Oceans

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Galway, Ireland

On the way back from school today, I was walking with my two youngest boys, and we came to a crosswalk. We stopped, looked both ways, and I stepped out first with them following. While they happily scampered across the street a car came speeding down the road, slamming on its brakes last minute when it saw me there, standing in the center of the crosswalk waiting for my kids to get across. I eyed the driver defiantly; because do or die, I was not moving until my kids were safe.

This isn’t the first, or the last, time that something like this has/will happened. As an au pair it’s my job to protect and take care of my kids and that’s what I do, even if it means risking my own safety in the effort. First and foremost it’s my job to make sure they come home safe and sound at the end of the day.

But, you know what? They don’t know that. In fact, I would go as far to say they don’t have a clue.
Sure they know I feed them, and pick them up from school, and that I take them to the park. But while they’re happily crossing streets, they have no idea there are cars narrowly missing them. And that’s okay. They’re kids and being oblivious to adult responsibilities is part of the package deal.

Today, though, I started thinking about how I cross my own streets in life, all the time, with God standing guard. I am the kid walking across with little to no idea of the protective measures going on around me.

The only difference is that my crosswalks are life choices – things that might seem scary or unknown, or downright insane. The other side of the road doesn’t always look like a nice and visible place to be. I get distracted by the fact that I can’t see what’s on the other side, or that I’m crossing alone and no one else seems to be walking in the same direction; I get nervous because I don’t have a plan after I cross, I don’t know who or what I will become when I reach that point – and that is terrifying. All I can think about is the other side of the street, but if only I would take the time to see the protecting guidance of my Father I would know better than to fear.

Lately I’ve had a lot of people ask me what it’s like to be an au pair. People have sent me messages saying they’ve thought about doing it, and they want to know if I think they should. I’ve been really careful replying to these messages, because I know giving “advice” on life altering decisions is very serious. And being an au pair IS a life altering decision. You will not come back the same.

And I don’t mean that solely in a, “you’ll have such a larger perspective of the world” way. Yes, you will gain amazing skills such as viewing people different from yourself, new friends and experiences and most likely have a more open mind. BUT you will also have battle scars and wounds from your time abroad. You will have situations that you wish you could have avoided, and problems you never thought you would overcome.

You’ll probably spend time crying – a LOT of time crying. You’ll wonder what the hell you’re doing there. You’ll feel like you’re wasting valuable time in your life, and that you could be doing something more significant. You’ll feel like you’re suffocating, like if you missed places and people any more your heart would implode.

That. That is what it means to be an au pair. And I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking that you won’t feel like giving up on a regular basis. Because the reality is, it’s an extremely “unnatural” feeling to be living in a stranger’s house in a strange land with strange surroundings and nothing and no one familiar in immediate reach during your rough moments.
You don’t get to go home and vent after work – your home is your work. You don’t get sick days to stay home and marathon Netflix, you go to work every day, regardless of your state of health. Your schedule is not your own, you get woken up by screaming children and have to be quiet at night so you don’t wake them. Sometimes you’ll wonder if it’s worth it – or whether you should crank your music so loud the walls shake just so you’ll remember that you are there. And you are. Even though sometimes it feels like you’ve melted into an emotional pot the family has forgotten to stir – some kind of strange substance floating on the surface.

Let’s face it, sometimes a lot of the time you will want to give up. A lot of time I want to give up.

But I was raised to keep running a race until I reached the finish line. Whether I have to run, walk, limp or crawl there – I will cross it, and hold my head high.

Being an au pair is hard; it has stretched me in ways that I never knew I could be stretched. It has emboldened me in ways I never thought possible, and it has cut into my heart, replacing pieces I never wanted to admit were rotting. I’ve overcome things that I never would wish for anyone else to experience, stories I’ll never tell to anyone but those who are closest to me.

It has been painful and difficult and crazy and confusing.

But every now and then I’ll catch a glimmer. A faint light shining amidst the chaos that this life brings, and I’ll remember; the life I was called to, to run a good race, to push forward even when absolutely everything is pushing me back. I’ll remember that even the darkest rainstorms result in beautiful color pallets painting the skies.

And maybe that’s what this season is about. It’s a season of stretching. A season of building the muscles that will carry me across steeper roads, higher mountains and deeper canyons.

It’s not easy. Not one day since I’ve been here has been easy. But there have been times when I’ve smiled more genuinely than I think I ever have before. And I guess that is what truly marks a great adventure. Not that it’s a leisurely stroll. But that it’s a trek that leaves you scratched up, worn out and ready to drop at the end – but with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

We did it.

None of us leave this life unscathed or unaltered. The real question is whether the wounds we acquire have stories that are worth telling for generations.

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The Breakup

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This week marks 5 months of me living in France, and I can hardly believe that it has gone by so quickly! I know that’s probably somewhat of a standard thing to say, but I really just cannot believe how much has happened in such a short amount of time. It simultaneously feels like 5 weeks and 5 years.

