November 2014



Posted on Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Being away from home is really hard during this time of the year. Though Christmas is drawing ever closer, and my flight to JFK is just around the corner, I'm thinking a lot about home.

Tonight, after my older sister cooks dinner for the family, my mother will fall asleep happy to have two of her girls home, the sound of their homecoming set to the constant hum of the washing machine and dryer. My sisters will fall asleep in their own rooms, maybe fight over who gets to sleep with the cuddly cat. They'll sleep in later than they expected to, and wake up to the sound of music already turned up in the kitchen, the sound of the long meal prep already beginning. When they come downstairs, Mum will already be in her apron and setting things in motion, and Dad will be near the bar, finalizing his choice of pre-dinner cocktails.

The smell of roast turkey will fill the house slowly but surely, and as the snow falls outside (this year!) , the fire will  roar inside. Two gray cats - one very very fat and one very very thin - will lounge around the living room, lazily sauntering into the kitchen when they smell the turkey being brought from the oven. Dinner will be early and long, but before all else it will be delicious. Mum won't sit down to the table until everything is just right in the kitchen, and as my sisters will chorus
"Mum come ON!", Dad might turn up the lights because he "can't see his food". 

After dinner, my sisters will do the dishes (Megan will claim I'M WASHING! or  I'M DRYING! whichever she deems easiest after careful surveillance) and they'll listen to Mum's iPod, harmonizing until one of them messes it up and they erupt into laughter and swat each other with tea towels. Then they'll pile into the basement, all four of them, into the cool leather couches and in front of the projector, ready to fall asleep in front of whatever movie they've agreed on.

Suffice it to say, I'll be missing lots. I'll be missing my family, our cozy house, the lazy fat cat, the skinny mean cat... But I won't necessarily be missing out.

It's an interesting thing to live outside of the States during Thanksgiving. This is my third year away from home, and I think it's been as good as any I've had. Last Thursday, I invited a few girls over to my place for an early celebration. In the afternoon my roommate and I decorated our apartment (and got distracted by making and drinking mulled wine), and I spent hours in the kitchen washing and chopping and roasting. The girls came, we had bubbly and foie gras, roast chicken and all the trimmings, lots of Bordeaux, pumpkin spice cake. We ate until we couldn't eat anymore, and as the wine bottles emptied and the candles dripped low, we finally got to my favorite part of any Thanksgiving meal: Go Around The Table And Say What You're Thankful For.

Sometimes this little ritual can feel awkward or forced or trite, but during this particular Thanksgiving, it was none of those. Instead, it was warm and touching in the least cheesy of ways. Hearing what my friends were grateful for last Thursday evening really gave me pause for thought, reminded me to add certain forgotten things to my own little list. This  year's Thanksgiving that I was lucky enough to share with these friends was really one of my favorites (and not just because I finally found the perfect candles for the table). I feel like this year, I really understood the whole thing in a new way. It's not about the family or particular friends, it's not about the food being perfect or the wine going perfectly with it. It's about the little moments, like the one that I enjoyed watching my friends earnestly list the things they were thankful for. These little snapshots, these little glimpses of warmth and humanity and love, these are what Thanksgiving is really about.

When we first moved to the States all those years ago, there were several things that we didn't really know about American culture. One of these was, unsurprisingly, Thanksgiving. Virtually unheard of outside of the US, my little immigrant family had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. Thinking we were doing it right, one year, we set off in our Sunday best to a small bistro in Greenwich Village, where we were the sole family in a sea of gay couples, and where my only real memory is eating a delicious crêpe for dessert. Over the years, though, we got the hang of the whole Thanksgiving thing. We sometimes gathered as a family of five, but we often gathered as a family of more. Among my parents' expat friends in the States, there were always other families, far from their own extended families, happy to share the meal. As we came to the Thanksgiving table year after year, the real point of Thanksgiving became clearer and clearer. The idea of "family" became less rigid, as we realized that the friends we'd made in the Sates were like our own extended family, a home away from home.

Ultimately, it's become pretty clear to me that it really doesn't matter where you are. It doesn't matter who you're with, it doesn't even matter if you're by yourself. The meals I shared with my family were no more or less special than meals I've shared here with friends, or in the States with various expats that also landed in Yardley. Although I'll be missing every moment of our Thanksgiving, and though my heart aches when I think about how much I'd love to be there, none of that is really the point of Thanksgiving, is it? 

