Tag: gratitude

“French Family” Reunion, Flute playing and good Fun

Blog #5

Last weekend, I visited my French Family after 15 years. I was a fille-au-pair for a family of 5 that soon became 6 from January 1999 – August 1999. Granted, 5 out of the 6, visited me in Canada a few years ago, but the visit back to growing children – young adults (ahem!), and house renovations certainly felt like time did march on, yet froze at the same time. Hard to explain. It was fun to see the view from my old room I had daily when I lived there for 8 months, the relatives I met back then, to the mural I painted as a teen (which, to my surprise is still there!). I was visiting for the weekend to celebrate the youngest’s (child #4) Holy Sacrament of Confirmation and have a little reunion!

The journey to Alsace began earlier than expected when a declared National Train Strike interrupted my carefully planned… leaving on Thursday, bought – 2 months ago, 1st class, free wifi, on-sale, solo seat, with no rescheduling in sight,…trip that was, as you can only imagine – cancelled. I urgently went into creating a back-up plan, researching other ways to get from Paris to Mulhouse, Alsace, then to Sierentz. I found a seat riding with 2 other passengers plus driver through Blah-Blah’s covoiturage system (Blah-Blah actually exists, I’m not making this up), and finally booked a seat in the car for Friday, arriving in the afternoon. We met early in the morning, loaded up the car, and after I finally took my seat behind the driver, the other two men kindly decided their placement and we were off! After 7 hours (took a while to get out of Paris), in a non-AC car (I was stunningly beautiful upon arrival), I was picked up at the train station and brought back to the house, to hang with two out of the four kids who were feet taller than I. Quite the change from when they were 1 ½ and 4 years old. We toured the house and made conversation about the changes, talked about life, and even saw some old pictures including one of my ‘Masterpiece’ and I, a mural I painted in the last month I lived in Sierentz (August 1999). More on that later!  So the 2nd oldest and I made crepe batter, sweet and savory. I should re-phrase. I mean, I supervised making crepe batter. We had a joking Chef Ramsay thing going on, where I was the chef, and he the sous-chef. “We” even made fresh raspberry sorbet for dessert. Oh, and because the crepes were good, apparently I got the credit even though I didn’t touch them, but it was made clear that if they were bad my ‘sous-chef’ would get the blame – doesn’t seem fair ;). Soon we were ready, van packed up with all the equipment and we raced to the choir rehearsal where my flute would make its come back appearance after many moons. Not only that, but I was delighted to play with my fellow seat partner from 15 years ago when we were with the Orchestre de Sierentz. The idea of full circle, was continuously flashing in my mind.

Once rehearsal was over, it was back to the house for a little World Cup Soccer, oh excuser moi, Le Foot, to watch the rest of the Netherland/Spain game. Very fun. So after rising at 4:30 am to get to my covoiturage meeting spot, by midnight, it felt more like 3am and it definitely time for bed. The morning came too soon with the church bells at 6:30am playing many, many minutes of the Call to Worship – a longstanding tradition that I really don’t remember from 15 years ago. How did I forget that!? It’s not quiet and subtle – it’s an up and at ’em’ sort of thing. Once I was up and a little coffee hit the system, it was off to food shop with the eldest where we caught up a little, then back to the house for prepping, and eating, more prepping, organizing, and then dashing to change quickly before leaving for one final rehearsal before the Confirmation. It was a lovely ceremony and although not my most flawless performance on the flute – I had fun reliving that ‘thing” when you play with a group/ensemble. Some pieces really evoked much passion and unity, for which I had many goosebump moments. Sidenote, they remember me translating ‘goosebumps’ in French back then, and the final result apparently involved the word chicken and points – really?. How did they remember this – how!? We all had a good laugh.  The ceremony came to a close and we were headed back to the house for le fete. On route, walking back to the house, a young lady asked me if I remembered her, and I was sad to say that I didn’t. She was afterall 5 years old when I met her the first time. She remembered me teaching her and the eldest child how to make rice krispie squares. My mom’s staple at birthday parties. She remembers that vividly. How cool is that!?

Upon arriving back to the house for ‘le fete’, I made a quick wardrobe change as the wind picked up with gusto and on the deck with the aperos, my skirt plus wind did not create a great Marilyn Monroe moment, so luckily I quickly dashed off to save my reputation.

Although quite cold in the cool wind, we all hung out for a long while, which coincidentally inspired dialogue by a couple wanting to discuss Canada’s weather, well, our reputation for limited degrees of heat, to their knowledge. You can see where I am going with this. So, I dispelled many a myths about ‘Canada’ and our COLD. I tried to keep it light as innocent questions about living in freezing temperatures for most of the year, on a country wide spectrum were asked. I kindly said that Vancouver/Victoria varies from say, Montreal (IN THE WINTER, especially), and how, although I finally have some decent bear stories after last Fall (serious I do, I befriended 3 bears daily for a week!), that we Canadians don’t typically see or defend ourselves from bears daily.  Well, at least from my city experiences.