As a marker stone for this anniversary of my life in France, I thought I would think back to what I missed from life before living here. The answer: Everything. So then I thought it would be BETTER to think about the things that I didn’t really miss. That worked a lot better.

The biggest thing I don’t miss is my Netflix account. I know, shun me. But it’s the truth! I thought I would die without it, but honestly, I was using it most of the time to watch things I didn’t actually want to watch and to fill in the void of exhaustion that I would have after work. There wasn’t much “fruit” growing out of this part of my life. Oh, and Hulu got the boot too. The reason was mainly financial that I cut the cord on my Netflix relationship. It really wasn’t them, it was me. As an au pair I make next to nothing, after student loans etc., so I decided to cut all unnecessary costs. It was a really hard decision, to be honest, but in the end I knew it was worth it. You don’t really think about Nextflix/Hulu as costing money, but after a year it’s almost $250 I was spending. Crazy.

Obviously I realize this breakup isn’t for everyone. But I’ve noticed myself being so much more intellectual in the spare time that I now have. If I’m bored, and want to watch something, I go on PBS (free) and stream a documentary or Downton Abbey, or something that I actually want to watch (unlike Bronies). It turns out I don’t need 500 movie options to choose from every night, and the act of actually picking a movie is so much more enjoyable because I CHOOSE the movie. It’s not the suggestion of a suggestion of a suggestion of an algorithm of a choice I made three years ago. Not to say there aren’t good things to watch on Netflix, just that I don’t need access to all of them to stay happy.

My second breakup was with my smartphone. Although I do still use it for keeping in touch with awesome people from home (when I have wifi) I bought a little prepaid phone and (GUESS WHAT!?) it works just fine for making phone calls/texts. While I do like the idea of having information constantly graspable, I’ve realized that it’s kind of cool not to always be checking notifications, but instead be checking what my kids were doing at the park.

Instead of bringing my iPhone, I bring my sketchbook, or my knitting, or a book to read when I go out. I read on the metro, or just sit there silently (or as silently as one possibly can sit on the Paris Metro). It’s amazing how undervalued silence is. My brain goes absolutely wild. I come up with some of my best ideas while catching the mostly empty metro to church on Sunday mornings. I find myself sketching randomness when I’m waiting for my kids to finish piano lessons or PE and then realize: Wait. I DREW that! I finish books I’ve wanted to read for forever and I come up with designs and ideas on how to fix problems. If I have my iPhone out at all it’s because I’m using notepad to write down all of the ideas that are pouring out of my mind.

Next on the kick list, and this one kind of breaks my heart, is fashion. I’ve bought only basics and accessories, like scarves, since I’ve lived here (I think I might have bought a pair of shoes and a coat at some point) and that’s pretty much it. It was really hard at first, because I LOVE fashion and I love being able to keep up with trends, but something I’ve learned (which is oh so French) is that minimalism is okay. I have one pair of American made, sturdy leather boots and they work great for every day basically. Amazingly, I don’t need 25 sweaters and 200 pairs of shoes. Instead I mix up accessories and play with different makeup choices. It’s actually a lot more fun, and still keeps me on my toes in the fashion arena.

And lastly I’ve broken up with waste food. I would call it junk food, but I honestly feel like “waste” is a better word because of how much of a waste it is to my potential. A few months ago I joined this healthy eating/living group and it has been so great. We’re able to keep each other accountable and really push ourselves to work out, or to eat healthy meals. When I first arrived in this house there was so much junk food it was incredible, but after living here for only a few months I see a difference in the way me and my kids eat. Even the parents are climbing onboard!

The result of getting rid of these (and more) unnecessary things has allowed for a kind of renaissance in my creative life. AKA: my mind feels like it’s going to explode all the time. I have too many ideas, not enough time. I have so many projects I want to start, so many things I want to make and create. It’s like the past few years my mind has been storing ideas and suddenly the dam has been breached.

It’s both glorious and mildly terrifying, mainly because I don’t really sleep anymore. But at the same time, it’s incredibly liberating. And I can’t help but wonder: How much more would have been stuck in my mind had I not decided to take a step back from some unhealthily dependent relationships?

An American In Paris

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( This is a post I actually wrote a couple of months ago, but never shared. I still think it’s pretty applicable to how I feel about the city.)

The first time I stepped off the train in Paris I noticed several distinctive things. First off were the smells: cigarette smoke, bread and industry. The French have an air all their own. They walk the streets as though they’ve already figured out the secrets of life, and some might argue that they have.

The first time I came to Paris I had no idea I would be moving to the city a week later, and I could only stand in awe at the grandeur that was around me. Paris knows how to impress a lady, and she knows it.

I am not from a small town, I’ve lived in cities or city suburbs my entire life and I love the busyness of my surroundings. The sound of car horns, men walking by with briefcases and beautifully tailored suits; buildings which stretch so high you have to align the back of your head with the pavement. These are the things that take my breath away.

