Sunday, October 15, 2017

10 years ago Part 1

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10 years ago this month I packed a ridiculously heavy and large bag to set out on my French adventure. I would be leaving for a full school year and kindles and laptops were still in the minority. So as to not get bored, I packed all of my favorite books that I'd want to have on hand. I bought the biggest suitcase I could find and I vacuum sealed my clothes like a crazy person. Somehow it was cheaper to fly into London and I had what I considered to be the world's best idea: book a hostel overnight and see London while you're at it! What could be better, right? I flew right into the city center. I hauled that big beast of a suitcase out those airport doors like a boss.
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No one but fancy people had gps on their phones then (I didn't even have one of those!) but I whipped out my mapquest directions like no one's business. I tried to look very confident because you don't want people in a big city to think you don't know what you're doing or anything--they might try to pickpocket you. Just a hunch but 10 year older me thinks that the enormous suitcase and paper directions just might have given me away. Thankfully Londoners were kind to the helpless American girl with too much stuff. 

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I walked those 10 or so blocks to the hostel. I remember being so glad to finally get there as the last 5 or so had been completely cobblestone. I was wrong, however. I had only reached the check-in desk. My room was located at the other location back 4 blocks in the direction I had just come. Feeling like an odd combination between Wonder Woman and Popeye pre-spinach I gritted my teeth and pushed 'the beast', as I was starting to yell  call it in my head back those darn 4 blocks and up the stairs to my private suite that I would be sharing with about 8 other people in what can only be considered as the world's biggest dorm room.

Unfortunately, the internet café that the hostel provided was located back at the check-in office. I briefly contemplated letting everyone back home consider me MIA at least for another 24 hours but decided my mom just might swim the whole Atlantic Ocean if she hadn't heard that I'd landed safely. Funny to think about in the age of Whatsapp, Viber, and instant everything. So I dutifully wrote and told everyone that I was okay. I wrote another email that night too. There was this cute guy that I had been emailing now for a few months. It had started off as a random French contact and had evolved from there. I told myself that it was only a little crush, because after all, how can you actually have a crush on a guy you've never even met before. (I know, I was the one girl in school who didn't have a crush on Leonardo Di Caprio after Titanic came out) That's what I was telling myself because not so long before I had crashed and burned after falling for my best guy friend in college. There was no way I was playing the fool twice and Cautious Carol had now become my name. I did, albeit very reluctantly, throw in that he would know how to spot me the next day in the Paris train station (oh, did I mention he had arranged my whole Paris stay?) by the fact that I'm just under 6 ft tall (1m80). I had kind of been avoiding that little factoid due to the fact that it tends to scare most boys off. But I figured that short of chopping off my calves and replacing them with peg legs my height would become obvious soon enough.

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I'm assuming I fed myself somehow. Not sure when or how but clearly I didn't starve. I do remember not having factored in my big heavy suitcase to lug around during my little "London visit." I couldn't just leave it unattended. Someone might steal my fabulous book collection.  Thankfully I made a temporary friend who looked nice enough and she agreed to watch my suitcase for an hour or two. I did some sort of bridge walk along the bank of the Thames (which I wouldn't learn for a few months yet is actually pronounced as if there's no H). I walked by famous monuments having no freaking idea exactly what I was looking at. It took me forever at one point to realize I was staring at the London Tower. finally made my way back to the beast after doing way more walking than I thought was possible and somehow found the force within myself to drag it to the train station. 

Back then, before the age of terrorism, security with the Eurostar was nothing like it is now.  I just about died of embarrassment when I couldn't get the beast up onto the shelf reserved for luggage and the gentleman next to me had to do it for me. And then I really wanted to just sink into the floor when he loudly declared for the whole cabin to hear, just how heavy my luggage was and what could I possibly be bringing that could be so heavy? I should have made up some ridiculous answer but all I could think of was the truth and that made him look at me even more incredulously. I took my seat and promised myself that I would wait a few years before coming back over the channel. By then maybe my embarrassment would have waned a bit.

