it here. It may be a bit less exotic of a locale, but there is so much to explore, in the city and throughout California (plus, those last few Paris posts will be posted there soon!). I hope you all will join me for the new adventures yet to come.

Thank you.

Much Love.

Five Things About Me

(I love this and I don’t care who knows it)

To say that it has been too long since I’ve been here would be the understatement of the year (or, two, actually, depending how you count). I certainly have been drafting posts in my mind, carrying my camera everywhere and the food… oh the food I have consumed in the past four months – all with the excuse of sharing it with you. Yet, that is what I’ve come to accept. I do not need an excuse. Not for that 9 course pop-up restaurant in DC (oh, yes, that happened), not for cheese-tastic feasts and, importantly, not for my most recent in a long line of blog recesses… Life got in the way. I do the best I can. I look back and wish I had prioritized differently and I forge ahead hoping that I will have learned from the experience. So, let’s move on, shall we?

(an embarrassment of cheeses riches cheeses)

Inspired by Jenna (who does not know me, but is now my most recent favorite person for unknowingly providing me with the above photo – and post idea), I figured a list is the best way to shake off the old and bring in the new. Who doesn’t love a list of random factoids? I know I do!

1. Yoga is good for me. This is my nod to Mr. Gosling above, and will be my only ‘self-improvement’ entry on this list. Last summer I got into the habit of doing 20 minutes of yoga each morning. It was a slow, conscious way of starting each day and I felt the benefits almost immediately. My posture improved, as did my patience, and I was proud of committing to a small, daily practice for just me (those 15-20 minutes of yoga were certainly a much better use of that time than the ‘snooze’ button). All was good (and balanced) until the weather cooled, skies darkened and winter set in. I fell off of the interconnectedness wagon. The warmth of my bed cocoon was too tempting. I now feel ready to get back to it, but have not found the get-up-and-go each morning (‘snooze’ has reconquered my world) to make it happen. So, I’m saying it here – and hoping that accountability to blog friends and strangers will push me farther than I have been able to push myself.

(that’s my face!)

2. I had both of my jaws realigned in 2005. Due to an overbite and resultantly wacky teeth , I had both of my jaws realigned while in graduate school. This involved getting braces for the second time and several weeks consuming only liquids. In preparation for the best diet ever (joking – sort of), I took the opportunity to be a complete glutton, which had its moments. I joke that perhaps they will unearth my skull and think that I am the missing link between man and machine. Besides rapid onset ice cream headaches (all the metal in my face cools down way faster than tissue and bone do in cold weather), the only perk is to freak people out by having them touch the one screw you can feel, at the top of my nose… Truly one of the best party tricks ever.

(Camille and Meg. Post-cheese – and, perhaps, some wine)

3.  I create a family of friends wherever I land. I have been very lucky in life’s endeavors so far, even if they continue to take me further and further afield from the place I consider ‘home’ (most anywhere on the CA coastline). Although I try to focus on the positive and be enthusiastic about the opportunities I am given, there are some days when this is just downright difficult. Enter my ‘family’. I have, in most cases, blindly stumbled upon the most amazing people in each city that I have inhabited. Intelligent, generous, hilarious people who have welcomed me into their lives, opened their hearts and shared in the ups and downs of daily life, so much so that I feel at ‘home’ when I am with them. I could not imagine better friends – here, in Boston (now moved almost entirely en masse in DC) or, waiting for me to return, some day, to CA. Talk about lucky…

(my *first* niece, Sophia Rose)

4. In this year, I will become an aunt 4 times over.  Speaking of family. Mine has been gettin’ busy! Ours is a modern (re: fragmented, eccentric, wonderful) family that has spent a lot of time apart, each of us finding our own way. Yet, in the past year, things have been, uhm, coming together (?) and two sisters and two brothers will (or have) both bring (brought) bundles of joy into this world for me to love, hug, squeeze and call George (or, Sophia, whatever). Seeing this happen, being part of the inner circle, and frantically knitting baby blankets has made me realize that, for all of my world traveling and far flung soul searching, there is nothing like family. No matter how dysfunctional. Kidding, I swear!