Oh, and gold.

The amount of gold you can find on the structures, and inside and outside the historical buildings of Paris is ridiculous. Yesterday, while walking through the Louvre, it was amazing to think that the items that are now there, archived, used to be part of everyday life for the select few of France. What must life have been like to hold onto such an extravagant idea for everyday existence?

The rumors of Paris are true, when you walk the streets you can practically hear the stories of artist, writers, poets and intellectuals ricocheting from the sides of buildings and the pavement you walk on. The Seine whispers secrets to you as you walk its banks. This is Paris. And if there’s one thing that’s definitively French, it’s reminding you of where you are.

In Paris an American, or any other non-French nationality simply becomes someone who is not French. There are millions of us here. Drawn by stories, essays and works of art, which pointed us to this Mecca for finding ourselves. But who knows if anyone ever does. Perhaps it’s only after you return from the enchantment of Paris that you can once again resume, having been touched by the magic the city holds.

For now, though, we sit and eat crêpes.

We laugh at never knowing the beauty of eating a baguette sandwich, before we walked through the city of lights. We sit on metros, listening to the movie-esque live music of the accordion players. And, even if just for a moment, we wish this was our culture; a culture rich with wine and cheese, that makes you feel like you should be wearing a beret and eating more crêpes.

When did this become life? The lazy mentality of late weekend mornings and glowing nights that stretch into darkness is addictive. It’s like a trance placed over the city that cannot be broken, even by the bravest of liberators; mainly because no one wants it to be. While Los Vegas might be the fast and furious “Sin City”, Paris is the city that cradles you in luxury, blinding you to the realities of life, slowly suffocating the desire for anything beyond it’s clutches.

They say a person can be ruined by the mystique of Paris. You’ll never want to go back to the mundane reality of your prior existence, but I don’t think that’s true for me. Because, as an avid reader I know that struggling in the real world will always trump living a surreal dream of a reality.

While living in a trance may seem like a glorious substitute for real life, the reality is – life is still in motion outside this capsule of extravagant numbness. And while it could seem relevant, even suggested, to marinate in my own parisienne nirvana, I would prefer the grit of turmoil and hard work any day.

But I’ve never been one for the white gloved existence.

Because it’s when you’re hands are dirty, back feels broken and your feet are sore from wandering, that you really truly, deeply and completely find yourself.

And maybe that’s the real lesson Paris has to teach.

That perfection is never as it seems. And all the gold plated bridges in the world can’t help you on your journey to finding yourself.

Lessons Learned In Amsterdam: Day 2

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I’m not in Amsterdam anymore, but I still thought I’d write a recap of what happened so you all don’t think I fell into a canal or never came back from Holland.
After going to bed at the beautifully early time of 10pm (I had been up at 5 am – and I had no kids there. Yes, I slept.) on Saturday night, I woke up the next morning at 7:30am and headed on a solo adventure around the city.

I admit that this was kind of intentional. The night before had gone from slightly sketchy to etch-a-sketch real quick and I decided to go home early. But Amsterdam in the morning light was lovely. I was basically the only one awake in the city, but the stores were just starting to open up and the coffee shops had been opened for a bit, already. I suspect they open early so that all the tourists who had a bit too much “fun” the night before can grab some caffeine before boarding their trains, planes and buses back to wherever they came from.

I love walking around cities when no one is on the streets, though. No matter where I am it’s always my favorite time of day. I feel like this time, whether early morning…or the other kind of early morning, allows you to really get to “meet” the city. Not the people, tourists or the culture that has grown out of whatever twisted ideas people of that generation have placed there, but the actual city.

You get to see the skeleton architecture without the forms and figures of other people shadowing them. And the thing about European architecture is that there really ARE things you should be looking at, when it comes to buildings. They are beautiful and intricate with carvings and embellishments that just do not exist in the modern world. The buildings carry stories. And, even if just for a few hours, I get to walk around and learn them. And THAT is one of the biggest reasons I travel.

Another reason I travel is because I’m obsessed with Van Gogh. Like if you saw my bedroom wall you would understand. I’ve always been in love with his paintings since I was 10 and saw The Starry Night for the first time. At the time I had no idea who had painted it, but I knew it was the first time I saw a “rule-less” art form that I could connect with freely.

It just so happens that Amsterdam holds the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in its Van Gogh Museum, and I was not disappointed by the experience. I’ll also take this time to say that, if you go there, BUY THE MEDIA GUIDE. It was so worth the extra 5 euro to be able to hear the stories and extra information about each piece of his work. And yes, I almost started crying involuntarily when I saw “Sunflowers” not only because they’re my favorite flower, but also because that’s one of my favorite paintings… and if you watch Doctor Who you’ll know why.

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After that I went to the Ruks Museum and saw some Rembrandt (which, honestly, the museum was kind of obsessed with) and my first Vermeer, which was absolutely breathtaking, as I knew it would be. To be able to paint like that. Insane.

