Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year, New Life

I'm getting ready to leave for vacation tonight. My laundry is finished and drying. My ticket is printed. My apartment looks like a tornado ran through it. I'm going to go for a run (go me!), shower, pack, and clean, and then it's time for a well-deserved vacation.

Therefore, this is my last post of 2011. I've been thinking about it for a while. (Watch out folks, we're taking a turn for the serious!) It's the time of year where we reflect on our past--we learn from it, dismiss it, let it continue to haunt us--and we attempt to make plans for the future. I am notoriously bad at planning for the future; just ask any of my good friends. I still have no idea what I want to "do" "when I grow up," and I definitely have no idea what I will be doing when my stint as an au pair is finished on August 1, 2012.

So let me reflect on my past for a minute. I don't see a lot of point in going through 2011 and picking out the things I need to improve on for the next year. Honestly, that's going to make me feel really bad about myself, and that kind of self-criticism is not something anyone needs, ever. Instead, I believe it's more important to go back over your year, and pick out a few things you really freaking nailed, or some good lessons you learned. Here's what I have:

1. In 2011 I got a job as a gymnastics coach at NYC Elite, which is a gymnastics club in Manhattan. I have had a lot of jobs in my life, more than the average 25-year-old, I think. I switch around a lot. And I have had a handful of pretty cool, fun jobs. I would say this was one of them. And this was a job that I did, and I did well. I have a lot of experience with kids, and I have a lot of experience with gymnastics. When I first took this position, I was uncertain how it would all come together--whether I could handle running a class, whether I could spot correctly and safely, whether I could maintain order, etc. Honestly, I didn't like the rec classes much, but I ADORED teaching the Level 3 team. It was fun, I worked hard, and I really, really felt like I was doing something right. It was a pretty solid 5-month job, and if I didn't move abroad, I would have gone back to it hands down.

2. Continuing on the job front, I worked at my summer camp, Camp Lenox, for the 5th year this past summer. I was a Group Leader for a huge group of 12 year old girls, and I had a staff of 8 people. And boy did this job teach me a LOT. Despite the fact that I was going through a fairly huge personal crisis, I was also in charge of over 30 people for 7 weeks. That's kind of nuts, when you think about it. I definitely did not do everything right this summer. But I learned a lot about not sweating the small stuff. I learned that I actually can't do everything I think I can. And I learned that I am able to compartmentalize my life and push through personal strife to do what needs to be done. There were times when I thought I was going to have to leave camp this summer (sorry if that's a shock to you), actually leave because I could not do it. But guess what? I did! And I did it well. And that's awesome, and I'm proud of myself.

3. I moved out of my parents' home in 2004 to go to Emory. Since then, I haven't lived at home for longer than a month...until August/September/October of this year. When I arrived back, I remember all the things I had "stashed" in my nooks and crannies, to "deal with later." Well, it was later. It took about a week or so, and I definitely made the dogs really nervous (they hate change), but I cleaned out EVERYTHING--closet, drawers, under my bed, boxes, clothes, bookshelf. My mom and I did a garage sale, and I managed to fit all the things I accrued in my adult life back into my room. It's a good feeling, catching yourself up that way, do you know what I mean? As a self-identified packrat, I needed a good purge, and now I don't have xeroxed copies of my middle-school newspaper lying around for literally no reason anymore.

4. My last thing I learned about this past year is probably the biggest. It has made me feel both old and young again, at the same time. It's a humbling, freeing, insane realization, and it wasn't even an epiphany moment. And maybe you've already had yours, but I had mine when I moved to Paris. Basically, I can make my life whatever I want it to be. Imagine the life you want, and just start living it! If you want to be more spontaneous, well, then you have to start doing spontaneous things! If you want to live in Europe, find a way to live in Europe. There is no "pre-destined" life that you have to live. Make your life what you want it to be. I wear heels to walk across the park to the library. Because that's what I want to do. My life is mine for the making, and moving myself to Paris without knowing a soul here (slight exaggeration) helped show me that.