(make. this. now.)

5. I have conquered apple exhaustion and now cannot get enough. There have been stories of apple excess in years past. It is like the Groundhog Day of the panier set; more apples? Yes. OK, at least a few more weeks of winter to go. This year the apples were somewhat offset by an overwhelming quantity of kiwi, a winter fruit I now dread more than the apple (at least you can make something with apples). However, despite the kiwi distraction, I still find myself in early April with more apples than I can fit in my tiny, Parisan kitchen.  This weekend I was done. I had had enough. No more crumbly pies, or last minute tarts. It all had to go. Now.

Applesauce was clearly the answer. Rather than my go-to recipe, I chose to follow Luisa’s instincts (note to self – never hesitate to follow Luisa’s instincts from here on out). Please, for all that is holy, go make this now. Buy apples (if you have to) and then loosely follow the recipe. Maybe you substitute brown for white sugar and, if you are so lucky as to get vanilla-infused butter from your friends as gifts (I told you so), drop a few dollops of that in. Bake until extra browned and mash away. Yes, you must taste as you go, but do not forget to let it cool, or you won’t be able to feel that center-front spot on your tongue for the next few days – believe me. Even better, add a dollop of crème fraiche and slowly savor each sweet, caramel-y bite – like the most perfectly bruléed tarte tatin, without all that crust nonsense to get in the way. I am seriously considering picking up some more apples at the store on the way home tomorrow. Just sayin’.

So, there we go. Not nearly caught up (that will come), but at least reconnected, which, for now, is a big step in the right direction. Bonne Nuit!

Drowsy Sunday

Today I took a clue from the cool, rainy weather – with the exception of a brief breakfast outing, I tucked in, drank tea (and, eventually, a glass of wine) and putted around doing house/heartwarming things.

This included large chunks of time dedicated to exploring several newly discovered photography blogs, all of which inspired me to let images of a grey, drowsy Sunday speak (almost) for themselves.

Walking past tourists braving the rain to see Sacre Coeur on my way to…

…warm my hands and fill my belly with breakfast at Cocoliquot.

Tomatoes, hoarded from the past few weeks’ paniers, waiting…

to become a delicious Sunday afternoon meal,

all the while putting finishing touches on a baby blanket – with one week to go.

A day for meandering, earnest thoughts, kitchen smells, a bit of journaling and dancing alone in the living room. Restful and rejuvenating for the week ahead.

Americana – the Museums

Boston, MA to Washington D.C. – 1h 38min

Over the past (almost) two years I have turned my sights outward. I left my home country and language to take up the challenge of working (and living) in France. Moreover, I have had the great fortune to be welcomed into The German’s family and now look forward to visting the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt and eating bratwurst on many frigid Christmas Eves to come.

Despite my excitement about all of the new places I have explored, I have found myself becoming overtly patriotic. Never before being particularly politically active, my patriotism appears to be inversely proportional to my distance from home – the farther away I am, the more vociferously I defend my home country. Yet, besides AP US History in high school, I have never had the opportunity to delve into the nation’s history or visit the musuems and memorials built to commemorate it.

Several friends from graduate school have transplanted themselves, en masse, to the greater Washington, D.C. area and I was long overdue for a visit. Traveling mid-week meant that I would also have the time to play tourist and explore the city while they went about their work. I first took a bit of time to explore the sculpture garden that is part of the National Portrait Gallery, which was quite fun (including a spot-on replica of a Parisian metro station that really confused me for a few seconds).

(Identical to Paris – minus the stairs and tunnels, but including the sleeper in the corner)

(I like to think of this one as “Donnie Darko meets The Thinker“)

(This tree reminds me of UCSD)

Realizing that I needed a snack before deciding where to go next, I grabbed a hot dog from a kiosk on the Mall and ate it while enjoying the incredible view .