It also reminded me of this movie I saw when I was 12. It’s a Hallmark, so don’t watch it without some tissues.

Brush with fate – trailer

After that I really had only a couple of hours before my train came, so I dropped in on McDonalds (it’s tradition to try their food when I travel) and their french fries were spot on – better than the original fries in the US. Which is saying something since five countries later, I’ve tasted some pretty nasty non American McDonalds meals. Of course, the argument could be made that any meal from McDonalds is nasty, but I appreciate that European places seem to try harder to make healthy options available.

Next up was the train station and reading my new “The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh” book, which is such a good read, if you have any interest in art. So much snark from that man. The guy on the train kept looking over at me because I was holding this biographical book and giggling like a child. My life.

Public transportation was free in Paris on Sunday due to the Charlie Hedbo events, so getting back home was a lot easier than it might have been. And that was the end of my adventure.

Also a couple more lessons learned from Amsterdam:

1. If you’re not a bike you’re not important.

2. You can get lost in tiny cities too.

3. They aren’t homeless people, they’re postal workers.

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6 Reasons To Set Goals

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Somehow Wednesday has snuck up on us! I have about the motivation of a slug right now because; well…let’s just say 2015 hasn’t started the way I thought it would. Maybe that’s a bad thing; maybe it’s a good thing. But it is, without a doubt, unexpected, and that’s never an easy thing for me.

But that’s life, right? We have no other option than to move forward with what we have, striving to build bigger and more structurally sound things in spite of the rubble that surrounds us.

On Sunday I got a really amazing opportunity to hear a speaker who was talking about the importance of goals. Obviously, being the beginning of the year, it was an appropriate topic – especially since I feel like 2015 hit and I lost all ambition to do anything productive. Is that just me? Anyone else out there just feeling over it (whatever ‘it’ is)?

But anyway, the speaker outlined 6 reasons to set goals and I thought I would share them here (with a little commentary) because they’re awesome and I think worth being spread around the Internet. So here we go:

Six Reasons To Set Goals:

  1. Because it’s necessary

“Either you go forward on purpose, or you sit by and let things happen to you. Either you take control, or other people take control of your life for you.”

It might sound like a no brainer, but if you look at the actions of great men and women throughout history you will notice that they had great goals that got them to their places of greatness. It’s when we don’t have goals or a direction pointing our lives that we go off path and end up places we might never have wanted to end up. The best part of goals is that they are entirely free – they cost nothing, but can change everything.

  1. Objectives stretch our faith:

“Take the limits off your dreams. Instead of running after small dreams, lets fix big goals.”

If you don’t dream big, you’ll never achieve great things. As a Christian, having my “faith stretched” points to my faith in God, but I think it goes beyond that even. Having goals and objectives stretches our faith in humanity, in the future and even in ourselves! Having goals allows us to have milestones, or markers that show us where we were and where we are going. They remind us: We did that. And encourage us to dream even bigger the next time.

  1. Goals concentrate our energy

The fact is, as much as we would love to, we can’t do everything at once. And spreading yourself over acres of ideas generally does more damage than help. Having goals allows us to knock things out one at a time and allows us to take steps forward.

  1. Goals allow you to keep going when you want to stop

“If things aren’t going well, then it’s not the end yet.”

If you walked into my bedroom you wouldn’t really see anything particularly eye catching, but if you came inside, and shut the door, you would notice an entire wall collage of ideas, quotes and inspiring things on the back of my door/wall area. It’s important to list things out, write things down and remember the people and things that inspire you. Because when you have milestones, or people holding you accountable, you’re far more likely to stick with whatever goals you have.

  1. Goals build character

“What I’m becoming is much more important than what I achieve.”

Even if you fail miserably, if you learn about yourself in the process you have succeeded. It might not feel like it right then and there, but the fact remains: You having tried puts you miles ahead of those who never got off life’s ‘couch.’ When we get up again after failing it’s THEN that we grow. Success is great, but failure is often the much better teacher.

  1. Having the right goals will reap rewards

Whether you’re of a religious mindset, and you believe in the reward of heaven, or not – the fact remains that when you work hard toward things that allow you to love, grow, serve others, discover and grow in character then you will be amazed by the results of the rest of the world. I’m a strong believer that the good you put out into the world comes back to you; let’s all try to sow a little kindness back into the communities we surround ourselves with.

STAY TUNED – UPCOMING TRIP: AMSTERDAM THIS WEEKEND – Eeeek!

2014: The Year Of Courage

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My New Years Resolution from last year for 2014

Although Facebook has tried to “review” my year, I’m not satisfied because this year was ridiculously packed with good, bad and everything in between. So, sorry Facebook but here’s MY review of my year.

January: I spent an amazing New Years Eve with best friends while being hit on by a Norwegian guy who couldn’t take a hint. I had my septum pierced and it was awesome. Complete with a mohawk, freshly painted tattoo and rebellious piercing – I’d say I was kind of a badass.