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I'm embarrassed to admit that I was actually hoping to see the water from the train windows once in the tunnel. I don't know what I pictured, maybe one of those viewing floors you find at an aquarium? Clearly I was quite the seasoned traveler by that point. But one thing is for sure, I successfully managed to get off that train and step onto French soil which turns out is a decision that would change my life from that point forward. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

l'Ile de Groix

It's hard to believe as I'm scrambling to pull out sweaters and rainboots for my girls that summer was only just one month ago. And yet somehow, despite the pouring rain out our window, not so long ago we were lathering sunscreen and soaking up some rays (okay the soaking up part probably shouldn't be taken literally since there isn't a whole lot of soaking up that goes on with a toddler on the loose!). Like the good adopted Frenchies/real Frenchies that we are, we fled the city this past summer for a little R&R on a little known island called Groix.

If you're looking for an international travel spot and want to get off the beaten path a little, then might I suggest Groix Island? My husband's French family has been coming to this island for generations and I, for one, totally get why. It's not a very big thing, only 8 kilometers long (roughly 4 miles) and 3 wide (a little over 1 mile) with about 2,300 residents year round. Of course that number changes a lot over the summer months when a ton of Parisians and local Brittany folks flood into town for some summer lovin'.

There's just a charm about this island. You instantly feel like you've been transported back to a time when most people ride bikes, sit around a table drinking hard cider and savoring a good book at the beach. People just aren't too busy to have fun the old school way.
So without further ado, some of the best things to do on this island should ever you consider it as a place you might want to go:

1. Rent bikes. Even if you aren't a hardcore bike rider, everyone does it (cars are pretty expensive to bring in on the ferry) and since the island isn't very big it's very doable via bike (we just did it this last spring with 4 adults and 5 kids 5 and under). Plus it's such a beautiful island that you'll get to actually take it in this way.

2. Go to the beach. There are literally tons of little known beaches all over this tiny island and the discovering is totally part of the fun. If you want the classic sandy beach (aka less rugged) then go to Les Sables)

3.Visit Penn Menn. A historic lighthouse on the cliff side of the island, sunset on a clear night is breathtaking.

4. Water sports: sailing, paddle boarding, fishing, and kayaking are all done regularly here.

5. Grab soft serve ice cream (a tradition in our family) down by the wharf as the ferry boats come in.

6. Go folk dancing! I've totally done this, and it was really fun. It was kind of like a celtic form of square dancing. This is only available during the summer months though.

7. Picnic! Buy some brie cheese, a baguette and a bottle of wine and go take in a picnic (there are picnic tables all over the island or you could just find your own spot).

8. Go to a creperie and eat real authentic crepes. A word to the wise: the way it works in France is you order a savory one and then after a sweet one for dessert. They usually come with a light green salad and cider is the traditional drink to order with it.

9. Hike--there are trails all over the place for short walks or more intense endeavors.

10. Go visit the glass blowers shop! It's a boutique as well as artists studio and you can actually watch them make their glass creations right there!

11. Go eat 'moules-frites'. Basically you get a giant pot of mussels along with a big ol' batch of french fries. Personally, I'm not a seafood fan but my husband loves this dish.

12. Visit Hell. Well, it's hole actually. It's called the 'Trou de l'enfer' :)

14. Sleep in the trees. Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. Its a room up in the trees that you can rent by the night. Get your inner Swiss Family Robinson on.
Check it out here.

15. And lastly, go check out Parc a' Bout! It's owned by the same people who own the tree houses and it's all kinds of run. Your inner 10 year old will run rampant.

Some things to note if you go:

1. The only way onto the island is by ferry. Cars are freakishly expensive to bring across so you're better off using bikes. You catch the ferry in Lorient, France. There is a taxi service and a local bus:
taxi: (33)7 68 79 13 80

2. I think the best time to go is in the summer when the island is alive but if you want a more secluded experience, then your best bet is more in the spring.

3. In Brittany there is a saying that you get all four seasons in one day; in summer the weather is generally nice with some rain showers thrown in so if you're looking for Riviera kind of weather, you should probably head to Nice. Basically bring layers and expect anything.

4. There are tons of rentals (from houses to hotels) during the summer months but they book up fast so reserve early. Google "maison de vacances + ile de groix" (houses) or "hotels/chambres d'hote + ile de groix" (hotels and B&Bs)

Monday, June 26, 2017

When Forgiveness Takes A LIttle Time

Wounds are interesting. Forgiveness is interesting. Why is it that in my head those two things are tied to an action that happens and then is done with? Like eating a sand which. Or buying your kid that toy at the store. But real wounds are messy. Real forgiveness is messy. Wounds are more than just the moment when you get hurt. It's the days, weeks, years of healing. Why is it that I think that forgiveness shouldn't be repetitive? That there's something wrong with giving it back to God again and again? If life is a journey, then why not forgiveness?

