Saturday, February 5, 2011

My opinion: whoever said life isn't fair was just plain wrong.

In taking a year off to travel, I hoped that with the experiences would come rest, healing, peace, understanding and acceptance of my life. In all of that I had an ah-ha moment: life is fair.

After thinking about fairness in the larger global scale and reflecting on my life, I realized that life is fair and God is good, even if it doesn't feel true in the moment.

During the years of my mom being sick I'd sometimes be so mad that I'm the one with the mom battling cancer, the one watching her best friend die. Though her death is devastating, it isn't unjust because we have a God of Righteousness, and Goodness and Love. It feels like my mom died way too young , but for 31 years I had an incredible mother, caregiver, travel companion and friend that I hope to be more like every day. I wouldn't trade that quality for quantity, ever.When I meet orphans in Africa who have never know their moms my life seems way more than equitable.

I could argue that it is not fair that my parents got divorced when I was nine. But as a result my mom, brother and I developed a unique, tightly woven family relationship that was wonderful growing up. It can seem impossible to find justice in our lives, but it's there if we just look hard enough. Just because life is fair doesn't mean it isn't heartbreaking. It is, but heartbreak without hope isn't a sustainable way to live.

I saw a man on the news several months back whose entire family was killed in a home robbery. After the guilty verdict, his words  rang so true for me. He said that the hole in his heart will never heal, it will never go away. But that over time, the edges of the hole become less jagged. The hole though, it will remain forever. I agree with him. I'm just trying to learn how to live with that hole that goes through my heart and pierces my soul.

Tomorrow will be two year since she left this earth. I miss her now more than ever, I miss her completely every day. She would want me to live out loud with the resilience she instilled in me rather than live in sadness. I honor her though my earthly living since she no longer can, and await the day we are reunited in Heaven.

It seems appropriate to finish with words my mom wrote in 2003:

"Some days I find it ironic to be praying to live.  I'm sure when I get to heaven I'll wonder why I wanted to delay the trip.  But we're made of dust, and it's hard to shake the dust off our feet.  I know that when I'm old and tired, or sick and tired, I'll be ready to leave this earth.

My desire is to hang around down here and be a grandmother several times over.  So I'm praying for continued remission or healing or whatever it is I'm experiencing.  If God says, "No," I will have to depend on Him to help me be strong and brave and surrender gracefully.  I'm not worried about being dead; it is the dying part that scares me.  Actually, I'm really hoping for the rapture. But whatever happens, I know I'll be okay.

I'm thankful that I'm learning to recognize that God's plans and mine haven't always coincided. My plans usually revolved around certain circumstances dealing with temporal happiness, and His revolved around obedience and trials and lead to inner joy for me and glory for Him.  So now, I try to write my plans in pencil and be ready to erase as He teaches me more about my purpose as His child."

- Sharon Jacobs

(I've included my mom's testimony video she recorded for her memorial service, it's split in two parts...)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The thing about Paris

I struggle to sum up my summer in Paris. I'll start with what I know for sure: these past few months have been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The uninhibited fun I had this summer rivals my college days. I'm certain I've never worked so hard or so much. My life in Paris required an inordinate amount of energy and the ability be highly functioning - even entertaining - on very little sleep. Even though my days were seemingly repetitive giving the same speeches on the same tour routes, every day was filled with an unexpected adventure.

Being a bicycle tour guide in the City of Light has to be the greatest job in the world. I met so many wonderful and interesting people this summer. I also met really annoying ones. How I'll ever sit in a cube again after having the streets of Paris as my office is hard to imagine. This job requires more patience and toughness than I ever knew I had in me. Back in July when I was working triples (16 hour day) and completely exhausted I thought that 31 August would never arrive. And now that it soared past I'm left me wanting to wind back the clock, not ready to say goodbye to the people or the position.