Enough of the past. Now it's time for the future. Which means...I'm done being serious, and also, NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS!! I loooove resolutions! I love detailed planning. Honestly, I love carrying out the plans a lot less, but the planning!! Oh, the planning. So here are my resolutions:

1. Only buy one baguette per week. This includes baguette sandwiches, but this does NOT include eating baguettes provided by other people. The real problem only stems from being alone in my shoebox with a warm baguette, plenty of French butter, and not much to do, several days per week. So, nixed!
2. Keep my nails looking nice, whether that's painted, trimmed, clean, or whatever. Nothing ruins the illusion of a well-groomed lady than ragged nails. This resolution includes attempting to stop picking the hell out of my cuticles.
3. Get back into an exercise routine. I'm not making elaborate promises here, but I'm not doing anything these days, and while that is the Parisian way, it's not my way. I don't belong to a gym, yoga classes are very expensive in France, and I don't have a ton of workout clothes, but I can definitely do more than I am doing.
4. Make more to-do lists. While that can seem like a burden, or possibly setting myself up for failure, I am a lot more productive when I actually write things down. If I need to get a shirt dry-cleaned, or buy a special stamp, or look for something creative to do on a Sunday afternoon, then I have to write it down, or it will get put off for who knows how long.
5. Wash my face as soon as I am in for the evening. Why do I putter around my room for hours wearing makeup leftover from the day? So silly.

Here's to the end of 2011, a year full of growth, pain, happiness, laughter, tears, and all the usual emotions. I hope you all have finished your years healthy and happy, and I'm excited for the prospect of a new year. What's upppp, 2012!!

P.S. Some favorite moments from 2011 below...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pain and Neglect

^ That is what my blog is feeling, I mean. Oops.

I'm sorry blog. It's not because I don't have the time; I can't fake myself out with that excuse. True, I did work full days all last week and the weekend, but most nights I was home before 8:30, and I could have filled you in then. But the truth is, I was too dang tired. I was running myself ragged with Christmas cheer, trying to make Paris feel as holiday-y as possible. Here's what we did:

Monday: played around all morning, then took the tyke shoe and coat shopping with Maman. Chased him around a lot. Had coffee in the Le Bon Marché and felt like I fit in.

Tuesday: had the morning off so I hit the Champs holiday market again with my friend. Ate a sausage sandwich, and looked at the English bookstore. In the afternoon, libraried it up with mon petit enfant, and then handled some tantrum action.

Wednesday: played in the morning, then we had lunch out, where the pizza was enormous. Then we took the car to La Museé des Arts Decoratifs, where there was an exhibit on Babar, who turns 80 this year. I got to stay a bit later at the museum to check out the fancy furnishings, and then I walked home under the sparkling lights to meet the family for dinner.

Thursday: myself and the whole family went to La Jour des Fetes at the Grand Palais, which is basically an indoor carnival with proper rides. Enfant rode a ton of carousels and a little train, while I ventured onto this thing that flips you upside down like a pendulum. Then we had fancy lunch where business people dine (almond-crusted fish on spinach, mm), and quickly went to the Petit Palais, to see an exhibit on the Comédie Française. After we got home, we played Robin Hood with a little bow and arrow sent won at the carnival.

Friday: in the morning, enfant and myself took over the apartment and made a handprint ornament for the parents, and also peanut butter blossom cookies for all. In the afternoon, enfant, Maman, et moi went to see the Cat in the Hat in play form in Monmartre, then we searched through fabric stores to make knight costumes for his birthday party in January.

Saturday (Christmas Eve): early morning we hit Monoprix to shop for foodstuffs, then we ate lunch and played games all together, including Legos. That evening we ate aperatifs (tamara, which is fish eggs blended with creme fraiche on blinis, humus and toast, and English cheese and crackers) and had champagne, then put enfant to bed and enjoyed live oysters, lobster in a cream sauce, with rice, and English roast vegetables. Then we ate opera cake, and I rolled myself home to Skype with the family for an hour.

