Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Secret to a Happy Life.

Growing up, my wise old Dad always told me that I had a choice to be happy and I could opt in or I could opt out, nobody had any control over my happiness but me. Scrolling through my blog it is pretty clear that I choose to be happy with my family. Tonight I read this New York Times article. Sounds like If I keep up the relationships I have with my family and friends I have a pretty good life continuing ahead of me. Looking forward to savoring every moment of it. Check out the article and watch this video, it's well worth your time, and may very well help you find life long happiness.

To share a video that was posted in the comments and also worth your time... 

Monday, March 21, 2016

La Troisième Crise

The French language does not use the phrase, "I miss you ". Rather, one would say, "Tu me manques" which means, "you are missing from me".
Being a part of a big family is easy.
Being apart from a big family is hard. 

A scroll through my Facebook or Instagram pictures and it appears that I spend all of my time loving life and traveling around the world on my own. A quick skim through my blog and one would soon understand the love and connection I have to my family. If one were to even glimpse at my resume it is clear that I love working with children.

 And if someone found my many journals filled to the brim, they would find pages upon pages covered in stories about the highlights of  my travels, people who made me think, visions of my future, jokes that made me laugh, and so many thoughts about things that remind me of my family. The journals reflect me better than I can reflect myself, because the journals have no audience to cater to, no need for privacy settings or the permanency of the internet. When I was younger I had to watch out for a certain younger sister, but now we have many miles between us, and she has better things to worry about - like when one of these posts will be about her (Sorry Jay not quite yet).

While my timeline may seem like my life in Europe is all exploring mideval cities and hiking up breath taking mountains there is actually a lot more taking place. My first life crisis that came with living in the city Paris came within the first month. The crisis came along with the word city. I had never spent so much time confined within a series of cement structures. I needed an escape, the solution: Annecy.

The second crisis living in a city and being so far away from home was when I realized exactly HOW far away from home I was. I missed my family and just wanted some good New York style Pizza. I needed some comforts from home, the solution: one of my family's favorite movies.

The third crisis was slowly growing, the only crisis I actually predicted but could not prepare fo; missing all of my younger siblings, nieces, and nephew. The journal I brought along for this trip begins with me discussing how hard it was to say goodbye to my eleven year old sister and seven year old niece. I remember hugging both of them and crying, knowing neither one of them understood what it meant that I was leaving for so long or how far away I would be. And I knew that they would each have grown up so much in the short amount of time I was gone.

Last night while sitting in my room I could hear the baby in the apartment below me crying. Sobbing. Wailing at the top of their lungs for what seemed forever. It broke my heart and simultaneously healed it a little. This poor baby was so distraught.  Listening to the sounds coming from below my room I couldn't help but imagine myself  holding and soothing my young nieces and nephew so far across the Atlantic. Cuddling with them until they stoped crying and the tears turn to giggles again. The sound of a child's laughter and the embrace of their tiny bodies bursting with love are two things that are impossible to obtain when so far from home and everyone around you is a stranger. I paused my music and tuned into the crying baby.

It hasn't just been my young nieces and nephew that I have been missing, but the many kids in my family and life who play such a big role in making me feel whole. Working with children is how I plan on spending my career and without them I would have no direction or purpose. While living in Paris I have felt this growing void of something missing from my life (besides my mom's chocolate chip cookies).

Now, I have mentioned before that going to the grocery store in Paris has been quite traumatizing. The supermarket always seems to have some surprise or angry worker around the corner to tell you off in French. Today I took a chance at a new shopping opportunity, I went to the organic co-op down the street.

In the very tiny little store I began made my way around. While staring amazed at all of the different  types of honey that were offered, a woman began speaking to me in French. I want to take a moment to assure anyone reading that my interpretation of French has improved drastically from the beginning of my adventures in Paris. However, when I am caught off guard, I often wind up unintentionally giving the person a quizzical look and responding with "Oui". The women had motioned to her baby carriage while speaking and then she wondered off.

Had she just asked me to watch her baby? She just left me with her baby and walked away. I could have just snatched it up and ran. I was baffled. Not even sure if that was what she asked I figured I should stick around until she came back just in case someone actually did want to snatch her baby and run. I had an obligation to watch this stroller, I had to have said "Oui" to something. I pretended to be interested in the many varieties of organic and ethically responsible tea, coffee, and honey options. Of course I was left in the isle where there was nothing I actually wanted.