The point is to take a minute and feel a little bit of love, a little bit of gratitude, for the little things in life. It's a time to step back, to pause, to reflect, and to be thankful. And guess what? I've got a lot to be thankful for, this year more than ever. I'm living in my favorite city in the world, supported by family and friends from thousands of miles away. I've got a beautiful apartment, I'm studying something that really interests me, and I feel like I'm on my way towards Figuring It All Out. I'm so grateful to be here, and I feel so lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life (Thank you for being so wonderful, people in my life!).

From me, to you, on this Wednesday night in Paris, happy happy Thanksgiving, my friends. I hope you've got a lot to be thankful for this year. xx


16 November 2014 (or: "I Own A Pencil Case Now")

Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2014

I thought I'd write at the end of the summer.

I thought that in the time between golden summery sunsets and grey autumn skyscapes, I'd have time to sit down, to catch up, to take stock. But with lots of big changes and a new routine to get used to, time got away from me (again) and now somehow it's mid-November and I'm wondering if things will ever slow down enough to leave a moment or two aside.

But, even without the luxury of a spare few minutes to go into the details, I promise that this summer was such a good one!

The long long days and the warm nights, the picnics and icy-cold rosé and drippy ice cream and sticky fingers, laughing until my stomach hurt and drawn-out breakfast on the balcony and never sleeping enough. I wish I could package up those few weeks, those short summer months, and keep them like a secret beneath my pillow, to remember how good and how easy life can feel. Already, now, summer seems like a far-off memory, like something I might've dreamed up on a particularly dull and rainy afternoon (or an evening like tonight, where homework just doesn't seem like it will happen).

The weeks continue to pass at an ever-increasing rate. It feels like only yesterday that la rentrée was happening, the French name for "where's-your-scarf-you-must-now-always-wear-it-back-to-school-back-to-work-back-to-routine-end-of-summer-end-of-sunshine-end-of-fun." Now, we're in the throes of business as usual, and the Parisians are back to their un-summery state of "eternally (and existentially) disgruntled". The sun is coming up later and later, warming our faces less and less. Though the autumn, so far, hasn't been a particularly cold one, there's a chilly note on the air, the hint of a threat of colder weather to come.

Since the end of September, I've started a Master's program. Getting used to being a student again has been an experience. I'd missed the learning, the thrill of really loving what I'm studying and the excitement of discovery. What I don't miss, though, are the early morning wake-up calls followed by back-to-back-to-back classes (I have 14 classes this semester!?) the exhaustion that seems impossible to be kept at bay, the stress of a particularly tough assignment. I hadn't sat in a classroom since the end of 2011 at Villanova, hadn't had to take notes or turn in papers or follow lectures. Being in school in France, in particular, is pretty different than being in school in the States, and the differences manifest themselves in sometimes surprising ways (I mean, I bought a pencil case. I realized I was the only student in my amphitheater class without a pencil case, and so I bought one. I am a nearly 25 year old Master's student with a floral pencil case.) It's been good, though, to create new habits, to ease into a new routine and to find my bearings. The years since college graduation have taught me so much, and I'm grateful to feel like I'm heading in the right direction, finally. Change can be such a good thing.

This time of year, though it came upon us so quickly, is one of my favorites. The Christmas markets opened this weekend around the city, and already, the lights are up around Paris. It's not hard to imagine why Paris is known as la ville lumière at this time of year, where twinkling strings of lights swoop over every street and through every tree branch. Walking beneath the awning of the grands magasins, it's a comfort to hear familiar Christmas music piped over the window displays. The Christmas season seems to start earlier every year, but I'm happy to begin the march towards the end of December, which promises cozy nights around the fire at home, snuggling with the cats, reuniting with my favorite group of people over a drink or two (followed, always, by morning after bagels), and the other countless comforts of home. Before all that, though, my roommate and I will deck the halls of our chez nous, ready for a Thanksgiving among friends and mulled wine taste-testing and lots of Christmas music and general festivity.

Not so deep in the back of my mind, ideas for my next year are already simmering. There will be a quarter-century birthday celebration, a visit to the desert, an autumn wedding, a few more races, and exciting visitors. I've already got a really good feeling about it all, about the next year in general, and I can't wait to ring it in with some of the people I love most.

Something tells me, though, that this year's still got a lot left to give. xx