Sunday (Christmas): presents and pancakes, where my enfant opened all the gifts for everyone. Then we played and had Christmas lunch, which was the big meal of the day. Foie gras out the wazoo, with bread rounds, confiture, onion relish, and sea salt, followed by a brioche filled with warm foie gras. Then we had turkey, chestnut purée, potatoes gratin, and stuffing (which, I believe, included the bits of the turkey's insides). Dessert was a buche de Noel, a Yule log cake. Then we played, watched Mary Poppins, and had cold turkey and salad for dinner.

Yesterday, I slept in and bargain shopped with a friend, then watched movies, ate leftovers, and played around on Skype.

So really, blog, I am terribly sorry to neglect you, but I really was busy, and fatigued, as you can see. Here's a photo of some of what we did and saw. And I promise it won't happen again!

 Me and my cookies on Christmas Eve.

 Part of the old fashioned carousel and the Ferris wheel in the Grand Palais.

 The interior of the Petit Palais and the large picture of Moliere.

Natalie as Robin Hood.

P.S. There are a lot more cute shots of everyone from Christmas, but I'm not sure how the host family feels about posting photos of the kids online, so I'm not going there right now. Sorry folks!

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Been Eleven Days

Sorry I haven't been writing. I mean, I'm not actually sorry, but I guess I feel a little bad if you really have no idea what I have been doing and maybe you thought I was ill, in legal trouble, or literally spending every centime that I have in the holiday markets. None of those are happening, thank goodness.

Let's see...I went home to Chattanooga for my brother's wedding. Then I came back to Paris. Then I was tired, but got really really busy. Then I spent half this past weekend being really busy and half doing literally nothing. And now it's the Christmas holidays here in Paris, and I hung out all day with a relatively happy 3 11/12-year-old. And now, because I couldn't fall asleep until past 3am last night and spent all afternoon chasing said child around shoe stores, I'm fatigued. So I'm doing lists, and I don't care. If you don't like it, it ain't my problem, sweetheart.

Notes on the Wedding Weekend
1. when I left my shoebox early Friday morning I had to go back twice: once for forgetting my umbrella (except I hadn't), and then again because I forgot the smelly cheese
2. the flight from Paris to Atlanta was more than 10 hours long, which is the longest plane ride I've ever taken and I wanted to die for almost all of it, because I had a giant headache
3. upon landing in ATL I had 45 minutes to go through passport control, get my bag, go through customs, re-check my bag, change terminals, and get on my next flight to Chattanooga
4. I made it in 30 (!)
5. it was really nice to not only be back in the States, but to be someplace I was relatively familiar with (the ATL airport, from my days at Emory)...SO NICE
6. obviously the nicest part was seeing all my family (nuclear, extended, and those friends who feel like family)
7. I ate so much deliciousness, including barbeque, a cupcake with 5 inches (seriously) of frosting, a giant breakfast buffet (twice), 5 kinds of (American!) cheese, the best carrot cake I've had, a lingering pumpkin ale, lots of champagne, homemade chex mix, like 7 tiny cans of American Coke Zero, and a fountain Diet Coke (Diet Coke is way different here, people) from McDonald's.
8. the wedding was gorgeous, of course, my brother was handsome despite looking (to me) like he always has (that is, 14), Kendall was stunning, the party was great, they let me decorate important things (AROUND THE CAKE!?!?! it's like I'm an adult or something), and the Rock City walk was way cooler and a much bigger deal than I thought
9. my mom does a mean brunch, and also made custom crossword puzzles as favors (Marthaaa!)
10. I went to Target and was so happy, and then my dad almost jumped on one of those trampoline-harness-things at the mall (but he didn't, which was a shame)
11. I met, played with, and sort of like my brother's ferret, Elvis
12. I ate brunch on Monday at a restaurant owned by a cult