Their was a light blanket resting over the cover of the pram so the baby was not actually visible. I couldn't even admire the little child in there while I wondered if I was responsible for it or not. I couldn't even tell if there was a little baby in there. After a few moments, I heard a sound, I saw some movement, I could hear the soft coos of a baby beginning to stir.

She eventually came back and I figured I was safe to walk away. While looking at the different vegetable options I overheard her speaking softly to her baby. What caught my attention was that she sounded as if she was speaking English. She checked out and left. I was so distracted I picked up a bunch of carrots and ran to pay for my groceries (leaving without anything substantial to cook for dinner).

I had to chase this woman down and talk to her. Meeting fellow Americans is rare, meeting them in my neighborhood is unheard of. Waiting for the grocer to finish ringing me up I pictured this woman getting farther and farther away. How would I even know which direction to find her?

 My thoughts were interrupted as the grocer said something in French. Caught off guard again, I looked at him puzzled and said, "pardon?" his response was a series of words strung together ending with "compote". Thank you high school French! I knew that one meant applesauce. I pulled it out of my bag and handed it back, there was an issue and he had to re-scan it. Again, and again, and again. Finally it worked and I was able to pay.

I ran out of the store so fast I didn't get a chance to close my wallet properly and dropped my receipt on the ground. The wind picked it up and I had to chase it down. I couldn't litter outside the entrance to the organic co-operative after all.  Walking down the street I was lucky to see her stopped outside of another store. I sped up to try and catch her.

I tapped her on the shoulder," Pardon, Vous parlez Anglais?" Turns out she's from the mid-west! Also turns out she had asked me if her baby carriage was in my way. When I answered "Oui" she wondered if I had actually understood what she said, just as I had wondered what she had actually said. She is sweet as they come and I may even have a babysitting gig lined up!

That should to fill that void that has been growing deep inside and resolve crisis number three. I usually spend the walk home from the grocery store sweating over whatever traumatizing incident took place. This time I walked home with an American neighbor, her beautiful baby girl, and her email address, wondering what crisis number four could possibly bring.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Train Time Machine

"Let us lay in the sun and count every beautiful thing we can see."- Neutral Milk Hotel

Before I was born my Mom and Dad lived together in Germany for about two years. Only a little older than I am now, they had the opportunity to travel around Europe and experience much of the culture with very few responsibilities. They learned to speak German, made some life long friends, and became seasoned travelers.
My Mom at the Tour D' Eiffel. Paris, France  
On occasion, they tell stories that begin with "When your Mom and I were living in Germany..." or "When Dad and I lived in Munich...". So for me, growing up my impressions of Europe were formed through my parents narrative. The images in my head were mere glimpses of those from the thick photo albums that hid in our basement among all the other books.  Under the thin plastic protective coverings, the yellowed pages of the albums held photo's with an orange date in the corner. Taken sometime before 1995 the albums were made up of pictures of my parents before they were parents. People I could only ever imagine

Casually, they point out places they have visited that they see in the scenes of the movies we watch. They randomly slip into conversation museums and villages that they refer to as "their favorite in the whole world" and I know that they are not using the term lightly. They are fortunate, and modest about their travels, and I always knew that someday I needed to see Europe the way that they did. Young, with few responsibilities, an open mind, and my whole life ahead of me.

Now that I am here and planning my adventures I email them constantly, asking for ideas of what to do and see. My Dad sends me back paragraphs and paragraphs of things to see with annotations on what he's seen, what he liked, and what I must not miss. My Mom sends me carefully planned charts of travel itineraries that she has created with links and detailed suggestions.

My Dad in Hallstaat, Austria
On day four of our spring break excursion my new friend Becca and I woke up early to catch a train from Barcelona to Carcasonne. We had to take two trains to get there and the second one was a much less commercialized line. After running to make sure we did not miss it, we wound up unintentionally sitting next to the older couple who we were across from on the first train. The wife, dressed all in rosy pink, wearing light blue eyeliner, and was sweet as could be.

