Giving Thanks

Posted on Thursday, November 28, 2013

When my family first moved to the States, we didn't understand Thanksgiving.
It seemed like a less-fun version of Christmas; a holiday with an uncomfortably orange color scheme based on celebrating a historic slaughter...

As the years passed, though, and as my parents' circle of expat friends in the States grew, our celebration of the holiday evolved. We came to the table together year after year from wherever home was - Ireland, the UK, South Africa, it didn't matter - and celebrated life together.  I grew to love the day, and not just for my mother's crispy roasted potatoes or my dad's now signature cocktails.

It's fair to say that by now we've figured out Thanksgiving, and it's quickly become one of my favorite holidays. I appreciate the way that it comes with no fuss and little commercialism, and is a whole day dedicated to family and friends and food.  What could be better?  I'm grateful that it's become a part of my family's own traditions, and also pretty glad that we know better than to go to a crêperie in Manhattan's gayborhood for our Thanksgiving dinner (that happened, once..).

 All this being said, Thanksgiving always helps me to put things in persepective - even from over here.
While it doesn't exist in France, obviously, the sentiment is one that I can still appreciate.  I woke up this morning and excitedly thought, "It's Thanksgiving!"  Even with no prospect of turkey, and nary a trimming to be found, I'm still marking this day as important to me.
Though there's no outward indication that today is different from any other Thursday, I find that I'm feeling a bit more reflective than usual.

I'm certainly sad to not be with my family, but it's hard to complain when I'm lucky enough that one of my closest friends is here for the week.  Seeing photos from home make my heart ache a tiny bit, but I'll be home for Christmas before I know it, and I can still participate in the Thankful part of the day even if we're not all together.

There are plenty of Americans in Paris - I'm lucky enough to have been invited to two Thanksgiving dinners - but it's not just the food that makes this day what it is to me.
I'm especially thankful this year, again.  I've succesfully managed to live my dream for more than a year, even managing to fund it independently like a Real Grown Up. I'm thankful that I speak French, definitely thankful for cheese, thankful for bakeries that serve warm crusty baguettes at any given hour.
I'm thankful for the wonderful people that I've met over here, that continue to be so important to me, thankful that my family is so supportive of me, that they encourage and love me from so far away.  I'm thankful for the friends that are like family, for the same. Not many people run out of fingers when counting close friends, but I'm so grateful for them, and that staying in touch with them is easier than ever.

At dinner tonight, I doubt there will be turkey. But it's certain that there will be friendship and love and lots of laughter.  Most of all there will be thanks given - because really, I am so very grateful for so very many things - and so very thankful for the wonderful people that I love.

I hope you all feel equally lucky today, if not every day, because I promise that life's not so bad from where I'm standing.


One Year

Posted on Thursday, September 5, 2013

Today marks one year since I left Yardley for Paris.  Time has flown by, a blur of laughter and good food and new friends and a general sentiment of joie de vivre. It feels both as if I left yesterday and as if I've been here for years and years.  I continue to find new joys around every corner in this beautiful city, and Paris has yet to truly disappoint me.  Of course, life here - as anywhere - isn't always picture perfect, but it sure does come pretty damn close sometimes.

In so many ways, I feel exactly the same as the day that I left.  Most days, I feel no farther away from my friends and family; the benefits of technology mean keeping in touch is as easy as can be.  I think that if I picked up and moved home next week, I'd reintegrate smoothly and without issues.  But then, in other ways, I'm not so sure.  When I arrived here last year, I was reeling from several big changes.   Relationships were ending, friendships were evolving, and my undergraduate career at Villanova was over.  Everything I'd known and loved was in flux, more or less, and when I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport on the morning of September 6th, I had a lot of questions that I hoped to answer in the following months.  Now, a full twelve months later, I'm not so sure I've got all the answers.  But I realize, more than I did last year, that maybe having all the answers isn't the most important thing at this moment.
Life passes so quickly and if I've learned anything over the past year it's that sometimes the best way to enjoy life is slowly.  That's to say that while huge looming life questions are certainly important, there is also an insurmountable value to sitting back and enjoying the process of finding the answers, rather than being pushed to find them.