Unfortunately, it seemed that I had brought the rain and cold winds down from Boston with me, but this gave me a great excuse for digging around two fantastic museums – The Museum of American History and The Natural History Museum – for the rest of the day.

(The central exhibit after entering the is the original flag that inspired the writing of “The Star Spangled Banner“, located behind this metallic sculpture. Brought me to tears immediately. Way to start of a museum tour).

(The First Ladies exhibit was excellent – Mary Todd Lincoln had the smallest waist ever and Barbara Bush was a big woman).

(I watched an interactive discussion with children about the civil rights movement that started at this counter and was amazed to watch history come alive through their eyes.)

(Julia Child’s kitchen. Old PBS episodes playing in the background, including the one where she teaches how to make omelettes. She explains that she is making an omelette de fromage (cheese) for herself, omelette epinards (spinach) for her husband and, why not, omelette de fois (liver) for her mother-in-law. The whole room cracked up when she said that.)

(Medical tools from the Revolutionary War period, including a cartoon of amputation above – and the saw below).

(Vietnam War exhibit – as the first war that America watched on television, the exhibit was a collection of clips shown on 1970’s era TVs while sitting on overstuffed couches. Surreal).

(Who does not love dinosaurs, at any age ?)

(Sparkles)

(This guy would be SO dead)

Museuming can be a hard day’s work, but I was sure to save my energy to enjoy the evening with my friends – they were the ones I was here to see, after all. At least until the next day.

Cures for the Blahs

As a warning, if you have a Y chromosome it is best to leave now. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled program of bizarrely dressed Parisians tomorrow…

There are some days that are just blah. Today was one of those days. There were definitely highs – great lunch conversation and an impressively well executed chalk talk – but for the most part the day just hovered in the apathy zone. At one point outside forces pushed me into full-force anger but then, like a boomerang, I returned to indifference. Ideas were fleeting, inspiration/motivation at a lull and productivity practically non-existent.

I am sure a lot of this is the post-Bastille Day-I-really-have-to-go-to-work-early realization (and need for sleep), but then again, sometimes I’m just not feeling it. I tried the usual suspects for cheering me up: loud dance music, rambling conversations with funny colleagues, online shopping and even (gasp!) beer with friends. I did stop short of karaoke at an Irish pub. Maybe that was the key…

I arrived home, still feeling out of sorts and I pulled out all the stops. The one thing that will make me smile when all of the above cannot?

Red toes. (Yes, I have freakishly fat pinky toes.)

They just make me happy. Now I feel a bit lighter and I’m starting to dance around the house. I know that out there on the interwebs, the girls get me. The guys are shaking their heads wondering why they didn’t just pay attention and wait until tomorrow to catch up. Told you so.

Happy 4th!!

Growing up in a small town on the central coast of California, I always thought of June through August as the foggy season. Technically, it is. Dry heat inland pulls cool air and clouds from out over the water onto the coast covering the shoreline with damp, grey fog for much of the summer. The only time I really minded so much was on the 4th of July. Hopeful for a clear night, my family would always pack snacks and hot cocoa and head down to the harbor to claim our prime fireworks viewing spot. Every other year (or so) we were disappointed. We could see each rocket shoot up, disappear into the clouds and then the fog would take on a pulsing green or red color for a few seconds, followed by a giant boom. Not all was lost, we still had our town parade and the chance that *this* year it would be clear enough to see every last sparkle.

What I could count on was that each 4th of July afternoon, as it was getting dark in Boston, the most amazing fireworks show over the Charles River was broadcast nationwide on A&E. Here the pyrotechnics were synched to a musical score and prior to the show there was always a lively orchestra performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” complete with cannons. This seemed to be the ultimate in patriotic celebration. (Note: Looking to link to A&E, I notice they no longer show the broadcast. This makes me a little sad. And old.)