On the first train she was very concerned that Becca was not aware her bag was on the ground. On the second train she was delighted to see us again, but disappointed this train was not as nice as the first. She tried to engage us in conversation, and we tried to reciprocate. She asked us where we were going. Or where we were from. I'm not really sure actually. The whole communication took place in a broken confusion of  an English, Catalonian, French, and Spanish mix of words. She was sad to see us depart the train when we did, or at least I think she was.

Visiting the Medieval city of Carcassonne, France 
Sitting on the train it hit me that we were riding through the south of France, watching the sun hit the rolling hills, and the farm fields fly past us. It was magical when we saw an assortment of horses and two white ones in particular began running, the wind flying through their hair. Talking about the friends we had met the night before who came from all around the globe, I realized we were living what I had dreamed of.

This is one of few chances we will have in our life to live without any serious responsibilities. To be living purely for the joy of learning and exploring in Europe the way I had always imagined it to be. Away from the major tourist ports we were truly appreciating the breath-taking land from the back country trains. I finally began to love France for what it really is.

Leaving Carcassonne we had to transfer trains in order to reach our off the grid, hotel pit stop in Soillac on our way to Sarlat. Upon finding seats for the two of us I felt like I had stepped into where my parents photo albums had left off in 1992. The train had definitely been running on this track since the '80's. There were curtains hanging from the windows! Not sleek shades that you could pull up and down. Curtains. Curtains that swayed when the train tracks turned.

Dan and I on the train. 
One stop before Souillac Dan started talking to us. Dan was a slightly less socially awkward version of my old pal from the Paris metro. He told us that he enjoyed giving compliments, but referred to compliments as giving a flower (donner un fleur). He arrive in France from the U.S. around the same time my parents arrived in Germany. Only he never left.

Walking out of the train station our hotel was located at the other end of the parking lot. The moment we walked through the doors was a continuation of decorations from the end of the twentieth century. Upon entering our room we began laughing and questioning if the train was a time machine taking us back to the '90's. The bedspread, the potpourri, the wallpaper in the closet, and the telephone with a spiral cord plugged into the wall. However, there were fresh daffodils on the table, those were definitely placed there that morning.

Listening to the forgotten sound of the dial tone
while waiting for the shower to warm up.
Notice the candle in the hotel?
My adventures through Europe so far are everything I expected plus everything I could never have expected. I am able to see the places I have only heard about in my parents stories, and see sites I will some day be able to tell my kids about. The more I travel the longer my list becomes of places I want to visit and the things I want to do. Through living on my own in this country I am getting to know my parents before they were parents. I am experiencing one of the major parts of their lives that I was never a part of.  I am finding joy in seeing things so far from home and knowing they are the favorite places of the two people I love the most. And best of all, I get to revisit the '90's, a great decade for wall paper and hotel blankets!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Rules of the Game

 "Normality is a paved road. It's comfortable to walk, but no

flowers grow on it. " - Vincent VanGogh

Questioning Montserrat.
My new friend Becca and I have now spent seven weeks together, experiencing new cultures, and dissecting each element of life piece by piece. In this time we have learned a lot about each other. Especially the general roommate habits and characteristics such as our eating and cleanliness habits, how long it take each other to get ready, and when to agree to disagree. We have a lot that we differ on, but I think we have more we see eye to eye on.
On day two of our big spring break excursion, we made our first travel mate. He was quick to observe that in very few of our stories do we refer to ourselves as "I". Something that is also evident in our blogs, in the first draft of this post I used the word "Our" twenty-one times and the word "we" forty. Since most of our experiences are together and the only time we seem to spend apart is when one of us is in class or in the bathroom, we have swiftly become one.
We spend a lot of time discussing the morals and reasoning behind the things we are witnessing We consider everything from every angle. We consider why Parisians act the way they do on the metro to whether aquariums should exist or not. We also bicker about if sharing hair brushes is as unsanitary as not washing hands. Becca is a vegan and an advocate for animals lives and I feel very strongly about protecting the environment through creating the least amount of waste. These are often key factors for our debates and we can sit at the dinner table for hours trying not to lose the contest, all while denying it's nothing more than conversation.   
Observing Montserrat.
Like any relationship we have differences and flaws. The better friends we become the easier it becomes to snap at each other when we are hungry, tired, late, or lost. I recently read an interesting New York Times opinion article about friendships between women, and how they rely on each other as a primary support system in a way that can be tracked across cultures throughout history. Throughout the story I couldn't help but think of the friendship that is growing between Becca and I. We share a bedroom, we grocery shop, cook, and eat most meals together. We compare our upbringings and enthusiastically look forward to the rest of our lives. We travel together, laugh together, and are experiencing a whole new part of the world together.
Admiring Parc Guell with inappropriately friendly new friends. 
Living abroad together we are each others primary support systems. We have no other close family or friends to spend time with and thus have become very dependent on each other. While I am thankful for Becca's company and her holding the position of the honorary French translator and hostel-booker, I also quickly get frusturated when she leaves things all over the place and causes us to arrive at a train station too close to the departure time (even though we haven't missed a train...yet). And I wouldn't even have to ask to know that she gets equally fed up with my constant complaining and persistent urge where I feel obligated to share every random thought pops into my head. Yet, we are in quite a unique situation. At home we would usually have other people who we are close to in order to diversify our human interactions, but in Europe it is just us. For the next three months we are stuck together; in a bedroom, a classroom, and on trips that we have planned whether we like each other or not. So being angry at one another for extended periods of time is not an opportunity that either of us has the luxury of.

