Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Year, New You...nah!

I'm sitting here watching the sky turn dimmer on a winter evening.  It's 5.40ish and luckily the days are getting longer.  But they are still short enough to make me want to hunker down when it gets dark.  Christmas and the warmth of the festivities is over and we have to turn our thoughts to the new year ahead. 

But do we really have to? 

It's so predictable.  My new year phobia.

As predictable as all the weight loss and gym membership ads after Christmas.
As predictable as all those year-in-review montages.
As predictable as white sales in January.
As predictable as...all the predictions experts and astrologers are going to make about 2016!

Because another year means stock taking and measuring up.  It means comparing where I was last year to this year.  And generally realizing I haven't fulfilled all my goals/dreams/wanderlusts... Hence my new year phobia.

But remember last year I made a "to do" list?  I thought it would be more doable, after all.  Let's see how I did...

Last year's list included:
Getting published: still not there yet but I did submit two short essays to Chicken Soup for the Soul and sent one pitch to an online publication.  Nothing back, but I will keep trying.  I guess I mostly write for me.  I don't get many pageviews, but your comments (here or on FB) really encourage me.  So I'll keep writing, because it's part of who I am.

Visit Barcelona: Not yet, but I did buy a book about it!  And talked to my husband about it, who didn't pooh-pooh the idea.  Still dreaming about that one.

Find physical activity: I have done a few (ok, just three) classes at the fitness association that meets in my neighborhood.  For 70€ a year, I don't feel bad if I don't go every week.  Plus, I did learn how exotic I was! 

Try new recipes: I did make a chocolate mousse charlotte.  And recently brioche, using my bread maker to mix the dough.  This is one of the easier ones to fulfill because I do love sweets and especially eating them! 

So for this new and shiny year ahead, I hope to keep working on those goals.  I would also add that I want to learn to knit!  I have a few people in my entourage who know how to do it and have said they can teach me.  Heaven help them.  I bought the yarn and needles, so I am ready.

And I hope to find more balance in my life.  It's not that I work non-stop, but I need to find the right mix of work and play and take care of myself.  And not feel guilty about doing nothing.  Because doing nothing is sometimes the best way to realize what you need. 

So, deep breaths for 2016, which I hope will be a kinder and gentler one for this planet and its people!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Doing vs. Being in the holiday season

I always have this holiday vision.  Not of sugarplums dancing in my head.  Wouldn't know a sugarplum if it rang my door anyway.  Rather I dream of having a cutesy gingerbread house and perfectly decorated sugar cookies.  And every year I fall far short of my expectations.  This year is no exception.

There I was searching for the perfect gingerbread house template online.  Something simple and small.  I found a basic one but was afraid I didn't have enough dough for the dimensions.  So I cut down the paper templates a bit and reduced the slope of the roof.  I was calling up old middle school geometry wisdom and modeling my paper cut-outs for size. 

Then I rolled out the dough after letting J have a go at it first.  I cut out my templates rather approximately and removed some dough for windows and doors, too.  Then it was in the oven for 10 minutes followed by cooling on a plate.

Meanwhile J had found my iPad and was "liking" things on my Facebook account without me knowing.  Perhaps even liking my own posts and passing me off as a narcissist.  That's when I realized I had been going about this all wrong.  Plus she told me the Charley Brown Christmas music I had put on was "sad."  And though I normally love the 60s jazz myself, I had to admit it was perhaps not always so joyous for today's seven-year olds.  

So since I had my main pieces cut, I let J roll out and cut cookies to her heart's content with the remaining dough.  She's come a long way since her three-year old self.  At seven she proclaimed herself an "artist" as she expertly cut out her snowflakes and angels.  And I switched iTunes to my Bollywood's greatest hits album.  We were improvising Bollywood dances while the cookies cooked.

Once the house pieces had cooled, I used my royal icing to start assembling the gingerbread house.  Two side pieces, stable.  But all four walls and the roof, err, not happening.  Total cave in. 

I tried saving the structure, reconstructing, bracing.  But my front piece with the door now had a crack and J was seriously doubting my architectural skills.  I had to laugh.  I started eating one part of the roof and just used the remaining piece for a flat roof.  At least it tasted good.

But this is just another example of me aiming high and falling low.  And often ignoring the most important thing: spending time with my daughter and having fun.  We did end up having fun but not before my perfectionist tendancies nearly made me scrap the whole thing.

It's the old battle between doing and being.  I get so absorbed in "to do" lists and think that everything will be great when that list is done.  And I often forget to have fun while "doing."  In the holiday season we seem to have so many more things to "do".  Or "make."   