Paris is made for enjoying life.  While the Parisians might be seen as the experts of complaining, seemingly never ending bad moods, poor manners... At the end of the day, there are few in this city that don't see the value in sharing some cool rosé in a park on a sweltering August day, or lingering over a coffee on a bitter winter evening.
That all being said, this joe de vivre is surely an idealized image of Paris.  On the best days, my heart is ready to burst with the joy of knowing that I've eaten at the same restaurant as Hemingway, walked the same floorboards as Joyce, strolled the same gardens as kings and queens before me.  On the worst days, I want to scream with frustration over antiquated habits that have lingered - pushy Parisians in the street, technology that lags years behind most of the world....  But today, I'm all about the best days.

À la votre
There's something about living abroad that changes part of you, for better or for worse.  There are habits I've picked up here that won't be so normal if I ever go back home.  There are the linguistic tics - the ohh là làs and the sharp intakes of breath, the gestures that don't exist in the States and the tongue-clicking, French trademarks that I've integrated for better or for worse - but there are things that run more deeply.  There's a certain outlook, a je ne sais quoi that I can feel I'm absorbing but I still can't describe.  It's natural, it's to be expected, but it's funny to take note from time to time of the little things that this place is doing to me.

A year ago, I moved into the world's smallest apartment and thought my dreams were coming true.  I was delighted to have my own place, somewhere to call home in Paris.  Now, I'm living in the apartment more or less of my real dreams, the dreams I've had since my first visit as an awkward pre-teen: parquet floors, balcony in my bedroom, molded ceilings.  The past year has brought so much joy, helped me heal a lot of the pain and unhappiness that The Big Changes After College brought, and continues to form me in ways I can hardly begin to explain.  I can't even try to put into words the ways in which I love this city, this culture, this way of life.  I can only continue to live it, to enjoy it, all the while trying to learn from it.

However I've changed over the past year, though, it has to be said that I continue to rely on so many people at home that have supported me from afar for this whole time.  As much as this year has been about "finding myself," it wouldn't have been half of what it was without the love of my parents and my two sisters.  It's incredible how close families can remain despite the longest distance.  What's more, I was lucky enough to have made an incredible group of friends during university with which I feel as close as the day I graduated, even from all the way over here.  As wonderful as Paris can be, there are days when I need to feel home.  I feel so lucky to have people that can do that for me, and I can't thank family or friends enough for the love they send my way every day without perhaps even realizing it.

Eiffel tower view from Tour Montparnasse.
Tonight, to celebrate, I had a delicious dinner (which included escargots, steak, AND chocolatey dessert!) and then finally went to the top of the Montparnasse Tower. Paris' only skyscraper, I've long wanted to see the view from the top - and it didn't disappoint.  Sipping champagne on top of Paris, it was hard not to feel on top of the very world.  I'm so grateful for everything I've been lucky enough to experience this past year, and I really can't wait to see what the next year in Paris brings me.  As my mother always says, "We're here for a good time, not a long time."  Though I don't know how long I'll be here for, I can only hope it continues to be as good. xo


On Living Alone

Posted on Thursday, August 29, 2013

I never really imagined that I'd enjoy living alone.  During my years at Villanova, having a roommate was one of the most enjoyable parts of The College Experience for me - someone to procrastinate with, to eat late night mac n cheese with, to comiserate with after a late night out.  
Particularly during senior year, the year before leaving for France, living with my roommates was something that I couldn't imagine life without. Our apartment was a constant stream of friends coming in and out, dinners or drinks on the rooftop porch, impromptu sleepovers on the big orange couch... there was never a dull moment, and alone time was rare - something that I loved.

Bryn Mawr - I also had real roommates, not just cardboard ones.
So when I decided to move here, and to live alone, it was a big change.  And while picking my outfits without a second and third opinion took some getting used to (just kidding, kind of), the solitude is something that I've grown to value about my first year abroad.  Moving abroad was never the scary part of my decision, it was moving abroad alone that made me nervous.  Now though, twelve months later (okay, eleven months and three weeks - but who's counting??), I'm preparing to move into a shared apartment and to leave my little shoebox sized room behind.  It's a big change, and like any big change it's cause for a bit of reflection and introspection.