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Dec 25th 2013
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I started working at the Boys And Girls Club!

February: I signed up on an au pair website as a joke, and signed a contract 1 week later. Careful what you wish for. Valentines day was ridiculous, and spent with some pretty awesome friends that I seriously miss.

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March: I learned that my friends are way cooler than people I was trying to impress. Sisters before misters, ladies. Never forget.

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One of the best friends I could ever ask for.
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One of my friends had a BABY!!!

1660285_10202655062031122_2009325527_nApril: My big brother and I were reunited. I always forget I’m related to people, until I get around him. It’s absurd. I went to my first Sounders game. It was pretty cool, but the people I went with made it way cooler.

984029_10202938957408329_2285092849423330472_n988872_10203031577003761_5003727285002521486_nMay: I was a nanny for a family that, in many ways, I felt closer to than my own. They were incredible and I was so blessed for being able to work/live/laugh/learn/be crazy with them for over two years.

10403273_10203246959468188_4260201586568979666_nJune: We lived and we laughed, and we sailed on boats.
We learned what loss was. We were shaken, but we weren’t moved. Our family was tested, but we stood together stronger than ever. #PrayForSPU

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Two of my very favorite people in the world.

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July: I painted my heart out, I hosted a billion people from Couchsurfing and enjoyed the hippieness of my hometown. I met a boy from Germany who loves to cycle around the world. 10456011_10203351752407946_3655178518403346691_n 10360557_10203439734327439_9000043357953367137_n10513315_10203503567643232_6590504214116406302_nAugust: I went to San Francisco (July also). Twice. French politics. But I made some amazing friends from around the world. A bunch of nomads coming together for 48 hours making a little family of memories.

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September: I made a ridiculous adventure to get to France, including four airports (late August) and landed in central France. Literally the middle of nowhere. I became friends with a Spanish girl who gave me the courage to stand up for myself.

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10730952_10204307034129392_696922551305332530_nNovember: We made Thanksgiving happen and I got to host all of my beautiful new friends as we all made our homesick way through (for many of us) our first holiday away from home. We learned that family doesn’t just mean DNA.

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December: We finally started to feel like we could find our way around France. Maybe this life could work. Maybe the leaps of faith weren’t as ridiculous as people said. Maybe we could come out of this stronger, wiser and happier than when we went in. Just maybe, we weren’t quite as crazy as people thought.

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2015: TO BE CONTINUED….

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Yesterday’s Ceiling Is Today’s Floor

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Totally not my graduation. But entirely the right graduation picture.

This week I received an invitation from my alma mater to attend my five-year reunion. I had to decline the invite, since I live 5,000 miles away from where I went to college (and flying back to watch a basketball game and drink punch doesn’t really seem worth the $1500 plane ticket), but getting the email made me think. This is year five. When people asked me in college what my five-year plan was, this is where they were asking about.

The same as most twenty-somethings, I remember people frequently asking me where I saw myself in 5 years. I never really had an answer. I knew I wanted to be happy. I knew I wanted to feel like my life was moving, and not static. But beyond those two things, I honestly had no idea.

Going to a small conservative university where “ring by spring” was more the ideal, than a catch phrase, a lot of people had marriage, kids and white picket fences on their list of five year objectives. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, I never felt right saying any of them as an answer (at least not within my 5 year span of time).

Was “having an adventure” an option?

I always want to be in a place where I’m moving forward. I think my biggest fear in life is waking up one morning and realizing that I’ve wasted years of my life hating what I do and who I’ve become. But when I look over the past five years I don’t see that. Did I become the person people thought I would become, while I was in college? Who knows. But I do know that there were dreams, so deeply buried in my heart, that I didn’t even know they were there until they were realized.

The mere fact that I can’t attend my reunion because I live in EUROPE is amazing. I never would have even dreamed that this would be an opportunity for me.

And as I’ve looked back over the past five years I can safely say I’ve had quite a few awesome moments that I’m so proud of.
And, in the spirit of five, here are my top highlights:

  1. I became an artist: I’ve been creating art since I could move my hands, but over the past five years I finally learned to embrace it as who I am. I am an artist. And no matter how much I want to be a doctor, lawyer or astronaut, that’s who I am. Art is what I dream about. What gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s what I think about when I’m riding the metro, it’s what I look at when I’m walking down the street. I never before felt comfortable declaring myself as an artist. But over the past years I’ve been able to make some incredible friends who have helped me embrace that this is my identity.
  1. I became a writer: My whole life I’ve written stories. I used to force my siblings to have story writing competitions with me and we would cut up cereal boxes to “bind” out books together. Libraries were always my second home, so it makes sense that stories became my second language. While I did get my BA in journalism, I never had any idea what I would do with it. I had no interest in brooding news stories. And I used to shock my journalism professor by telling him that the only journalism I was interested in was writing for a tabloid (what no journalism prof. ever wants to hear).
    I always felt like everyone else was always just better than me at being a journalist. From editor to fellow writer, they were a beautiful brooding bunch that stayed up late watching CNN and talking about world events and politics. That wasn’t me. And no matter how much I wished I could be like my stylish editors or the praised writers in my classes, I couldn’t change that.
    I was pretty lost for direction until the past couple of years when I discovered that writing doesn’t always have to be about reporting world events (although that’s important too!). It can be fun and colorful, it can mean going on adventures and writing about them! And then the best part ever happened: me. Little ‘ole non-journalistically inclined me, became an editor…and I love every minute of it.
  1. I travelled the world: I don’t think I would have ever guessed how much travel would be involved in my future, when I was in college. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved to travel and learn about/experience other cultures, but I never thought I would have the opportunities to go out and experience so many of them. I’ve gone with groups, I’ve gone solo, I’ve lived in other states and another country (on another continent!) and I’ve been able to learn so much about myself by looking through the eyes of people around the world.
  1. I worked for organizations that made a global impact: Societal change and sustainable business is SO important to me! And regardless of where I work or what point in my life I’m at, I want to always find a way to give back to the communities around me. Being able to work with non-profits and with small businesses over the past five years has forever changed my outlook on the world and on the way that I interact with it.
  1. I made friends for life: Something great happens when you’re dirt poor and forced to live with three other people in an apartment that should probably only hold two people. I think American society teaches us to fear those growing points in our life; the parts where we have no money and have to work weird jobs to be able to pay our utility bill. But my best memories in my life have come out of times when I had no money, weird jobs and had no idea where my life was going. Was it comfortable? No. Did I cry a lot and ask God why the hell he had put me there. Maybe Yes. But now, looking back, I understand why. I get why in seasons where I thought money was the object, the actual title of the chapter was “Friendship” and I could not be more grateful for the relationships that were molded during these times.

Note. None of these things have made me filthy rich, Instagram famous or listed on “America’s most influential 30 under 30.” But if I was asked if I accomplished my five year goal I would say “Yes.”

Because I am happy. And I am free to do the things that make me happy. Over the past five years I’ve gone on too many adventures to count. I have so many stories I could write a novel. I’ve met some of the coolest people I think I could find on this planet, and I have never felt more loved or supported in my life.

I am me. Uninhibited, nonconforming and entirely me. And I think that’s something to celebrate.

And now, it’s time to dream EVEN BIGGER., and to add some new goals for my next “five year list!” I have no idea how I’m supposed to top this one, but here’s to brighter tomorrows and bigger dreams.
What are some of your guys’ dreams from the past or for the future?

It’s A Wonderful Life

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Wax seals. That I got to break open. I felt like Elizabeth Bennet and I LOVED IT.

This morning started off with the words, “Emilee is today your birthday?” The reply, of course, was, “No…” but when I went downstairs, I started to question whether or not I was right. While I was upstairs showering I had heard the doorbell ding three separate times. I had also heard the classic “Oooh la la” expression as the mother for the kids I au pair ran back and forth between the painting she was working on in the basement, and the front door.

When I finally did come down stairs. I understood why her first question had been asked. At the bottom of the stairs there was a pile of packages. My first thought was to sift through the mail and look to see if anything had my name on it. Some did. And by ‘some’ I mean all. It’s a funny feeling getting a stack full of mail, having no idea it had been on it’s way, but when I saw the familiar names written across each one my heart melted.

This week has been a week that has tried its very best to go wrong. Between running late, forgetting things, having unexpected expenses pop up and extra long workdays, I can honestly say, “Thank God Tomorrow Is Friday.”

This morning I woke up feeling exhausted from a restless sleep and dreading the day ahead. Mainly because on Thursdays I have French lessons, which are mind melting (although good). I didn’t really want to start my day, so I hopped in the shower feeling like a complete grump.

Then came the doorbell.

If you asked me, I would probably say that I’m closer to my friends than I am to my family. I actually consider my closest circle of friends my family in so many ways. Maybe it’s because we’re all strong women who have had to work our asses off to get where we are, maybe it’s because we all have a fire that propels us to challenge each other; iron sharpens iron. But when I think of my five best friends I think of warriors…and world domination – that too. If we’re passionate about something: Watch out.

Needless to say, being away from these powerhouses has made me feel like I’m running extremely low on fuel; like I’m a part of the Avengers team gone accidently rogue.

[Cut scene to this morning]

The packages were amazing and from some of said friends. Somehow they had all arrived on the same day, even though they were sent from different parts of the world. I laughed and cried as I read through letters, munched on American candy and marveled at the wax seals that had been beautifully enclosed on some of the letters.

The mom for the kids I au pair COULD NOT believe that I was loved this much for ‘no special reason’. And neither could I.

How lucky am I to have such friends?

