Tuesday, August 28, 2012

C'est Paris

Enchante. I was. 

Enchanted by Paris during my week in the city of light. 

It was my first trip and I wasn’t sure what to expect. 

I worried about pickpockets stealing my purse. 

I worried about finding my way around the city. 

I worried that I would be overwhelmed by unfamiliar customs. 

But Paris lived up to its illustrious reputation and offered me an adventure. 

I stood under the magnificent Eiffel Tower. I saw the frightening gargoyles of Notre Dame. I gazed in awe at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. 

Everywhere I went I had to pinch myself that I was really in Paris. Experiencing all the culture, history and style of this city with such panache. 

I sampled cheeses at a fromagerie, chocolate croissants from a patisserie, a crusty baguette from a boulangerie, and foie gras and razor-thin slices of sausage from a charcuterie. 

Despite all I’d read that the French were rude, almost everyone I met was charming and kind. 

After a visit to a flea market on the other side of town, it was difficult to find a taxi stand. Stopping in a café, three men who spoke no English helped call a taxi and one man even came outside to make sure the taxi arrived. 

Lost on the way to meet a tour group asking directions of anyone in sight, an Algerian named Side appeared to walk alongside me and said, “I will show you the way.” 

He told me that he was a waiter and was studying to improve his English because it was his dream to come to America someday. 

When I mistakenly picked up the reverse directions for a gourmet food tour and went to the tour’s ending point instead of meeting point, the hotel staff called the guide and after a stream of French words, managed to arrange a rescheduled day even though the tour was prepaid.

Experiencing different customs was eye-opening too. 

I’m a Florida girl who likes ice in her drinks. A lot of ice. 

The French don’t seem to be interested in having cold drinks. Their cold drinks are in fact, lukewarm. At best. 

I never got ice with any drink I ordered. At one café, I asked the server for ice with my water – glasson – I made sure to ask in French – and he said, “Why? You don’t need it. Water is cold.” 

End of discussion. I didn’t get my ice. 

The only place I could find ice with my drink was McDonald’s. 

Yes, I am not ashamed to admit I went into a Paris McDonald’s and ordered Coca-Cola Light (what they call Diet Coke) with ice. Finally. Ice with my drink. Bliss.

Paris was as picturesque as I imagined it would be as I walked in the city of Chanel and the expat writers and artists of the 1920s. 

I found the apartment of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, imagining them walking the same streets I was. 

I marveled at the French women riding bicycles while wearing charming Audrey Hepburn-style dresses. 

My shoes, were however, a fashion faux-pas in Paris. 

Before leaving, I bought a pair of ballerina flats with a one-inch wedge heel. But before I’d even made my plane connection in Newark, the shoes rubbed my heels and gave me blisters. 

If I had known that walking through the Newark airport would be the most comfortable my feet would feel for the next week, I would have savored it more. 

Arriving in Paris at 7 am after flying all night, I departed for a full day of touring. Still wearing the same ballerina flats. I walked nearly six miles that day in those flats, touring the Eiffel Tower, cruising the Seine River and back to the hotel. 

For the rest of the week, no matter which shoes I wore, the results were the same. Blisters. And more blisters. 

I finally bought a pair of slides so my heels could walk without being tortured. 

C’est la vie.

What astonished me was that all I was apprehensive about before I left for Paris never materialized. 

The angst about the unknown almost discouraged me from taking a risk to experience the trip of a lifetime. 

Not this time, though. 

I dipped the toe of my ballerina flat in the pool of uncertainty and discovered that the treasure of Paris was worth the leap of faith. 

Hopping over the fence of fear is sometimes infinitely rewarding. 

Fear and risk seem so intimidating an ocean away, but meeting them face to face with courage, determination and an eagerness to experience life defeats them. 

Did I capture the joie de vivre in Paris? Oui, absolutement!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How Does My Life Measure Up?

I don’t really have a master plan for my life. 

Maybe I should. I’ve always had general goals. Lots of plans and dreams. Things I'd like to do. 

But maybe I haven't engraved them in stone in an effort to make them come true. 

I have friends who set ten-year goals. Decide what they want and set out to do it. College, marriage, kids, house, retirement. 

It seems that their lives happen exactly according to their plans. Or does it just look that way? 

Now that I've lived half of my life I'm not so sure that I can really orchestrate my life according to my own plans.

What sends me swirling into a tizzy is when I start to measure my life against someone else's life. 

I’ve tried (again) to join the Facebook world. I want to feel hip. Or cool. Or whatever word means you’re part of the in-crowd nowadays. 

But when I look at all the perky photos and clever comments of my friends, I feel like I don’t fit in. I feel excluded. 

I don’t have photos to post that say I’m one-half of a captivating couple, cheerfully smiling at the camera. 

No photos of adorable kids to post. It’s just me. At this stage of my life. The husband, the kids should have happened long ago. I flopped at dating. Came up short. 

I think about what I would post. Maybe that I went to work today? I had dinner standing at my kitchen counter? I received yet another invitation in the mail addressed to Valerie and Guest?

I could believe that everyone on Facebook is having a marvelous time morning, noon and night and wants the whole world to know. 

I could think that they don’t have jobs that may be a little mundane. 

I could imagine that they don’t come home to a house in chaos that the adorable kids in the photos just managed to mess up. 