Soon, a lovely dinner was served and some chatting about this or that happened until the wee-hours.  It was fun being in a tri-lingual crowd and feeling like I could understand German at times. Or maybe my experience as a wild arm gesturing half Italian has truly paid off and I’m now an arm reader. I’m going with the latter.

The next day, we all gathered at the house again for one last meal together, relaxing outside on a slightly warmer day. With the train strike still in full swing, it was hectic making and re-making alternate arrangements for some, while my ride back to Paris via Fountainbleau to Bry-sur-Marne was set. Before leaving, a family member happened to bring his violin and asked me to join him and the two middle boys to play as quartet. We were 2 violins, 1 piano and moi, la flute! I had fun sight reading two classical pieces and goofing up, but it was lovely to ‘jam’ and create yet another memory over this short weekend.  Before leaving, the boys thought it was imperative to recreate the photo of me and my oeuvre from 1999, (when I get the ‘15 years later photo’ – I’ll attach both pictures) and so they moved tables and chairs, plants and whatever else they could move to reset the stage for a 15 year later shot. I was deeply touched that they went to that trouble to make that happen. In fact, they told me that my painting is still a topic of conversation all these years.

I feel incredibly blessed to have connected and stayed in touch my French family, when I can assume this is not the case for many fille-au-pairs and their families. I am part of a success story, a truly amazing connection that still has me in awe. We have stayed in touch over the years which helped bridge our official reunion in France.  I still feel like I am a part of their family, and they apart of mine.

Journeying and adventuring continues (à Paris)!

Welcome to Blog #3… This blog is focused on the happenings of my declared ‘birthday week’ as a new ex-pat in Paris. What happened, you ask? I took a Patisserie class, went to the Opera, visited the Eiffel Tower, attended a night of classical music, went to a Yin yoga workshop, was offered a fantastic new job, and last but not least, attended a popular networking meet-up group called: the Paris Women of Success!

Jumping right in….

I had just said to a new Paris friend of mine, that one day I want to take a cooking course or lesson at the Cordon Bleu in Paris!  Are you familiar with that timeless classic movie, ‘Sabrina’, starring Audrey Hepburn? Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the movie, (ahem), a few times, but truthfully, I have always wanted to have the Parisian cooking school experience where she: “learn how to ‘crackk an-egg’” (I can hear that French chef’s accent now), all the way to making a killer soufflé. So, when I got the call to fill in for my friend’s mom at the last minute, I jumped at the chance!

It was a 3-hour course at La Cuisine Paris https://www.facebook.com/LaCuisineParis  where I learned how to make the Croissant and other breakfast patisseries. Before getting into a few details about the course, I just have to say that La Cuisine Paris runs a pretty tight ship and from the service, the experience, the ingredients, the magic dishwasher, and the nice coffee at the end to go with our well deserved creations, I welcome you to check them out!!

The infamous Croissant. It was the most challenging of the patisseries to make – and after making the Croissant in its entirety, with the exception of waiting overnight for the yeast to rise, my respect for those who make home made (sans machine) Croissants, has gone up by a factor of, about a million. We made 2 versions of our ‘pate’ called: pâte levée feuilletée, learning how to properly blend, fold and delicately, yet firmly, roll the dough and butter together. Sounds easy right? Because the temperature in the room was warm and there wasn’t time to refrigerate the dough at each stage, we were at the mercy of the butter. The exquisite butter was being unwieldy, wanting to tear through the delicate dough, and escape! How dare it!  I’m mean it was submission time, obviously not for the butter, but for us dough-eyed learners. (Excuse the pun). While rolling, it was sticking to the marble, when the goal was to get our dough thinner (by another half) and in theory, unstuck from the table – ha! Flour was our friend (eventhough it added to the denseness of the dough). Meanwhile, our instructor mentioned why pastry chefs wear white and why in the class description online they advised that we wear white also. Did I miss reading that part in my excitement? I showed up wearing black…need I say more? We did however wear these clever plastic aprons that allowed us to write our names on it, and gave us the freedom to practice flour tossing onto the marble countertop, just like the pros…(I still have to work on my elbow action).