For the seven years I was in graduate school in Boston, I made it to the oversized celebration on the Esplanade three times. It was everything I had imagined it to be and more. I love my country, but I have never been the outspoken, “my country is the best”, flag-waving type. Clearly, as I am typing this on a quiet Sunday afternoon in Paris, I have yearned to live outside of our borders. However, I can say, without a doubt, that few things have warmed my heart more than standing as one among 1 million spectators, watching fire light up the sky and singing “America the Beautiful” in unison. I miss that today.

I know that I will get more than my fill of picnics and fireworks in 10 days (Bastille Day). And, I certainly am not missing (at all) the crush of humanity arriving on the river and, more so, leaving after the spectacle. However, for the sense of camaraderie and belonging (if just for one day) there are a few events that I miss by being here when I am just plain homesick, and (predictably) this is one of them. I hope you are all having a wonderful (and safe) holiday full of family, friends, food and fireworks. Enjoy and light a sparkler for me!

Lost and Found

I first arrived in Paris in November 2008 at 9:30 in the morning after a red-eye Aer Lingus flight that had been less than comfortable. Once I reclaimed my life at the baggage claim (stuffed into three suitcases) and negotiated a taxi into the city using my best Fren-glish, all I wanted was to drop off my things at the new apartment and take a walk. I needed to take some photos and convince myself that this fairy-tale city was my new home.

Unfortunately, this never happened. My camera had, somewhere over the Atlantic, given up the ghost. The display screen in the back had died (well, not quite, it was black streaked with purple dancing stripes), and the camera was not wired to work with only the viewfinder. Which begs the question why it was there at all. No matter, I took a few deep breaths, stretched my legs and enjoyed the view. Once back home, I tossed the faulty equipment in a bag I keep for miscellaneous electronic appliances and promptly forgot about it.

Until this weekend. On a somewhat mad quest to tear apart my home, clean it and then put it all back together again (i.e. spring cleaning), I ran across the camera again. Looking a little battered and the worse for wear (I am hard on my toys, hence the breaking) I decided to double-check that no photos had been left behind. Sure enough, there were about 50, although several featured the ominous black screen and dancing purple line warning of imminent death. Those that remained document my last few weeks in Boston. Farewell parties, weekend trips to western MA (including the State Fair), an election in full swing and plenty of last minute pictures with The German. It was sort of like finding $20 in your pocket, except with priceless memories.

Overall they left me pretty homesick, especially during the long holiday weekend. But today I am turning that frown upside-down and going to enjoy sharing some of them with you!

A day trip to Shelburne Falls, MA. The main feature of this small town is the “Bridge of Flowers”, an old rail bridge over the Deerfield River that has been converted into a lush garden. After exploring the garden (and peeking into the Obama party) The German and I wrapped up our day with a late lunch on the deck of the West End Pub watching the river flow by.

A day at The Fair. I took it upon myself (as a good American) to take a group of foreign colleagues (with the help of a few locals) to The Big E (Eastern States Exposition – like a state fair – but for many tiny states at the same time). We saw the animals (on display at the Farm-A-Rama, pictured above), rode The Fire Ball, ate cheese fries and saw the butter sculpture. I passed on the deep-fried Twinkie – patriotism only will get me so far.

Lastly, a few images from my last week in the US. The German and I took a well-deserved vacation. We flew to Denver and drove to southern CA, over the Rockies, through Zion Canyon and past The Grand Canyon. It was amazing to be able to share the wonder with him, as he saw all these places for the first time. We stopped to have lunch and stretch our legs in Grand Junction, CO and found quite a few pieces of interesting art (especially the buffalo of mirrors, above).

At the time, being so aware of my immediate departure, I tried so hard to cram each day with poignant moments and happy memories. Now, from thousands of miles away, I am so glad that I did. These lost glimpses into that time mean even more to me today. No matter where in the world my adventures take me, in the end there really is no place like home. Especially when there is fried dough involved.