Earlier this year I felt hurt by the actions of a coworker. I talked to her, told her how I felt, and we agreed to move on. I didn't have to agree with her choice in order to forgive her in my heart. After the talk I felt complete peace about the situation...for about a week. Until there was a new reason to remember an old hurt.  God, with the ultimate sense of humor, kept putting her in my path. And so back I went towards forgiveness which I thought was quite the done deal by now. And back. And back. At every reminder of the original hurt.

Just the other day I sighed a happy sigh because although our relationship is very different than years previous (and I have no inclination to change that), I had finally gotten to a place where my head and and my heart could finally agree to move on.

And then something happened this morning to rip that scab right off. It makes me sad that this will yet change our relationship even more. There is a time and a place for everything and our friendship will move towards simply a professional one. But I will release the hurt once again. I will release her once again. I will know that I am loved by a big and incredible God and that nothing can change that. God loves me like crazy and that is why I can be okay with knowing that God loves her just as deeply. Feelings are meant to be acknowledged, just not bowed to. God knows that it hurts me to forgive and I know that it's the only way to move forward, even if my 'forward' comes with a few steps backwards mixed in. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chaos and mayhem and pasta

Anyone had one of these days recently? Being a pastor’s wife, Sunday often has me outnumbered in the fight for a civilized world. 

I do my best to counteract it—lunch is hummus and picnic goods and dinner is always pasta and spaghetti sauce to keep my sanity afloat. 

Back in the dark ages (okay like 6 months ago) I used to slave away Sunday morning trying to scrounge up some form of after church meal Martha Stewart worthy until my husband finally knocked some sense into me and convinced me that while our children might not suffer too badly forgoing a weekly pot roast (and let’s be honest—three fourths of the time I’d forgotten to either grab the meat out of the freezer to thaw or to actually prepare the crockpot more than five minutes before we walked out the door) , they just might suffer from dangerously crabby mom syndrome. Can I please get an amen?

 So simple and repeated meals became the law of the land and I haven’t look back since. Except, maybe, when I see Isaline covered in red sauce despite all my best full body bib efforts. Alas. Sigh. Momma said there’ll be days like this. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On Lent

Before you think that I’m going to pull any holier than thou stuff on you, you should probably know that just last week while walking home from Livia’s school I discovered a spoon floating around in my blouse. Said spoon had somehow been dropped in by my one year old while I was holding her and getting ready to leave the house about an hour an a half prior. So yes, I had walked to her school, chatted in detail with her teacher and had managed to get about halfway home all before I realized that a spoon had accompanied me. And before you think that it’s an isolated incident, just know that I collect spoon incidents (not to be confused with the false rumor the I collect small spoons but I digress) about every other day. Clearly, I have issues. Clearly, I do not have my stuff altogether.
Now that confessional is over, lets move on to lent (I’m in a Catholic mood today, I guess). Recently my husband, Matt, and I decided to experiment with Lent this year. I know that Easter feels long behind us, but it’s taken me a little while to get my thoughts together on this (I blame mommy brain and sleep deprivation). As an evangelical protestant, I had never actually done Lent before now. For those of you not really familiar with it, Lent is the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday every year. The idea is to choose to take out something (or somethings) during that time that you feel is taking an unhealthy presence in your life and to replace it with more of what is supposed to be there, i.e. God. Not that the ‘something’ in and of itself is bad but the priority that it’s taking in your life is unhealthy.

For Matt and I, it was screens. Because let’s be honest here: with littles in the house, when bedtime has finally rolled around and passed, you have about all the leftover energy of a slug. I felt so often that I needed some screen time to ‘unwind’ because I didn’t have any oomph in me for anything else. I also knew that, when repeated night after night, I was starting to have the sneaky suspicion that there was more to life than blogs and netflix subscriptions. There was this after a junkfood binge type of feeling and it depressed me to look too closely at how often evenings slipped through my fingertips.