Notes on the Past Week
1. I drank champagne on a Wednesday
2. I didn't feel any jet lag except Tuesday and Wednesday mornings (which is obviously the worst possible time to have it)
3. I ate half my Kraft Mac&Cheese stash on the first day back (sorry I'm not sorry) (half = one box)
4. it doesn't feel very much like Christmas to me at all despite watching Home Alone, A Christmas Story, and Love Actually this weekend
5. it's been very rainy
6. I stayed out waaay too late on Friday night, but I woke up to carolers on Saturday morning, and then tried foie gras in the street, so that was pretty great
7. Saturday I cooked shakshuka with some mystery peppers that got stuck under my fingernails and made my hands burn until just a few hours ago, and also got in one eye, so I had to wear my glasses from sophomore year of high school on Sunday (so chic)
8. I tried French Chinese food on Sunday--result: so-so (caramelized pork was tasty/American-y/fatty, but not anything I would crave again, chicken with black mushrooms was crazy salty, it was mad cheap, and open on Sunday....tie)
9. I had a coffee and crepe in Le Bon Marche today, which felt very cool
10. my room is so messy I cannot stand it
11. I got to Skype with two of my long-lost best friends out in California (Lindooo and Creepa!!!) on Saturday which was REALLY REALLY amazing, and I'm so happy I got to talk to them
12. I wish that I could go home for Christmas (boohoohoo)

Now for some wedding photos (these are also on my Facebook, sorry I'm not original):

 This is what they made me do while decorating...I think it looks pretty good if I do say so myself! Having to help decorate for the wedding was like the final exam of being my mother's daughter.

Ma, Bro, Moi...check out those (inherited) furs! We so fancy.

 During the photo shoot after the wedding. Kendall was a trooper, because it was like 40F and windy out there (that's like 6C, Europeans).

My lovely and wonderful parents who bought me things at Target, paid for my meals, and got a double room instead of a deserved king so that I could stay with them. Aren't they adorable?

Alright, I'm over this recap. If you want to know more, then you have to actually contact me, instead of just creeping on my blog. And I'm officially caught up!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Packing Success

How to achieve major success when preparing for an all-too-short but way-too-long flight (if you know what I mean):

1. Pack basically zero clothes. I'm wearing jeans, packing leggings, two tanks, 2 cardigans, and two dresses.
2. Wear your big shoes, pack only the most necessary other pairs (wearing boots, packing wedding heels, flats).
3. Don't bring any toiletries because you're going to a hotel and staying with your mother, who will either have everything you need or know how to get it fast. That includes contact solution, everything you use in the shower, and a hairdryer. I'm really only bringing deodorant, a toothbrush, and my makeup.
4. Wear coats, and put all the electronic stuff in a ziploc in your handbag (camera, phones, iWhatevers, cords, etc.).
5. Don't go anywhere too terribly cold, or get ready to be a little cold.

Because I did those five things, I was able to fit about over 2,000g of food items, 2 normal-sized bottles of alcoholic liquid, and 3 kinds of cheese in my suitcase as well. Oh, and my suitcase is my medium-sized, and I regularly use it as a carry-on. CARRY-ON BABY.

(FYI, I am still checking this luggage because I paid no heed to liquid restriction. But still!)


Just got some cadeaux from my family to bring with me to Tennessee. Looks like I might not make it. This is madness.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nicholas Day, or I'm Getting on a Plane in 72 Hours

December 6th is Saint Nicholas Day, if you are unaware. Saint Nicholas is not St. Nick, aka Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas is a benevolent man who saved some people a long time ago in Greece/Italy, depending on who you ask. What he means to people these days, is that he gives gifts! Presents for the win. Basically no one celebrates Saint Nicholas Day in France unless you're from the bits of France close to Belgium/Germany, or you are my host family.

Last night during the routine "I-am-not-eating-dinner" song-and-dance, we got to threaten that Saint Nicholas wouldn't bring him a gift. And also, we could threaten that he would have to go upstairs and Maman and Natalie would finish decorating the Christmas tree. Making other people the bad guy definitely eases the pain of tantrums. So anyway, finally he was ready for bed, and what he had to do is leave his slipper by the bed, and then in the morning, the present would be there. And this morning mon enfant had a new nightlight (that is sparkly and glows different colors and I am the MOST jealous) and a blue watch! Very exciting. Well done, Saint Nicholas.