It is really hard to be away from home and friends and family. And even though I’m making new friends and having lots of fun, it’s very different from being away from my main support group. A lot of stress has been building up over the last couple of weeks, specifically financially, because (let’s be honest) healthy bank accounts don’t come from au pair salaries.

But today I realized how insanely rich I am. I honestly felt like I was having a “It’s a wonderful life” moment. When it comes down to it, I have wealth beyond measure, because I have people thinking about me who live THOUSANDS of miles away and who send me love just for the heck of it.

I am so blessed. And I am so thankful.

Thank you to those of you who send me letters, packages, Skype, FB message or any other ways of communication. They might seem little, but to me, they are SO HUGE, especially when I’m feeling alone in my little big city life.

Days like today make me feel so full I could burst. Thank you, more than I could ever express.

❤ Emilee

 

When Being An Au Pair Goes South

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In life there are heroes and villains. Personally, I’m the type of person who likes to believe most people are the former. But, sometimes, you end up tricked into a situation where the ‘heroes’ turn out to be anything but.

Note: Before reading this (mom!) note that I am fine, I am safe and I am completely happy, now. 

When I arrived in France I could tell from the start that something wasn’t quite right with the family. It wasn’t immediately apparent, but after seeing the way the parents interacted with the kids, I knew something was off. As the weeks went on the yelling escalated and eventually the physical aspects of abuse started to show themselves.

Part of me knew that I wouldn’t be able to work in a family where there was physical and verbal abuse prevalent, but another half of me almost didn’t want to believe that it was happening. There was a lot of tension in the house, and the littlest things would set the parents off on tyrannical rampages.

When I finally decided enough was enough, I sent my letter of resignation to the father. His email responses were aggressive and ended with the words I had come to dread after weeks of “talks” : We’ll talk about this tonight. That night I was yelled at for close to three hours, and while the mom tried to defend me she was violently told to shut up as the father roared for me to get out of his house (it was 11:30pm) and to give him my keys. It was the night of September 19th – my birthday.

Crying and shaking, I went downstairs to pack my bags. The mom followed when I was about halfway done to tell me he “hadn’t meant it” and that “I had to understand” what had started his behavior. She convinced me to stay one more night, since I had planned on leaving for a weekend in Paris the next morning, anyway. I’ve never been so scared in my life, and I knew as soon as I came back I would leave immediately.

When I told the family I had found a replacement family the following Tuesday the dad “informed me” that if I left the house before HE TOLD ME I could, he would call the next au pair family I wanted to move to and would tell them I had abused their children (which is, of course, not even remotely true) so I wouldn’t get hired. I was so scared I would have panic attacks throughout each day, but I knew I had to leave.

So, I waited until the kids were safely at school on Thursday and both of the parents were at work, and then I packed my bags and called a taxi. I sent another emailed letter of resignation, as well as leaving a written one (and the keys), to the family. This is the abridged version of the story, of course, but I’m trying to keep it brief while not omitting any details.

The reason I’m writing this is because I want any other au pairs or nannies who find themselves in this situation to know that it is not ok for a host family to ever yell at you, demean you or threaten you. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to have the courage to pack my bags and leave. I was so incredibly scared for my safety, but that fact alone was an indicator that it was necessary.
My mind told me it was my fault for getting myself in the situation, and the parents told me I had “a responsibility to the children” to stay. But those are both classic indicators of abuse (whether verbal, emotional, physical etc.), and if you find yourself thinking either of these things while you’re employed with a family there is one option – leave.

If you’re reading this and you don’t know how to leave, or you don’t feel like there’s anywhere else to go, start telling people outside of the family about your situation (message me, even!). Pull your resources. I didn’t think my French was good enough to call a taxi, so I went to the visitors center in my town to have them call and schedule the taxi for me. I didn’t have a ride to my next host house, so I used a carshare website (blablacar.fr) to ask for a ride. I had friends through Couchsurfing that offered me a couch in their houses, and places to keep my luggage if I needed to travel light.

I AM SO THANKFUL FOR YOU ALL. You know who you are if you’ve been supporting and encouraging me throughout the past weeks. You are invaluable and it is because of you that I’m now in a safe place.

Oh, and there is a happy ending to this story!!
I am now living with an awesome family in Paris and I already feel like part of the family. The mom is a professional artist (painter!), and we’ve already been able to visit her gallery, in downtown Paris, and talk about art and the life of an artist. There are four boys and they are all awesome (ages…get ready for it… 21, 18, 8 and 5). It’s kind of fun being the only girl in the house (other than the mom) although there are, of course, some things that remind me of the fact (toilet seat: put it down).

My room is lovely, there are three beautiful cats (2 gingers!) and there is always jazz music playing 24/7 in the house (which is also beautiful and covered in the mom’s giant graffiti style art).
Oh, AND I’M LIVING IN PARIS. As in, I can see the Eiffel Tower from my street and I’ve learned that I absolutely love living in the city. It really is where I get my strength and inspiration from, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday I start French lessons (finally!), which the other family had also refused to let me attend, and I’ll be starting painting lessons (IN PARIS – Eeeeek!) soon also. This weekend I’m also going to try and visit Hillsong Paris – I seriously CANNOT wait!