One evening a few weeks back after work a group of us had relay races on kiddie bikes. A bunch of ultra-competitive tour guides racing around on tiny 20 -inch bicycles was absolutely hysterical.  I recently went to an "en plein air" cinema in a park and watched Grease. We sang along with Sandy and sipped French wine. It doesn't take an organized effort to have a wonderful night in Paris. Like the night I biked to meet friends at super cool restaurant called Ave Maria and devoured Himalyan food, then pedaled around the city. Those are perfect nights.
Bike Race

I'm all about biking now. I love biking to the market and putting fresh produce in my bike's basket. Pedaling home with a baguette makes me feel so French. Fortunately I never had one get stuck in my bicycle spokes. I'd love to live in a city where biking is a popular mode of transport. Lately I find myself day dreaming about what kind of business I'd like to open in Paris....taqueria perhaps? I'm also noodling on starting an adventure travel company for women. One that combines self-discovery, reaching stretch goals and devouring delicious food all while staying in a villa on a beautiful ocean for a week. Many new dreams and ideas noisely roll around my head like my suitcase wheels on cobblestone streets. I may get tired of the noise so pick one of the ideas up and carry it somewhere new.

I met a man on a train on my way down to Bordeaux that challenged me in conversation on the idea of "blissipline." His thought is that we need not worry about being disciplined and instead focus on what makes us happy and content. Making money in and of itself should never be a goal for someone; rather it should only be a means to the real goals, be them traveling, gardening, shopping, golfing. Travel is my blissipline. Engaging new people and triumphing over challenges are my blissipline. The past eight months since I left the US have been charging after my bliss.

Ten years ago I took my first bike tour in Munich. That's when I got the idea in my head that it would be great to be a bicycle tour guide in Europe. It's been a dream of mine for years to pack my corporate life into boxes and pack a bag for a trip around the world. I finally decided to turn my ideas into reality. No one gave me this chance, I just simply decided to stop waiting for my dreams to come to me and instead go after my dreams. It is never too late, too hard or too impossible to experience life in the way we really desire. The biggest obstruction standing in the way is ourselves. Now I'm warming up a whole new crock-pot full dreams and ten years from now I hope to be writing about how fulfilling they were, and coming up with new ones.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, gelato and sorbet

Before I left for my around the world trip in January I had a question of great importance posed to me. One which required thoughtful consideration before answering, one which would be a true window to my soul. The question: what is your favorite flavor of ice cream? I thought about it for a minute and landed on vanilla as my favorite flavor. Good old fashioned creamy vanilla. I was scorned for my choice, scoffed at for such a simple choice. I knew that this summer on Fat Tire's night bike route that we stop for Paris' famous Berthillon ice cream (that I get for free) so it became my goal that by summer's end I'd have an answer for my favorite ice cream that is as firm as a fresh from the freezer carton of Blue Bell.

So with great vigor I set out on this quest of self-discovery. I've had sorbet, gelato and ice cream. I've had flavors I never knew existed. A few that I tried this summer: licorice, Speculos (like gingerbread), chocolate nougat, nougat with honey, pistachio, hazelnut, cherry, melon, lemon, mango, peach, pear, grapefruit, lychee, passion fruit, fig, lavender, banana, avocado, chocolate picante, chewing gum, Grand Marnier, yogurt with berries, Nutella, caramel and gingerbread, cactus, profiterole, Bounty, chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, cappuccino, cafe, caramel with butter and salt. So much of the ice cream experience is the pairings. Picking two flavors of ice cream is a skill much like pairing fine wines with stinky cheeses. Only there is no class for this; something this delicate comes only with many years of practice. Two of my best parings of the summer were on night bike and they were chocolate nougat and pistachio, and cherry and melon sorbets. The biggest disaster was the pairing of Bounty and cactus. Often times I leave my pairings to the real pros and I tell the gelato scooper to surprise me with the two "best" gelatos. This technique has rarely failed me and generally pushes me to the outer bounds of cold creamy deliciousness.