In other news, I am leaving to go to the States Friday morning. I am not ready in the slightest. I have yet to make a packing list, which is strange for me. I need to finish buying les cadeaux for my family. I have to figure out my airport plans, wardrobe choices, etc. I have to starting thinking about goodies I need to buy in America for a certain petit enfant who definitely wants an American police car for Christmas and told me so in October. Good news though! My mom is bringing my SIM card to Tennessee and I will get to have a phone!!! My cracked-out iPhone!!!! What a glorious weekend it will be. Text me starting on Friday at 5pm EST. Yay.

So basically I'm going to be crazy for the next 72 hours. Also my skin is freaking out due to higher than average stress hormone levels. I have no idea if they are going to try to take my food-related gifts from me at customs (USA, stop hating on unpasteurized cheese). And the baguettes continue to call to me. Thank goodness for control-top tights.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December is Here

Today I woke up on time, at 7:30am. It wasn't raining and it was above 50 degrees, and it was December 1st. I walked mon enfant across the Champ de Mars and recounted the story of the Little Red Hen for probably the 50th time this fall.

Side note: I asked him what a hen was this morning, and he goes, "It's red." Don't worry, I amended his definition to "a mommy chicken."

I came back to my room, and as I am often wont to do on Thursdays (my day without classes), promptly fell asleep until just before noon. It was a beautiful sleep, although I did have a slightly terrifying dream in that I was by the ocean and saw a 50-foot wave, and then somehow accidentally purchased $4000 worth of yoga mats featuring Barbapapa...yeah, I don't know either.

^That's Barbapapa, everyone. The pink one. The rest are Barbamaman, and then the other ones whose names all start with "Barb-," but I can't tell the names apart because I don't have a French accent (Barbidou and Barbidur sound really similar to my untrained ear).


This afternoon I went out with my host mom. We took the baby and drove over to a busier area of the 7th arrondissement. We first stopped at La Maison du Chocolat, where I got to try a piece of chocolat noir (dark chocolate), which is the specialty of the house, and a champagne truffle, which are very popular during the Christmas season in France. So very excellent.

Then we went into Hermes, which was just next door. The store has taken over the old swimming pool of the Lutetia Hotel, and so the floor is sparkly blues and whites. It looks just like a pool in an old movie, with the balconies all around, and sunk deep down. So gorgeous, and the most amazing part is that didn't even care that we were just openly gawking at the layout. No one bothered us, and my host mom said it's that way in Paris--I shouldn't worry too much about going into fancy boutiques alone, just to see them! Which is great news, because I am so obviously never going to buy anything from a major label. I just am dying to pretend I could.

From there we went into a large children's bookstore, where I could have easily spent house. There was a gorgeous pop-up of Le Petit Prince, and huge copies of TinTin. Did you know bookstores smell the same everywhere? After the books, we went to a foie gras store, and I sampled the wine that traditionally goes with foie gras--so very sweet! And I learned the best ones to buy for gifts (don't get TOO excited, because I'm not buying a lot, family...sorry).

Our next stops were these interesting new concept stores for children. It's very chic to have fashionable children these days, and there is a whole crop of new "lifestyle" shops that cater to this fantasy. We saw an amazing armoire made from old blue leather luggage, beds made of pipes from old apartment buildings, and tons of kitschy pillows and knick-knacks.

The final stop was Le Bon Marché, which is a department store. It is less famous than other Parisian department stores like Les Galleries Lafayette or Printemps, but according to my host mother, it's the one most Parisians shop at. It was decorated for Christmas on the outside and in, and they blended the decor with the art-deco style of the building. We couldn't stay too long because we had to pick her son up from school, but I'm definitely going back one afternoon to snoop around and pretend I can afford the fur hats I saw stacked inside.

Now the rain is falling, and I had an easy evening with the family. Almost all the leaves are gone from the rain these past few days, and many streets around me have garlands strung across them. People have told me Paris doesn't go all-out for Christmas the way I am used to, but so far, I like it. It's just decorations the French way--classier, understated, but that doesn't mean it's not Christmas-y. I'm seeing a lot of sales on Champagne and oysters. Sounds like Christmas to me!