So I, alongside my husband, decided to do a lent experiment: eliminate all tv/netflix except for 2 nights a week. One was for me on a night when Matt had evening meetings (a frequent occurrence for a pastor) and one episode we would watch together. We also allowed for about a half hour of morning news before work everyday. Maybe this sounds like still a lot of tv to you but for us it was like moving to some remote part of the himalayas.  
Here’s what I learned:

    1)      It actually wasn’t as hard doing it as it was thinking about doing it. Like I thought it would be the techie equivalent of cutting out sugar from my diet but I didn’t go into extreme withdrawals like I thought I would. Sure at times it was hard, but mostly it was just a question of “well what do I do instead?”
    2)      Which leads me to point number two: I actually got bored. Which could seem confusing with what I just said about it not being as hard as I thought but bear with me. It actually wasn’t that bad to be bored. Because more often than not, I decided to just turn in and go to bed instead. It’s like all this time I’d been subconsciously needing to prove that I could hack sleep deprivation when really I could have actually—gasp—been getting a full night’s rest (or at least a darn good start...Isaline is currently teething after all). Low and behold, extra zzz’s gave me energy for other things, like tackling that closet project or reading a book that had been on my list since the beginning of time.
    3)      I rediscovered anticipation. Remember those tv nights back in the day? In college I and my roommates would all pile onto our hand me down couches to watch an episode of Gilmore Girls together. It was so much more than just tv; it was the chance to hang out, eat junk food and discuss in detail the inner workings of Rory’s latest love interest. Now I sit in front of my computer to watch Netflix on demand. And that 14 seconds before the next episode starts automatically? Killer…
   4)      Life got really slooow. Like super slow. Instead of my precious “the kids are finally in bed” time flying by, the evening suddenly felt twice as long. I realized that I (like a lot of folks out there) have gotten trained to equate fast with better. To think I needed constant entertainment or else I’d just fall to pieces. But slow felt really good. And really restful. It gave me margin on the edges of my sanity when previously mentioned one year old got ahold of her sister’s flower pot and turned it upside down. It made me feel like a better mom and a less cranky wife. It fed my soul.
   5)      This is the part where I’d love to tell you that God just popped into my living room one night and gave me this awesome lent epiphany. But if there’s one thing I learned throughout my screen binge, it’s that slow can be good. And though I didn’t hear the angels singing, I know that with his grace, I’m inching my way closer towards him. Clearing out the screen clutter has been like clearing out some of the clutter in my soul to make room for more of his voice, his love, his lavish grace in my life.

I may or may not have binged on Netflix episodes the week after Easter. I plead the fifth. Now that lent is over I don’t want to just go back to my old ways. But neither do I feel like I need to be beaten down by a rigid system. Christianity is not about systems or rules or spiritual whips. So it’s going to be a bit of dance. Me, my tv, and the Holy Spirit. I can’t promise perfection but I’ll let you know what we figure out! 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter 2017

Happy belated Easter! I figured that since Easter is all about new life being breathed into dead and broken places that this ol’ blog wasn’t so beyond hope after all. I took a hiatus from blogging for quite a while, mainly because it just felt like one more thing on the long list of chores to juggle, but in recent months this urge to write again kept rearing its head and it seems it just won’t go away! So for better or worse, here I am J

     That being said, I am going to try and shoot for something a little more manageable for a part time working mom of 2 littles…probably something like 2-3 times a month will be my aim and I’ll give myself a congratulatory pat on the back if I’m able to come up with more. So here’s to a new start and a fresh beginning! May your week be full of those as well!  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Last Night I Had A Dream

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Last night I dreamed a telephone was ringing. Usually this turns out to be your alarm and you wake up and have this weird sort of urge to answer the phone convinced the president is calling you and oh by the way you're late for school even though you graduated years ago. Gotta love dreams, right? But it wasn't my alarm. It was a Friday night and it was my turn to sleep in the next morning. Matt was mumbling something about letting them leave a message but I still stumbled out of bed, groping for the telephone because it was, after all, midnight, and even the most dedicated of telemarketers in Paris usually give up around 9 pm and turn in.