Life is so much better, fuller and more alive than it has been for the month I was in France, and I’ve only been here a couple of days. I’m just so in love with Paris, excited to be working with an awesome family and I CANNOT wait to spend my year here.

Non French Cooking In France: Episode 1

This is not my picture, but it is what it looked like. I was too busy eating mine to take glam pictures.
This is not my picture, but it is what it looked like. I was too busy eating mine to take glam pictures.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the part of the show when I cook things in France that are not French. It’s true that France is known for it’s cuisine and, as an American living here, I feel incredibly inspired by that. But, the facts are – living here is like living in a box with baguettes, some wine and an assortment of cheese. Yes, you can survive, but since 2/3 of those things are personal allergies, it’s not going to be very fun for me.

With today’s kitchen adventures, I went through quite the adventure to bring everything together, but here goes nothing.

First off, rules of the kitchen:

1. Make sure there are measuring cups/spoons BEFORE you start.

2. Check to see if the country you live in sells baking powder/baking soda.

3. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you an hour to find 6 ingredients in the store.

4. Suggested soundtrack cleanse: Taylor Swift (to make you happy), Sam Smith (to make you sad) and Frozen (so you can let it all go).

For this episode, I decided I would take advantage of the absolute OBSESSION with peaches in this part of France, and make a crumble (which also doesn’t require baking soda or powder) and voila!

Here’s the original recipe I was following, in case you get tired of my rambling: 

1. Spend an hour in the “Supermarché” trying to find ingredients. Shake the boxes and cross your fingers that they’re actually what you need – cause, let’s be real, you can’t read the packages.

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2. Grease your pan with butter, because there’s not enough of that in the recipe itself…just grab whatever looks like it will fit your stuff. Set the oven to something that’s not 250 degrees – because in France it’s CELSIUS, yo. Push some buttons, turn some nobs and eventually get it to somewhere around 180 degrees (which is something close to 350 degrees in Farenheight, don’t ask me, I’m just here for the food).

3. Use a knife, cave man style, to skin the peaches (because there isn’t a peeler, duh).

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4. Throw them in a bowl with some sugar that looks about 3 tbsp, some cinnamon (3/4 tsp(ish)) and a couple of squeezes of vanilla extract (1/2 teaspoon). It’s probably going to look your dog threw it up, but it will smell like autumn and happy thoughts.

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5. Dump everything in the pan you’ll be baking in. Wash the bowl in the cold water, since the hot water takes 3 hours to warm. Dry it thoroughly. Combine “dry ingredients” aka 1 cup of flour…as in an actual kids cup. Plastic rainbow, yes please. Same amount for oats, and 1 cup brown sugar. Mix.

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Maybe just a bit more, butter -- for a snack.
Maybe just a bit more, butter — for a snack.

6. After everything dry is mixed, add in 1 cup of butter. But, since the butter isn’t labeled with measurements, just go ahead and cut as much as you want. It’s France. There’s no such things as too much butter.

7. After everything gets crumblyumtious, sprinkle it like fairy dust over the top of the peach dog barf filling, you have in the pan.

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It should look like this.

8. Throw it in the oven for about 45 minutes. But, since you can’t figure out the heating system until half way through,  you might want to leave it in a little longer. Especially since the heat was set only for the bottom elements.

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9. Take out of oven gingerly, trying your very best not to burn yourself, break the ceramic pan or permanently burn a counter. Allow to cool for a couple of hours.

10. Feed to darling brats, who will exclaim, through malicious grins, that they can’t stand it because they don’t like sugar…Share with parents, instead, and have them find value in you for something miraculously good.

The End. 

And for those of you who would like the ACTUAL Recipe, here it is: 

Fresh Peach Crisp

Prep Time: 15mn
Cook Time: 45mn
Total Time: 1hr

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 cups fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced – about 6-7 peaches
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup + 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter, cold, cut into cubes

DIRECTIONS

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9×13 inch casserole dish.
  3. In a large bowl, toss peaches with cinnamon, vanilla, 3 tablespoons sugar and 3 tablespoons flour. Pour the peaches into the greased casserole dish.
  4. In a separate large bowl, combine 1 cup flour with old fashioned oats, and brown sugar. Cut in butter until you have a crumbly consistency.
  5.  Pour the crumbly topping on top of the peaches.
  6. Bake in the oven, uncovered for 45-50 minutes.
  7. *Notes: Some of you have suggested that this calls for too much butter. If a cup seems like too much for you, feel free to reduce the amount to 1/2 cup. If you want your Fresh Peach Crisp to be extra crisp, bake for 5-10 minutes longer, making sure to keep a close eye on it. I personally love the end result using a full cup of butter.