I never thought I'd say it, but I'll miss living by myself.  There are so many positive aspects to life toute seule, and I think I've enjoyed almost all of them.   When there are no roommates, you can eat dinner at whatever time you want - and you can eat whatever you want.  There are no kitchen collisions, there's no rush to do the dishes, there's no pressure.  You're entitled to a solo glasses of wine or two with as much stinky cheese as you like, without so much as an unsolicited sideways glance.  You can get into your pajamas right after work on weekdays, and you can stay in them all day on weekends if you feel like it.  You can go to bed at eight pm if you're tired, or you can come home at six in the morning without worrying about waking anyone up - because sometimes the last métro home is the best idea.

(You will also likely call into question your individual hummus intake)
You learn to develop a sense of independence when you live alone that I can't imagine can be done while living with others. I know it might sound silly, but for most of my life I was too shy to imagine eating a meal or getting a drink alone.  Maybe it was immaturity, or fear, or pride, but I just couldn't see myself ever going in somewhere all by myself.  Now, though, I'm all about it.  If I feel like I want to see a movie, I go and see one.  I sit alone, I buy some snacks for one, and I enjoy every minute of it.  If I feel like I want a nice meal out or (more budget friendly-ly) a glass of wine on my way home from work, I seat myself on the nearest terrasse and get ready for some good people watching.  It's probably one of my favorite things to do, these days.  Maybe I was the last to realize, but hanging out with yourself can really be the best company of all, sometimes.

It's inevitable that when you live with somebody, you learn a lot about them.  And, not too get too reflective or too "deep," but it's fair to say I've learned a lot about myself during the past year, too.  Though there are lots of great perks, it hasn't always easy to live alone.  Beyond confirming my suspicions that I'll never be a neat person, there have certainly been moments during my time in the little apartment that I've made a tough realization about myself, or needed a shoulder to cry on, or my solo dinner or drink felt just a bit tragic.  And while Skype is great, and I know I've got a big great group of people I could call, curing loneliness in a big foreign city often requires a bit more than a blurry video chat.

But c'est la vie, I've survived the tearful moments of loneliness just as well as the triumphant moments, and now I'm on the other side of it all.  My new apartment feels like an upgrade all around, and I'll be sure to post photos on my Instagram and here, once I'm all set up.
I'm a bit nervous, but mostly I feel excited and enthusiastic and ready to turn a page.  This past year has been a whirlwind and has gone by so quickly, but I'm ready for the next and hopeful that it will only get better from here.  The little apartment will always be the first place I called home in Paris and I'm unlikely to forget that. For the remaining days in my first little home, I'm going to enjoy all the good things that living alone can offer - like listening to embarrassing music at top volume and singing along with reckless abandon.

Hope the neighbors won't mind. xo


Les Vacances

Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The French have a lot of funny particularities.  Like any culture, there are habits so pervasive in their way of life that I can't help but notice them. Some, like the adament refusal to step aside on the narrow sidewalks as I struggle home with bags of groceries, are less endearing than others.  The French habit of carrying flowers upside down, with blossoms toward the ground, is as amusing to see as its "scientific" explanation is to hear ("They retain their smell better this way!" I was told by an incredulous Frenchman upon inquiring).  On an even more irritating note, it's probable that the stubborn French phrase ce n'est pas possible, a favorite with customer service  will haunt me long after I've moved from Paris.  I could write a long list of French behavior that is amusing, frustrating, incomprehensible, or endearing... But that wouldn't be very interesting, would it?

I'd rather focus on one French cultural institution that is revered above all others: Les Vacances.

Among the many benefits of working here, free health care aside, les vacances is by far the most highy valued.   For the French, vacation is not optional - and with an average of 5-6 weeks' vacation time allotted per year, why should it be?  This city has shut down over the past few weeks, as the Parisians - from the company heads to the least of secretaries - head to la campagne to stay in their holiday houses, or go abroad.  The streets are far more quiet during this time of year, if you're out of the way of the hundreds of tourists that do crowd some areas.  The bus isn't as packed, there are more bikes ready available for the vélib shared bike program... The city, on the whole, is a more pleasant place to live.  The list of Things The French Do Well might well exceed the distance between Paris and Philadelphia, in my opinion, but vacation nears the top of that list... Well, after wine, cheese, baguette...