We also made, Le Pain au chocolate (yum!), Le Pain Swisse, Le Pain au Raisin, La Crème pâtissière and made 2 little pastries with jam inside (the exact names are alluding me), and with the little bit of left over dough, we made little tiny cinnamon buns. Nothing was wasted and there were lots of goodies at the end! I learned many little tricks of the trade and lots of great techniques. Notably, I learned that a real croissant made with butter is perfectly straight, while ones made with margarine have that famous curve. Now you know…go for the croissant that looks straight!   In all this butter glory, I couldn’t help but think of Julia Child; especially, her legacy and her relationship to butter and her inexhaustible connection and love for Paris.  At times during the class, I truly felt like I was in a movie and would quietly chuckle under my breath at the thought.

Right after that class, I zoomed to the Yoga Studio where I’m working in exchange for yoga classes. As I bounced my way from Patisserie class to the yoga studio, I wondered if the hint of delicious baked goods would follow me in – nope, the aroma graced the metro as I could tell these curious glances in my direction had nothing to do with the remaining flour on my black shirt.

The next day, I was at L’Opera National de Paris as an early birthday present where I saw The Italian Girl in Algeria by Rossini at the gorgeous Palais Garnier. The Italian Girl in Algeria was also the very first Opera I ever saw in Elementary school in Victoria, BC and was pivotal in my desire to later study singing at University.  I enjoyed very much the historic and decadent decor of the Palais Garnier, soaking up the history before the Opera started. As I stepped into narrow hallway leading to the box seats behind door number 14, I thought about all those who had walked the same path since 1875. Keeping all this rich history in mind, I was in one of ‘my happy places’ listening to the beautiful orchestra and the extraordinary singers who made singing Rossini’s acrobatic arias sound way to easy! Bravo!  I am looking forward to many more musical experiences in this amazing city!

Saturday was my birthday and I spent much of it walking in the rain, the first almost full day of rain since arriving March 9th.. I had to smile. It reminded me of Vancouver quite a bit. The city got a nice rinse, as did the air – and for that, I’m grateful! That night, a friend of mine and I went to St. Paul’s church (gorgeous!) to listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Pachelbel’s Canon and some gorgeous songs sang by an impressive counter-tenor. There wasn’t a program so I can’t really tell you what he sang – however, I can tell you that the music was lovely and brought me back to my ‘strings’ days in elementary and in junior high school. The church was packed and the music filled every corner of this majestic church.

The day after (Sunday), I headed to my yoga studio to attend a Yin Yoga workshop, given by a fellow Canadian. I really didn’t know much about it prior to going, so this was a perfect introduction. Yin Yoga is a more relaxed type of Yoga, where there is emphasis on ‘being’ and feeling the ‘stillness’ (ahem, I need to do that!), while stretching (called: “stressing” – the healthy kind) the body.  It is a good compliment to all the Yang Yoga Practices (like Ashtanga, and Vinyasa etc). I dare say this type of Yoga is kinda perfect for me right now.

What a week, but it didn’t end there!

Monday, I was delighted and excited to be offered a contract working 4-days a week for this amazing American company called Paris Muse. They provide educational, high-quality private Museum and Walking Tours in Paris, given by highly qualified docents (expert art historians). I’m really looking forward to starting with them in a few weeks!  I welcome you to check out their website: www.parismuse.com and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paris-Muse/110823521586

Tuesday, I was happy to join a large group of ambitious and super talented women, mostly all entrepreneurs, rocking their businesses here in Paris. It was an empowering and welcoming environment and pending my work schedule, I hope to go as often as I can.  Cool fact: a number of them collaborated and have published a book coming out this May called: My Paris Story – Living, Loving and Leaping without a net. I am so looking forward to reading this book! (I’m sure their stories will resonate with everyone, no matter where you live). Please check out their Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/myparisstory?fref=nf

I’ve joined a long and continuing legacy of ex-pats living in Paris and to quote the fabulous Audrey Hepburn: “Paris is always a good idea”.  Whether visiting or living – this city of lights is really beyond description, it’s mostly a feeling. And I’m feeling pretty darn good about it!

Go to it, Go for it, Go live it! (Allison-ism continues)

Lots of Love and Light.



Loss, Contemplation and Choices

Sunday I learned of the passing of ‘Uncle Hermann’. Growing up, I remember him at family gatherings, spontaneously spouting out these amazing chirping/whistling sounds to make a child smile or laugh (or to surprise adults!). I had the pleasure of dining with him last year and witnessing this strong urge to help an upset child at the next table, and although circumstances didn’t allow for him to work his magic that night, I’m sure his grandchildren regularly enjoyed his nature and energy – and signature sounds!

My condolences, love and sympathy go out to all his family and friends – and anyone who is feeling grief and loss at this time.

Reflecting upon grief and loss, I feel so much compassion and understanding, especially having gone through a lot of turmoil with the passing of my own mom some 8 years ago. I truly believe that no matter the type of relationship (close or distant), the age of the parent or those left behind (grown or still little), whether expected or unexpected, or even whether you think you are prepared or in process of preparing – the loss of a parent is deep and the range of emotions, wide. Processing is inevitable, as it ebbs and flows through your psyche and your heart, whether influenced by external triggers and/or internal reflections – moving through it all can be intense and lonely. I don’t pretend to understand everyone’s journey in losing a parent, however, I do understand that the impact is deep and life changing.