Appreciating what is untouched by man. 
So we have created a list and titled it, "The Rules of the Game". It is a list of guidelines we have set for ourselves in order to prevent arguments and to get the most out of whatever we are experiencing. I don't plan on sharing the full list with you because first of all it is a work in progress and second of all the rules apply to us and not you so don't be nosy! Nonetheless, I will share our most important rule: Off The Grid. We have hastily learned the tourist scene is absolutely not for us. We have made a pact not to visit the top sites on TripAdvisor, but the ones nobody has written about at all. Maybe we will write our own hipster-hidden-gems-blogs for other travelers out there like us, to stumble upon some day, and dream about our travel lives. Where they can read about our discovered spaces and places where we have adventures and our interesting travel mates such as Armin (the half-Persian, half-Turkish, Australian,who lived in Japan for six months during high school, then foraged berries as a chef at a top rated restaurant for six years, then up and quit that job and 24 hours later had bought a ticket to Spain for three weeks) or even Tokaka (our middle aged hostel roomate from Tokyo who just spent 24 hours traveling to Spain with an intricate bedtime regimine and has a serious sized planned packet of sights she'd like to see) and especially Anna and Sophie (our German and Finnish counterpart pals who we ate Tapas with and had a lively discussion on German and American politics, history, and patriotism), Or maybe you can just peruse the pictures and decide if you think "Off The Grid" is a good rule or not.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Homesick For Pizza And The People Who Come With.

Lately, when I overhear tourists from the United Kingdom or the United States I linger as long as I can just to hear the thing that unites me to them; their English conversations. Yesterday, I even rode the train an extra stop just to listen. Coming home to English speaking flatmates is something I am beyond fortunate for. And joining the American library full of English books, movies, and exit signs, is where I have truly found sanctuary.

Springtime table setting. 
Homesickness is a strange thing. Besides the fact that I have mastered how to order "kebab and fries with salad but without sauce and to takeaway" from the restaurant on the corner, my French is not exactly fluent. I finally understand why it is called a foreign language. To be constantly surrounded by a vocabulary and culture so different from my own is exhausting. It's like getting dressed up to watch a foreign film,without subtitles, in a fancy theater in the city. While traveling is beautiful, enriching, and culturing, sometimes I just want to stretch out on my couch and watch one of my favorite family comedies from when I was a kid.

Two nights ago I watched Stand By Me on Netflix, one of my Step-Mom's favorites, and halfway through I realized I had forgotten I was in Paris. I felt like I was back in the house I grew up in on a warm spring night, watching a movie with my family after our Sunday ritual of takeout from our favorite South Jersey pizzeria. I could so clearly imagine the warm glow of the ceiling lamp over the kitchen table.

With the breeze blowing in through our wooden sliding door and our cat Tiger sitting just on the back step, we dined. He observed so many dinners with laughter and thought provoking discussions. Even though the invitation was extended frequently to join us indoors, Tiger for some reason preferred to observe us from outside our cage. Our other cats were the ones that would cuddle force their way onto your lap and demand your love and attention while watching a movie.

Self portrait of me and my favorite pizza. 
Attempting to pass the time with Stand By Me, I ended up having an unfulfill-able craving for a great slice of pizza, my cats (none of which are around to cuddle anymore), and most of all to sit with my family and enjoy the comfort of the home and company in which we shared.