The chewing gum gelato was a result of a communication barrier in Nice and when actually wanting vanilla with jelly beans. I would have never picked chewing gum and it turned out to be a surprising treat. I felt an obligation to try the avocado as I had never seen it before but love it in the non-ice cream form. It really didn't really sound that appealing, nor was the taste of it. Speculos is something we don't have in the US, when really it's so fantastic it should be our largest imported product from Europe. I'm bringing home as many jars of the Belgian gingerbread spread as I can fit in my bags. (I mailed a jar to my brother earlier this summer because it's just that good and he too has placed an order for me to bring him back Speculos.) Be it in the form of a spread, cookies or ice cream, Speculos is definitely vying for the top of my list.

But one night it happened. It started out as a night bike like any followed by 23 tourists on bikes dominating the streets of the Latin Quarter en route to Ile St Louis (tiny island in Paris next to Île de la Cite which is the island Notre Dame stands on). Île Saint-Louis has been home to Berthillon ice cream since it started there in 1960s. It's made fresh every morning, no preservatives, nothing artificial and it's shipped no where in the world. It's only available on these two tiny island sandwiched between the left and right banks of Paris. The flavors are always different so you must approach the ice cream counter with an open mind and a burning in your belly that can only be quelched with two frozen scoops of Bertillion. As the guide I cut to the front of the line where my girl Margot scoops me up a treat and then I head back to the bridge between the two islands to watch my group's bikes. Often times I tell Margot to pick, which she does a sublime job of doing. But on this night, I saw on the flavor board "caramel avec gingrebred." I wasn't exactly sure what to expect but since those are two of my favorite flavors I knew I was in for something good. The ice cream ended up being caramel flavored with pieces of freshly baked gingerbread mixed in it. It was as if someone baked fresh gingerbread then cut it into tiny pieces to be intermingled with the cararmel ice cream. Somehow the bread maintained its soft bounce and delicate moisture. The only thing I can think of is that it was truly an ice cream miracle. And so it came to be on that fateful nightbike tour that caramel with gingerbread ice cream came to be my answer to one of the greatest questions on earth. It became my favorite ice cream.

Realizing that I was unlikely to ever see that flavor of ice cream again anywhere in the world I contemplated again this great mystery of my favorite. I went back to the wise poser of the question and told him that with great bravery and valor I completed my journey this summer to discover my favorite flavor. Only I'm back where I started: vanilla is wonderful and so are many, many other flavors. I asked if it was okay if I didn't have a favorite? Parents aren't suppose to choose favorites among their children, right? So I cast myself as "mother ice cream" and choose not to have a favorite.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Real Reason French Women Do Not Get Fat

There is a book called "French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure." The premise is that French women do all things in moderation, have one glass of wine with dinner and a tiny self-controlled square of dark chocolate for dessert. That because French women walk everywhere they have no need for designated exercise time - high activity levels are a way of life. And voilà, they are thin.

This is as wrong as my French pronunciations. This is a bunch of bologna, or perhaps here in Paris it's some sort of processed duck deli meat. You get the idea.

After a summer in Paris I know the real story on this phenomenon. French women do not get fat because French women simply do not eat. It's true. They drink espressos and chain smoke cigarettes. It's the culture at Paris' ubiquitous cafe scene. According to the French sommelier who taught a wine class I took, French women don't drink wine. At all. He says it's a contributing factor to why French women are so boring (his words, not mine!)

I started paying attention to what French women order in bakeries. Baguettes. And I'm sure they're devoured by their families, not themsleves. I very rarely see a French woman order a pastry. I'm convinced that pastries are actually baked for tourists, not locals. Perhaps they're all baked for especially for me.

So, there it is. Caffeine, nicotine and starving are the weight-loss secrets of the French. And I'm so not French. But I have definitely mastered the secret of eating for pleasure - the secret is a little Jewish bakery in the Marais called Korcarz Bakery. It's where my girlfriends and I discovered the most delicious almond croissants we've ever tasted. They're filled with almond cream, sprinkled with sliced almonds and baked again, until the cream has set and the elbows of the croissant are crisp.We are convinced they get fried at some point in the process -  they're just so good they have to have been fried. They're very funnel cake-esque. The Texas State Fair has nothing on these babies. The bakery also whips up chocolate fondant and cheesecake that are so incredible they make me stay in Paris forever.