Maybe you have lost someone near-and-dear, where the connection was undeniably strong, unique and special – where relationship labels mean nothing, only that the bond you shared, is really beyond words – and I too can also relate to that, losing a best friend within the same year as my mom.

There is no right and wrong way to grieve, only a recommendation to remain in the present moment as much as possible, and to honour your feelings to the best of your ability without the expectation of needing to feel a certain way, by a certain time. Self-love and patience are key and not always the easiest road, but a crucial one.

As much as I can share this or that from this past week from the point of view of a newly relocated Canadian in Paris, discussing loss and grief is sticking and I’m going to see where that leads me today. And I will do my best to segue as respectfully as I can.

It doesn’t matter if it’s loss of a: parent, partner, child, friend, neighbor, grandparent, uncle, aunt, niece, cousin, nephew, grandchild, or (last but not least) a family pet, losing someone near-and-dear can challenge our beliefs and understanding about life – often triggering more emotions or feelings than we thought possible. When I posted on Facebook on the anniversary of my mother’s passing, I wrote that the best way for me to honour her life, was to honour mine. And how do I do that? I think it starts by making the best choices I can, given any situation, in order to live my life to the fullest.  (I feel a teachable moment coming on….)

Whether you live your life sub-consciously or with intention and intuition; or feel like life happens ‘to you’, or love to live by lists of goals and to-dos – the choices you make, create your life.

Years ago, I can distinctly remember operating on the belief that, yes, I make decisions and choices, but that some how, I was a victim of my circumstances and the phrase: “I can’t..or it’s impossible” was gospel in my life’s script, and a bountiful basket of excuses would accompany me often. That is, until I started ‘doing the work’, as Iyanla Vanzant puts it. Taking responsibility (owning it), being aware, practicing self-love/care, and being patient with myself, has been a challenging yet liberating experience.  And if you read my first blog post, “Work-in-progress” signs, reside here. It’s a process and a journey.

Paraphrasing from memory, Louise Hay said in her keynote at the “Hay House – ICDI Conference” in Vancouver in 2012: “…you are the longest relationship of your life…”. That line, and ‘doing the work’, reminds me to invest, to care deeply, to respect and to value my Self. This attention-action, improves the relationship I have with myself and therefore with others, and provides a better platform in making better choices for myself. I won’t elaborate today about the amount of patience I’ve breathed through or resisted in my growing self-awareness, but all I have to say is that: School of Life is still in session…

Sidebar: Let go of the shouldas, couldas, wouldas as they serve no purpose and provide no new fertile ground in which to build or create, what it is that you want. Looking at the past from a regrettable place, means you are not looking or moving forward, so if you are living in the past (or spending too much thought-time there), who is in the driver’s seat of your proverbial car of life?

The idea of “Going with the Flow” is a practice worthy of attention. Life can feel like a flowing stream with some natural life turbulence or life can feel like paddling upstream (resistance), and getting caught in the rapids more times than you would like. When it’s the latter, sometimes pausing, and letting inspiration take over will help re-direct you to the flowing stream where you can feel more inner peace. I invite you to ponder where you are paddling up the metaphorical stream and pause a while to let inspiration (people, places, things) present alternate choices to create a shift that allows more flow, happiness and peace. In the meantime, doing something to lift your spirits and to re-focus on being in the Present moment will catalyze the shift that leads you to feel more ‘Flow’.

Supplements that may help: Expressing Gratitude (in a child-like enthusiastic way is best), being in the present moment, and TRUSTING (Yourself, the Universe, God, the process etc). Also, doing something creative, fun/joyful, and in nature are superb companions!

What I know for sure is that any great change, in creating what you want, starts with YOU.  I have learned that: practicing the art of being, watching my thoughts, observing my feelings from as non-judgmental place as possible (changing the ones that aren’t working for me), seeking counsel and support, being conscious of how full my joy and gratitude cups are a flowin’, practicing something creative daily, among other tidbits, have been the stepping stones in investing in the longest relationship of my life, and in doing so, the choices I make going forward are created from a better place within me than ever before, therefore, creating the life I want, to the best of my abilities.

We are constantly changing (and evolving), and everyday is an opportunity to reflect on what you want, get excited and make some choices – and go with the flow. Even if it’s not January 1st, or your birthday, you can start your ‘New Year’ any day or time you want. The choice is yours!

So, Go to it, Go for it, Go live it! (The Allison-ism continues)

With much Love and Light,