My dad has always been very adamant about turning off the television and sitting down to dinner together. Before cell phones, if we were at the table and the phone rang, he refused to answer it. Dinnertime is a chance to focus on each other and talk without interruption.

Throughout my life my family evolved, and I sat in that kitchen with many different combinations of people and many different combinations of furniture. When my Little Sister was a baby i can recall a changing table in one corner and for years we had a piano that nobody played and it held my stepmothers purse and the Christmas cards people sent us. Throughout our time spent there we had numerous kitchen tables, we changed the counter tops, the floors, the wall colors, and more, but the one thing that stayed the same was the lamp above the table.

As far as I know my Step Mom hated the lamp, it was stained glass and very similar to something you would see in a pub hanging above a pool table. It had a dimmer switch which in my opinion was always set too low. This light set the tone for thousands of meals. Dinner is where the majority of our family bonding would take place. We did not take many vacations with just the four of us, in fact I'm not sure if we took any. We rarely even went on outings as a foursome. But, what we did do together was sit across from each other at the table to eat dinner almost every night, and often it was followed by a movie.

Pretty typical scene from the dinner table.
Reflection of  the lamp in background. 
Sometimes the whole of the dinner conversation would be focused around what movie to watch. Other times we would sit for hours and have lively discussions. My Step Mom would often get frustrated saying, "Why do you three always have to argue?!" In which our immediate reply would be to argue, "Were not arguing! Its just a discussion!" Around the dinner table my Little Sister and I seemed to get along better than away from it, laughing about things mostly forgotten ("Remember when she forgot to pick us up from camp in that bad neighborhood?"). On rare occasion we would get to hear unimaginable stories about the town our Step Mother grew up in. On rarer occasions we would get to listen to our Dad tell stories about his childhood in the town we love so much. (See beach blog)

Since we had moved away from that home last June I hadn't let myself think much about it. But, being so far away, I am slowly understanding the concept of homesickness. I am beginning to define it as, yearning for the small things that bring comfort to ones heart. Being far away from good peanut butter, my moms chocolate chip cookies that are the perfect amount of salty sweet, and failing multiple times at trying to make my family's baked mac and cheese recipe taste just right, makes me appreciate what the term comfort food really means.

For the past few days I have been dreaming about a slice of pizza. But not just any pizza. I want pizza with my family. I want hours of conversation with the promise of enjoying a movie together afterward. I want to hangout with my Dad and my Step Mom and my Little Sister. My Dad and I have been emailing back and forth almost every day and we have video chatted once or twice but we don't have the kind of relationship where we sit and I tell him every detail of my day like I do with my (oh so patient) Mother. My Little Sister and I occasionally send Facebook messages to each other and if I text my Step Mother I'll usually get a response a few days later.
A few years ago at our family's Christmas Eve Party
we won fanciest dressed guests. 

This chunk of my family is harder to stay in touch with via the internet. That is because we have the kind of relationship where we like to sit down and enjoy a good meal together (don't even get me started on my Step Mom's cooking). Right before I wrote this post I was video-chatting with them and they said goodbye so they could sit down together and eat their pizza. No TV, no phones, just slightly dimmed lighting, and comfortable conversation. That was the moment I realized I was homesick.

I have been away for periods of time before and while I may not have any comfort food (except the TastyKakes my Grandmother mailed me) I do know that the comforts of home and good conversation are waiting for me when I get back, and while it might not be the same table, kitchen, lamp, house, or even pizza place, the company is the same and we will have a lot to talk about.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lessons from Buddha

As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life.


Irises, Vincent Van Gogh
These flowers were painted twice. Once with a white background to 
give the flowers a soft pastel look, and once with a yellow background. 

I very much believe that each day of your life is just as important as the one before it. Every day is made up of the same number of minutes as the next. When I was sixteen I did a project where I took a  photo 365 days in a row. The challenge was to include a one inch wooden figurine of a smiling Buddha in each image. The goal of the "3-6-5" was to practice and improve my photography, the end result was so much more.

 January 10, 2011
Everyday things can be so comforting. 
In order to take an attractive photograph, you as the photographer are required to put a lot of thought into what you find attractive. Some days are easy. Being surrounded by bright colors and long summer light sets up lots of happy images and inspires many memorable moments to be recorded on film.