I was lucky enough to take part in the mass exodus to the countryside a few weeks ago, when a friend invited me and a few others to spend the weekend at his family's beach house.  We went down on the train, and after a dodgy incident involving hitchiking from a truck driver, we arrived at the charming little house.  Dubbed La Maison Bleue, the cottage could have been in the center of wine country for its appearances.  Though that would've been just as agréable, the beach was a five minute walk from the front door.  We had lovely weather, delicious food, and the company was wonderful.  I learned the three Ps of a French holiday: pastis, pétanque, et poisson.  Though my weekend away was short, I realized quickly why the French generally take the whole month for their holidays.

Now, though, in the last week of August, things are slowly becoming animated once more around here.  The Christian Loubouton boutique on my street has reopened for business (much to the tourists' delight and to my crowd-battling chagrin), the smell of fresh bread is once again on every street corner, and my vélib luck is beginning to run out.  There's a feeling in the air that cooler weather is just around the corner, and some leaves have even begun to turn.  The summer has flown by, like every other season seems to, and I'm not quite ready for it to be over yet.  Though autumn in Paris is beautiful, the advent of the crisp weather and golden-dappled leaves means that another long winter is not far off.

Rather than settling into some old fashioned Parisian gloom with the rentrée, as seems to be the modus operandi around here, I'm determined to focus on exciting things coming my way.  For now, the weather is still beautiful and life is still good.  The next couple of weeks mean as many sunset bike rides as possible, wine filled picnics with some new friends, and walks home from work along the Seine.  Though the days are getting shorter, my heart is still so full of love for this place I'm so happy to call home - though, for now, I'll carry my flowers the normal way.  xo

PS: Check out this NYTimes article: A Quest to Make Gruff Service in France More Gracious.  It's an interesting read.


31 July 2013

Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Last weekend I was lucky enough to fly over to Dublin for a quick visit.  Being on this side of the Atlantic has made it much easier to see family, since flights are obviously quite a bit cheaper than they are from the States.  It's a perk of my living here that I didn't much consider before the move, but have since enjoyed every couple of months.
This visit was a special one, though, as it was to mark the Baptism of my newest cousin, the beautiful Meron Margaret Turner.  My aunt adopted Meron from Ethopia a few months ago, and the baby is as sweet as can be with the best temperament that I've ever seen in a little one of her age.  I was surprised when I shed a few happy tears when I first saw her, but I'm so glad that this little girl gets to be part of our family, and so happy I was able to be there to see her.  She and my aunt and uncle live in Dubai, so I felt especially lucky that we were able to meet in Dublin.  My dad was also able to be there, as he was on a trip to Germany, and we had a really lovely weekend (with probably a few too many fish and chips, for me).  I wished only that my sisters and my mother could have been there, too.

Welcome to our crazy family, little girl!
I'm always filled with lots of emotion when I get to travel home to Ireland.  Though I've lived in the States longest of anywhere, there's not a drop of my blood that isn't Irish and every time the airplane flies low enough to see the neatly bordered green fields, I'm filled with a sense of home that I don't get anywhere else.  There's something about Ireland; something about the smell of burning turf and moisture that seems to be always on the air, the kind faces on every street and sidewalk, and the greenest green stretching for miles and miles and miles.  I love the US, it's an intrinsic part of who I am, but the sense of belonging that I get in Dublin is one that doesn't always come as readily in America.  Or, rather, it's an entirely different sense of belonging.  America is the place where I grew up, where I became who I am, where I met the people that will shape me for the rest of my life.  But Ireland is the place that is who I am.  It's a difficult feeling, a feeling that fills me at times with trepidation.  There's part of me - a big part - that wants to drop everything and move to Dublin, to reconnect with the sense of myself that I find there.  On the other hand, something tells me that no matter how long I stay away, Ireland will always be a part of who I am.  I worry only that the feeling will shrink, or that I'll fill myself with so many other homes - Paris included - that I'll squeeze it out somehow.  As our family that remains in Ireland shrinks, thanks in part to a wanderlust gene that many of us seem to carry, going home will be harder as there will be increasingly fewer people to visit.  I guess, though, if nothing else, I'll have to continue to go back to stock up on Irish tea and chocolate.
Sunny rainy Irish weather from a bus window