Make pastries for the school Christmas market, for colleagues or students.  Do the Christmas shopping, of course. Make Christmas meals and organize visits.  Do the decorating of the house just so.  Do the caroling or church events.  And while all of these things can bring joy and fulfillment, I mustn't forget what I need to "be" this season.

I need to Be Generous.  Not just by buying presents.  Anyone with a credit card can do that.  I need to be generous in my words, in my acts, more forgiving of my husband, child and myself.  Be generous to those outside my inner circle: charities, the homeless.

I need to Be Cozy.  With all that "doing" and "making" I forget that some couch time and holiday movies or reading are also great soul food.  Relaxing with my family, That's more important than a perfect house, and heaven knows I'll never get that anyway.

I need to Be Present.  If I keep telling my little girl, just a minute, hold on a sec, I'm not being with her and enjoying the moment.  It's such a balancing act being a mom anyway, but I need to just be there for her and put aside some of the things on my list.

And that goes for me, too. I need to Be Here Now and enjoy the season instead of waiting for everything to be perfect to feel contentment.

So my gingerbread house wasn't perfect this year.  But after a day the royal icing had cemented the structure well.  We kept decorating together the next day (to Echosmith on youtube, this time).  I put the frosting on the candies and she placed them.  I added a chimney. 

It's an improvement on my gingerbread ghetto a few years ago.  Maybe an Alabama gingerbread barn that is in need of repair.  There are chinks where the light comes through this house.  But it's not too bad and I hope it has made some nice holiday memories for Juliette.  And in a week we can look forward to eating it while we're being cozy and chilling.

To be honest, I will still keep my "to do" list and hopefully get some of the things actually done on it.  But I will also keep in mind my "to be" list and try to maintain that precious balance.

So friends and family, Be Kind to yourself and others this holiday season and I'll try to do the same!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Why the French are gonna be alright

Family and friends have been asking me how things are in France.  We are now going on three weeks since my adopted country got shaken by the worst acts of terrorism most of the French have seen in their lifetimes.  If the horrific images of November 13th are starting to grow distant, they are still in the back of our minds.  If the hunt for the terrorists isn't the top story on the news, we keep wondering if something else will happen soon.

One of my students asked me if it was perhaps easier for me to deal with since, as an American, I'd already experienced 9/11.  As we were sitting there five days after what people were already calling the French 9/11, I had to say, no.  It doesn't make it any easier, I said, as I wiped away the beginning of a tear.  And besides, as France is also my home now, it was like they were attacking my second homeland.

After the rawness started fading more into resolution that life in France had changed, I noticed something else starting to happen.  Resistance.  "The danger is eveywhere, so the danger is nowhere," an older stage actor said on the news as he encouraged people to keep going to the theatre.  And not more than a week after, I saw Parisian ladies drinking mojitos on TV and proudly  saying they were going out anyway.

That's when I realized, the French are gonna be alright.  And it's for the very reasons they are sometimes mocked around the world.  But now those "faults" have become their strengths.

It's because they're proud and stubborn.  How many times have I bemoaned these very things on my blog in some gentle French-bashing?  Like how they love to brag about how their country and food are so great, for example.  But now that pride will serve them well as they remember how much they love their country.

And as they keep going to concerts, even if they are afraid and check out the exit doors before, as one TV report showed, they are also one of the most hard-headed nations I've ever seen!  Just look how many train strikes these people can pull off in a year!  Never try to win an argument with a Frenchman.

It's because they love life.  Joie de vivre.  It's a French expression that has even crept into English.  As one journalist mentioned after the attack, it seemed that's what the terrorists were targeting when they so cowardly shot people on terrace caf├ęs.  But you can't kill the spirit of a people who love life this much, who can go into ecstasy over the subtelties of cheese and wine and pastries.  I know, 'cause I teach French people, and their capacity to talk about the little things in life is endless.  And in these dark days after the attacks, that will help them get through things.

It's because they are more like Americans than they realize!  For all the jokes our two nations may trade across the ocean, we are actually eerily similar.  After the attacks, there were more French flags put proudly on display.  The president even encouraged people to hang them from their windows two Fridays ago during the national "hommage."   The flag that used to be reserved for sporting events and Bastille Day has come out of the closet.  The French are just as patriotic as we are, just in their own way.

So even though I am still worried about the threats out there, I know the French are strong.  Strong-willed, too.  It takes one to know one.  And just like America after our 9/11, they will keep on going.  Keep on living and laughing and fighting.