Other days are not as easy to capture an instant. Days that are spent home sick watching television or figuring out how to move forward when you feel stuck in a rut are harder to find the happy moment. I've found when I am stuck in a funk the world is not as beautiful, not as easy to snap a portrait of.

As that year went on and I periodically looked back at where Buddha had traveled so far and all the friends he had laughed with I realized why he was always smiling. Buddha appreciates every day for what it is. I learned that I shouldn't live my life looking forward to things, or spend my time missing the past, I must try to welcome every moment of every day.

April 20, 2011
Sunny days in Munich
People seem to look at their lives in regards to major events; graduations, weddings, birthdays. But why should those days be any more momentous than any other? I spend more time each year in the shower than I do the mountains. But that doesn't mean I am going to consume my brain with wishing I was in the peaceful mountains when I can take delight in the peace of a hot shower every day.

If something makes me smile, no matter how small, I replay the moment in my head. I write it in my journal, I snap a picture, I type up a note in my phone, I highlight the well written passage of the book. It doesn't have to be the main event for it to be the headline.

Ever since I learned this lesson from my little smiling Buddha I have enjoyed life so much more. I don't fret about the notifications from my phone, I focus on the painting hanging in the restaurant, or the laughing children in the park, I take note of the details on the shutters and doors of the buildings as I pass by. If something catches my eye I stop and explore it.

This weekend I went to Amsterdam and was blown away by the beauty of the city. My new friend Becca and I walked through Vondel Park on our way to the Van Gogh museum. We almost did not make it to see his art because we were admiring some sculptures we discovered on our own.

By the time we arrived at the museum we had about fifty minutes until it closed, we rushed through trying to see everything, yet allowing ourselves to be enthralled by the beauty of so many paintings. I found myself lost, gazing into tulip fields through Monet's eyes, staring into the sea from Van Gogh's vantage point, seeing purple Irises from his perspective, and so much more.

Becca was off finding her own paintings that she was falling in love with. I would have to pull myself away from a painting and forbid myself from looking back. With time ticking down we would run to the next floor, not to rush through, but to seek more paintings that triggered such intense emotions. We hardly spoke to each other in that hour, all through the crowds and the excitement. We were both so affected by the art.

Appreciating art in Vondel Park Amsterdam
No photos were allowed so I stared deep into the paintings trying to memorize how I felt and what I loved about each. I was so overwhelmed with happiness that my brain overloaded and I knew I wouldn't remember anything. While I stared at Monet's tulip fields I knew I had to return some day.

Every event was a peak of the mountain and the final summit was nowhere in sight. It's rare to visit a destination and the tourist attraction is just as wonderful to see as the serendipitous discoveries. I need to return so I can spend hours in the Van Gogh museum, picnic in Vondel Park,  and ride bikes along the canals. I had fallen in love with Amsterdam (Valentine's weekend none the less).

Irises, Van Gogh
With a yellow background these contrasting
colors are stunning in person. 
I had been stuck in a bit of a "Paris funk" lately. Not doing much besides school and hanging around my apartment I was reminded of those tough times during my photo a day project. Some days it's hard to capture the happy moment, but it's important to remember those days don't last forever. Make the most of them and appreciate them for what they are , never wish the day away.

Find the good in the pit days, and peak days will come along as well. The view might be best from the top of the mountain, but that doesn't mean the view from the bottom is bad. As Buddha says, " be where you are, otherwise you will miss most of your life". You can see hundreds of world famous paintings in the same hour that you see an unknown artists work hidden in the trees and be equally touched by both of them. It's all up to how you decide to look at whats surrounds you.

The other highlights of our weekend and activities we would recommend:

1. Lunch at Cafe De Ceuvel. Check out my new friend Becca's blog to read about it. Off the beaten path, hidden treasure.
2. Waiting two hours in the cold to visit the Anne Frank House. Well worth the wait, but if planned in advance you can get timed tickets. However, we did enjoy chatting with our new friend Kristin, who was on a business trip from Boston.
3.  Vondel Park, search for the tree support sculptures.
4. Van Gogh Museum, allow hours to explore and appreciate. It's expensive, but worth it.
5. All the food. We had a No Kebab rule. Everything else we discovered was incredible.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My Mommy Is My Valentine

My Valentine for this year
I'm not a fan of Valentine's Day. I don't have much reason as to why, I just have no interest in taking part. I don't like the phony cards, chocolate, and excessive pink hearts. I feel like the idea of forcing people to be romantic is not very romantic.  Ever since I was a kid I have disliked the holiday, I just don't get it.