This blog isn't meant to be a place where I dredge up my deepest darkest concerns and worries, and I'm sorry to seem overly introspective, but I think that the struggle of my ideas of home is something that will continue for as long as I travel.  I know that my last post included some of the same sentiments, and I am sorry if it's repetitive or boring to read about, but it's something that weighs heavily on my mind from time to time, particularly after trips to other homes like the States and Dublin.  It's an undercurrent that will surface from time to time, and I do hope you'll bear with me while I use this space to help me work it all out.
Aside from all the heavy introspection and my ongoing transcendental struggle (joking...), I'm settling back in to life here after summer travels.  With one best friend already home in the US after her French visa expired and another heading back in the next few weeks, it's hard not to feel uncertain about the future.  Making friends anywhere after college can be really hard, I think, but it can be even harder in a foreign country.  I guess the time has come to check out some ex-pat meet up groups, as nervous and maybe "uncool" as that makes me feel - what I'd give for an awkward Parisian luau at this point! (I guess that joke might be only understandable to Villanova alum?)  But ultimately, this uncertainty is what I signed up for when I booked that plane ticket last summer, and I'd rather the excitement of uncertainty than the monotony of tired routine.  

In other current events, the contract on my tiny little apartment is ending soon.  I'll miss the big window and the broken floor and the rickety ladder leading to my bed, and the apartment will always hold lots of memories of my first year here.  Inviting friends over for dinners where we trip over one another (one friend at a time, only), trying to pack and unpack in a space that hardly fits my suitcase, waking up during winter mornings for a frigid commute through still-dark streets... The place will stay with me forever in its little ways, but I'm hoping for a bit of an upgrade in terms of space and willing to accept a bit of a downgrade in terms of location.  The Paris real estate market moves at the speed of light so I'm spending any spare moment perusing adverts... Here's to hoping I find something as wonderful as this first place!

Paris is quiet in the summertime, and in less touristy areas the streets are emptying as Parisians take their yearly vacances to the beach or the country. In many places, including my neighborhood, tourists are in full force but I try to keep a positive attitude when they block up the sidewalk with their maps and their cameras... I remember how enchanted I was on my first trip to Paris, and I'm just happy to see other people willingly seduced by Paris' charm.  I'm off to the beach this weekend, but other than that I plan to soak in the tranquility of an August in Paris, preparing for the big changes that seem to be coming my way.  Time to hold on tight and see what's coming! xo

P.S.: If you need another excuse to come over and see Paris for yourselves, check out this beautiful video by Sebastian Weitbrecht:


On Living Abroad

Posted on Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When I left for France last September, there were many things I wasn't sure about.
I had picked out and paid for an apartment, but had never laid eyes on it. I'd accepted a job in a poor suburb of Paris, the obligations of which I didn't fully understand. I hadn't held a long conversation in French for months (if not years...).
The list of uncertainties could continue.  I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport almost a year ago eager and excited, if a bit scared, to see what my new adventure would bring.  I had my doubts, but ultimately was driven forward by an incredible enthusiasm to get out get out get out of the States and to do something different and frightening and new.

And my adventure brought me so many things that I never expected, affected me in ways I didn't anticipate, and continues to teach me things about myself I might never have discovered otherwise.
My little room was even tinier than I'd imagined, but perfect in its Parisian charm (broken floor tiles and view of rooftops included).  My French improved daily and, with effort and a bit of luck, will continue to do so.
Most importantly and most notably, though, my eight months spent as a teaching assistant brought me so much joy - a job more rewarding than I might've dreamed, despite its challenges.  I'll never forget the way my students laughed at my awkward stumbling over their names, names I'd never heard of that came from corners of Senegal and Morocco and Mali that I never knew existed.  I won't forget their silly questions, the way they assumed that every American is a personal acquaintance of both Kim Kardashian AND Barack Obama, has seen a hold-up in person, and visits Miami Beach (pronounced "Mee-ami Bitch!") weekly.  I won't remember all their names, or their endearing mistakes in English, or even the French slang that they taught me, but I won't forget the feeling I had when I was with them weekly.  Working with them brought such happiness to my life,  and it's an experience I will always look back on with only good feelings.  I'm so grateful for everything - the unexpected things, particularly - that I gained during my time with my kids.