I didn't even really have time to get worried. It figures that something as horrific as the multiple terrorist attacks last night would have first made it all the way across the big blue expanse and to my parents' tv set before I was even conscious that people were dying so horribly in my city. 2015, it seems, in the most awfully literal way, will have begun and ended with a bang. Last January, as many of you still remember, Paris was touched by terrorism when a couple of men raided the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo and executed many of the employees who worked there. I remember feeling conflicted. I was shocked in the face of such violence and horrified that those men lost their lives in the name of God. And yet, I couldn't raise them up as heroes and martyrs as so many of those around me. There is nothing heroic about mocking the sacred. Belittling someone's faith whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim (and they regularly made fun of all three), does not take courage and freedom of speech does not eliminate the necessity of wisdom in our words and actions.

In the days to come the nightmare unfolded in new and scary ways. I remember going shopping the day after during the traditional January sales--normally a zoo of shopping bags, stressed out shoppers, and fought over shoes. In the place of the usual consumerist crazy marched uniform clad soldiers with big guns and a chill trailing behind their clipped steps. Every shop was talking about it. In Gap they were joking that they should probably shave their beards so as not to be confused with terrorists. I saw Je Suis Charlie badges everywhere.  The day after I was at work when my boss informed me of the hostage situation taking place in a Jewish grocery store across the city not far from where good friends of ours live. Without panicking the children we needed to get them inside the school as quickly as possible and stay inside until the hostage situation had been resolved. We took down the sign on the front door indicating that we're a school and the reign of Alerte Vigipirate began. No more parking outside of city halls, schools, prominent churches, or the police station. A heavily armed man was now posted outside of our local synagogue. On Monday we heard that there was another hostage situation, this time only minutes down the road from the school next to a grocery store that we go to weekly. Once again we were tense and on edge; some of our school children live in that neighborhood.

As it turned out, the third attack was mercifully uneventful and not terrorist related but for the first time, my confidence in the stability of my city was shaken. You didn't know where or when the next attack was coming from. The first had been targeted; this, more and more random... It felt as if every troubled and radical Muslim in the city was coming out of the woodwork in angry vengeance. For the first time in a relatively sheltered Western life, I felt truly unsafe.  As a Christian, it was hard to know how to position myself. I knew all the Sunday school answers but deep down in my core I knew I needed more than just a platitude. The truth is, I was scared then and I'm scared now. I won't deny it and hide behind a front of pretending that Christians don't ever feel threatened by the overwhelming presence of evil in this world.

And evil it was. Reports are rolling in revealing the massacre of the night before. Whole cafe terraces shot dead while enjoying an evening drink. Young people murdered as they were shot up and thrown grenades at during a rock concert. Bomb blasts during a French-German soccer game. One of my friends, holed up during bible study and unable to get back to her nursing baby for fear of going out in the streets. A fellow parent from church stuck in the soccer stadium with his two small boys trying to reassure them. My coworker, about a week away from her due date lives in the very neighborhood the hostage situation took place in. Thankfully she was actually sleeping when it all took place but not having heard from her, I and another coworker were concerned.  Another friend had both her brother, sister and their spouses that went out for dinner in the neighborhood that got shot up. They were just 300 meters away from the restaurant shooting when it happened, thanking God that they had changed their mind about having dinner in that very restaurant earlier. They found refuge with a hundred other people hiding in a hotel basement.

This attack hits even closer to home than last January. The multiple shootings occurred in our old neighborhood, just a couple of blocks away from our former apartment. I can picture the concert hall that was shot up. I can imagine the cafe and bar nightlife well, having walked those streets many a time while living over there. The truth is, I am scared. I live in a city where I might be blown up just taking the subway or having a drink in a restaurant. I knew that before and I am reminded in the most horrific way possible that my physical safety can crumble at any second. But if I stay focused on this chapter in history then I will lose sight of the big picture. God's bigger picture. You see, I believe in a big God. A God who is writing a large narrative; one in which there is heartbreaking conflict but overwhelming resolution. The most joyful of happy endings. I am as baffled as the next person by the ways God moves and the tragedies he allows to occur. The Bible, however, promises a time coming when there will be no more tears. No more suffering. Evil completely weeded out and eradicated. A God who is waiting for the maximum number of souls to find their freedom, peace, and joy in him. So yes, I'm scared. But I also know where to tell my emotions to get off at when they threaten to consume me. Because this isn't the end of the story.