The winter I was in the fifth grade was when Webkins were popular, they were a stuffed animal that came with a specific code you could use to play online in an interactive world with them. This was quite a new idea to the world that now has apps and virtual realities for every toy, gadget, and kitchen appliance you can imagine.

That February my Mom came home late from a business trip and stopped to pick up my sister and I from our Dad's house. I was always happy to see my Mom after she had been away, and that was a gift in itself. I remember sitting in the family room, hearing the garage door open, and seeing her walk in. She was always so fashionable in her Ann Taylor ensemble that she would wear to work. After hugs and hellos she handed us each a card with a heart and a Webkin. What a special surprise!

My little sister and I all dolled up in pink on the day my
Mom declared her  LOVE to our StepDad forever. 
A few years later on a sunny day in February my Mom came and picked me up from middle school. As she used to work full time I remember this being a lovely surprise. We were on our way to the car and I was giving her all the exiting details of my day in the seventh grade. Right as we were simultaneously opening our doors to her silver Acrua TSX she said, "I have a present for you."

Six of the greatest words ever spoken to a kid. She reached into the back seat and pulled out a Hollister tank top that was a wonderful shade of dark pink. Hollister was the coveted store at that time, everyone had Hollister clothes except me. My little sister had a similar shirt in the bag waiting for her in a slightly different pink.

Spring semester of my Freshman year of college I lived at home. That semester was a lot more snow than it was spring so getting out of bed on that early February morning was a cold and daunting task. By this point my Mom had gone from working full time, to being a full time Mom of four. Arguably she was busier now than she had been when I was growing up.

After I was done brushing my teeth she stopped me in the hallway, both hands behind her back she pulled out two graceful and soft scarves that she had made, both were red. One scarf had delicate lace that she had sewn around the edges, the other she had sewn together in a circle (infinity scarves were popular that year). Since my little sister had slept at my Dad's house the night before I got the first choice. I admired the lace and its elegance, so I initially chose that and took it back to my bedroom, after a few minutes I ran back, I thought I would be more likely to wear the other one. So I swapped out and left the more beautiful one for my sister.

This morning my new friend Becca came into our room with mail, she handed me two envelopes. I had been expecting a piece of mail from my Mom that would include some practical bank items. Upon opening that letter I was happily entertained by the elegant decorations on the inside of the envelop (I am easy to please) and I laughed at what was written on the stationary inside.

Sitting and smiling at my Mother's remarkable
Valentine's Day isn't the only holiday
that involves the color red. 
ability to insert humor into the littlest moments of everyday life, I remembered there was a second package and on the outside there was some sort of customs form that had been filled out and under "detailed description of contents" was listed, "fabric headband". While I had been expecting the first envelope I was a little confused about this one. I had not asked her to mail me a headband, (although had I needed a specific headband from home I know she would have mailed it within minutes of me asking).

As I began to tear it open I knew right away what it was. Once again, my Mom successfully surprised me with a simple but sweet Valentine. A pink headband (with inside jokes written on the label as per expected) and a charming card with a hand written note inside, "Happy Valentine's Day! Love, Mamacita".

 I always forget that Valentines Day isn't about chocolate or pink hearts or cards or spending money. It's just an excuse to let someone you love know that you love them. And my Mom always makes an effort to give me a card and something pink on Valentines day, to show her love. Every year I like to let the world know that I don't like Valentine's Day because I hate how forced it is. When February rolls around that's the attitude that comes to my mind, and every year, my Mom surprises me and makes me remember to change that attitude. She does so with an unexpected card and a gift that reminds me how much she cares.

On the other hand she makes sure that the notion of showing love with chocolate, happens on every other day of the year, not just in February. She does this through baking delicious brownies, cakes, and cookies (things I am missing very much so far from home) As the wonderful mother she is, she shows her love in every way possible and I would never denounce that, Valentine's Day or any other day.

Loving my Valentine in Montreal!