But even now, almost a year later and with all of this under my belt, there are still so many things about which I'm still not sure.  To be honest, I thought after a year away, I'd have so much more figured out.
Being home was a strange and fairly unexpected rush of emotions.  A blur of seeing people that I really care about; running from Philadelphia to the Upper East Side and Brooklyn and back down to Yardley in as little time as possible to fit everything and everyone in.  I knew that I'd be glad to see everyone at home, but I never imagined that my heart would want to burst from sheer fullness and joy to be  back around family and college friends (that might as well be family).  I knew that I had missed home, and during my time away I'd never been afraid to shed a homesick tear or two.  But drinking one of my Dad's mojitos in the back garden, or tipsy cab rides laughing about college memories, or making dinner with my Mom and sisters... I didn't anticipate that all these little activities would make me feel as though my heart was breaking into two pieces. One piece full of river-side bike rides and red wine and Camembert and feelings of belonging in a foreign place, and the other piece so full of the love that only home can provide.  Of all the things I anticipated when I moved to France, this kind of heartbreak was certainly not one of them.  With the family history that I have, moving to three countries in the first seven years of my life, I never thought I'd feel so uprooted or so torn as I did over my two weeks at home.  I never really questioned my decision to leave last year, and though I've experienced moments of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for the uninitiated) from afar, I'd never really felt like I made the wrong decision in leaving.

At home, though, I began to wonder if I had made a huge mistake.

After lots of introspection, though, I've come to the conclusion that this feeling is a normal one for the first visit home.  Or at least, I hope it is.  I enjoyed my time at home as it gave me some perspective, allowing me to re-evaluate things in my life from a distance and see what was good and what wasn't. And now, a week deep in my Parisian re-immersion, I no longer wonder if I've made a mistake coming here.  I've used the past week to get back in touch with the person I was a year ago, the person who made the decision to leave.  Because somewhere in between establishing a daily routine and enjoying the weekends of folie, I lost sight of the person I was back then.  It's a work in progress, and I have no doubt it will take time to reconcile my love of being at home with my love of being here in Paris, but it's in admitting this very particular sentiment that I'm finding my resolve to find that person again; to discover and relive the emotions and excitement and enthusiasm of this time last year.  And after all, what better place to begin this rediscovery than Paris?  I'll follow in the footsteps of so many before me, though admittedly without the help of a certain Green Fairy.

So with this very personal update, the blog is back with every good intention to pick up where I left off with updates.  Though there are no pictures attached to this post,  I update my Instagram regularly (probably too often) and you can see those photos by clicking here.

As always, thank you for reading my li'l blog, and thank you so much for all the love and support.  It's not easy being far away from so many people that I love so much, but your support makes a world of difference.  You all make me feel at home, no matter where I am.  Until next time, xo.


Re-appearing Act

Posted on Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I really didn't mean to take a pause from blogging - but the past few weeks (months??) have been absolutely non-stop and taking time to sit in front of the screen to type it all out seemed absolutely overwhelming and perhaps even impossible.  I don't intend to sit and list every single thing that happened to me over the past while, but there are a few highlights that deserve mention.  After this post, I promise we'll be back to regularly scheduled programming.

Luckily enough for me, I spent Christmas in Ireland surrounded by aunts, uncles, grandmothers and cousins.  The few days I spent in Ireland were absolutely wonderful, particularly as I got to spend some good quality time with my Nana Peg.  I'll deliver the not-so-wonderful news early on, so as not to end on a sad note - one of the reasons that made this Christmas so special and unforgettable to me is that my Nana died a few days afterwards, when I'd gone home.  I cannot put into words, and I don't really intend to try, how lucky and fortunate and blessed I feel to have been there with her over those few days.  We ate and drank, we wore matching pajamas, and we laughed and laughed and laughed.  I won't ever forget those few precious days and I'll thank my lucky stars for many years to come that I was fortunate enough to have them.

What a superstar.
In case you thought I was joking about the matching pajamas.
Before any of that, though, I returned to Paris after a fab few days in Ireland and hosted my sisters Sinéad and Megan, and Sinéad's boyfriend Kevin.  They stayed for about ten days, and were here for New Years Eve.  It was fantastic to see my sisters, especially my little sister Megan since her arrival in Paris was a Christmas surprise for all three of us girls.  I' not sure how Megan and I survived in my tiny place, side-stepping around one another while trying to get dressed to go out, but I was so glad to have her, especially since it was unexpected!  I was also particularly glad that Kevin was with my sisters, as it was his first trip to Paris and I never get tired of the awestruck expressions and visible joy that people always fail to hide while walking around the city for the first time (sorry Kev!).  We did a bit of the sightseeing circuit, but we also just enjoyed being together and revisiting some of our favorite spots.  My sisters and I are fortunate enough to have all been in Paris before, so we all were happy to go back to some of the places we'd been before and loved - as well as finding some new spots.

Shin and Kev

The four of us had a really great time running around Paris, though it was at the end of the stay that we got the unfortunate news about our Nana. The very silver lining, however, was that my sisters and I were able to fly over to Ireland quickly and without too much hassle, where we met my parents.  It was the first time the whole family had been together since the end of August, and I was thrilled to be in the same country, let alone the same room, as my sisters and parents at the same time.  The few days we spent in Ireland were, of course, tearful and sad, but they were also joyful and full of sharing funny stories to celebrate incredible life that my Nana lived.  I know several of you reading had met the lady at one point or another and I'm sure everyone agrees that she was quite the character - a truly unforgettable woman whose memory I will always always cherish.  Spending time with family, both my close family and some people that I'd never met, was another unexpected gift this Christmas.

After two trips to Ireland and with visitors in between, I was more than ready to get back into my routine by the middle of January.  Three weeks' worth of holidays was really more than enough, not to mention the uncomfortable wallet-shrinking-waistline-growing phenomenon that such an amount of free time and travel will do...

At the end of January, I celebrated my 23rd birthday with one of my very best friends, Jackie, whose birthday is just two days before mine.  From the time we met two years ago on our study abroad trip, we always jokingly talked about how we couldn't WAIT to celebrate our birthdays together (though we had no idea when or how it might happen as she was in Boston and I was in Philly).  What good fortune that two years later we'd be here in Paris, and have a friend generous enough to throw us a joint birthday party!  We celebrated accordingly and in our best party-hat style last weekend, although my instruction to "Wear your party pants!" did cause some confusion among French friends.  It was a little strange to celebrate my birthday so far away from home, as even when I was at school I wasn't far from my parents' house, but I felt so happy and fortunate to have such good friends here that I enjoyed myself as much as I would've at home.

23rd birthday party
My wallet shrunk again this past weekend when seven of us piled into cars and headed north to Deauville, France's beach resort and casino town.  It felt so nice to get out of city air, to be at the beach and to see WIDE OPEN SPACE for once.  I love Paris more than I love almost anything, but sometimes you just need to feel like the world exists beyond buildings and cars and dog stuff on the sidewalks.  We went to the casino, we cooked meals together, we walked along the beach, and once again I felt my sides splitting with laughter on several occasions.  No one can replace friends from home or family, but being with people that are so eager to enjoy life really does help to fill the hole a little bit.  And, when it comes down to it, I'd rather spend money on experiences like this past weekend - traveling new places with new friends and enjoying ourselves fully - than have a few extra Euros lying around.  Who really needs to eat, anyway?!  The trip to Deauville was one of my favorite weekends since arriving five months ago.  I never thought I'd feel so comfortable among a group of friends as quickly as I do here now, and it didn't hurt to have such a beautiful backdrop to our weekend away.  France really is a beautiful country, and I really look forward to spending more time in France outside of Paris (now accepting Travel Donations).

I haven't changed.
Beachy view from our Deauville apartment
Bar inside the casino.
Daytrip to Honfleur, beautiful tiny old-timey town on the sea.
I have so many more things to say about so many different parts of life that have changed since I've been here last, but I'm still looking for some words to capture the way I've been feeling lately.  How do I find the right language to explain the feeling of riding a bike home from work after a long day, and crossing the bridge right when the Eiffel Tower sparkles?  How can I really ever capture the warm salty sweet smell that rises from a Nutella crêpe on a freezing afternoon?  Life is so extraordinarily sensory here that I find so often, as a words-person, my own lack of words to be frustrating.  I'll keep looking, though, because I do want to find the proper way to capture so much of what I see - for you, but also for me. If I've learned anything so far in 2013, it's that life is short and unpredictable and my only resolution is to continue to enjoy all that I've been given.

Sunset from our balcony in Deauville.