I could suppose that they don’t have pets that eat what’s in the garbage bag or appliances that break down. 

Or I could believe this: maybe they’re just like me. 

They want to put the best image of themselves out for everyone to see. 

But could we be brave and let our defenses down to reveal a little of the disorder of our lives? The heartache? The difficulties?

So I could post this update. 

I had coffee on my courtyard this morning. Just me. And God. Alone. 

It was awe-inspiring. 

To learn what God is saying to my soul. 

To listen to what God is whispering to my heart. 

To spend time with the one who knows and understands me better than anyone can. 

I could post that after working all day, I came home. To a blissfully quiet house. To grab a salad and head off to yoga class. 

I could post that I enjoy solitude. That I like the quiet spaces to read books. Write my thoughts in my journal. 

I could post that I do like to share status updates. But I like to connect with friends face to face. Over a cup of coffee. 

To listen to the funny way that only they can tell a story. To lean in to catch the traces of disappointment or frustration. To offer real-life encouragement and support.

For me, Facebook only highlights what I already wrestle with. Comparisons. That discourage and disgruntle. 

But God didn’t call me to live someone else’s life. I can’t possibly make my life measure up to someone else’s. 

If I believe that I am following the plan God has designed just for me, then I certainly don’t know better than God does what’s best for me. 

Instead, God has called me to measure my life according to his attributes. To live with integrity, passion and honesty. 

In truth, hope and faith. In quantities beyond measure.

 “ . . . to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Eph. 3:18-19

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Prayer for Lizards, Frogs and Courage

A lizard perches atop my twig lamp.

I’m not crazy about all of the bugs and creatures that creep and crawl in Florida. Although I don’t really mind them as long as they stay outside, they insist on invading my living area uninvited. I’ve had citrus rats run rampant in my attic. An armadillo take up residence under my front porch. Tiny toads hop around my bedroom. A lizard stare up at me from inside the bathroom scale. Carpenter bees fly out of an antique shutter I attached to the wall in my living room. I've watched in horror as an enormous cricket fell feet first out of a light in the bathroom ceiling and came dangerously close to contaminating my expensive makeup brushes. I’ve had a frog shock me by jumping down my shirt as I watered a hanging plant. I’ve turned around while driving to see a toad sitting in the back seat of my car, looking every inch the attentive passenger out for a Sunday drive.

I am terrified of them all. I’ve tried various gizmos to catch these things. I have a broom with a long handle. I have a butterfly net. I have something that looks like a mini tennis racket that sends electric shocks to pests when you press the button. The problem with all these contraptions is that I have to get close enough to the bug, frog or lizard to actually put them to use. One thing I’ve learned is that having my house regularly sprayed for pests is an absolute necessity. A good Bug Man is a girl’s best friend. As I make my report to the Bug Man on what I’ve seen (pest-wise) since his last visit, he shakes his head. “You realize, don’t you,” my Bug Man said. “That you’re living in the wrong state.”

I guess I am. And I’m living in the wrong state of mind. In fear. I wish I had the courage to catch lizards with a cup. Sweep frogs out the door with a broom. But I don’t. Instead I rely on the benevolence of my brother-in-law, the prayers of my niece and the optimism of my nephew.

Nathan peers at the lizard living in my decorative birdhouse.
Nathan, who is eight, announced to me that he was a starting a new business. He said he would now be operating a courtyard-cleaning business. For a fee, he will sweep leaves, hose the dirt off, and check the plants for frogs and lizards. I thought this sounded great but I asked him what would happen if he spotted a frog or lizard. He said he would call his dad to come and remove it.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law good-naturedly arrives within minutes of my calls for creature-removal. His most recent housecall involved catching the largest frog I’d ever seen on my courtyard. He insisted on capturing it in a Ziploc bag, carrying it through my house, where I had the horror of seeing it up-close-and-personal, and out to his car, where he drove it to a neighborhood pond.

Just last week a tiny lizard got in my house but I lost track of it. The next day with Devon over, we saw it caught in the track of my sliding glass doors. I got a cup and was going to try to catch it. But Devon pleaded with me to wait. “I’m going to pray,” she said. Then as I walked toward it with the cup, she had second thoughts. “I think we should call Mommy.” We did and with two humans against a tiny lizard, we managed to get it on the outside of the screen.

It’s kind of silly sometimes what we’re afraid of. When I’m outside and see creatures crawling in their own habitat, I am full of courage. I CAN catch them. They look tiny. But inside my house, where they’re not supposed to be, they seem so much bigger, faster, scarier. Isn’t that what our fears look like sometimes? Bigger than life? But after conquering a fear, it’s often much smaller than it seemed. And I wonder later what I was so afraid of.

I wish I were more confident about my fearlessness in facing lizards, frogs and other creatures that insist on coming inside my house. But one thing I am sure of. I’ll have another chance to put my bravery to the test. With some sort of creepy, crawly creature. And if my courage fails me, my brother-in-law is only a phone call away.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Light a Candle

Candlelight is my favorite kind of light. It’s soft, dim and sends sweet shadows to dance on the walls. I like to find unique holders for my candles. I have a crystal-dripping gold ashtray. A paint-peeling vintage light fixture. A milk-glass double-taper candleholder that is a treasured family find. When my mother cleaned out my grandmother’s house, she unearthed a long-forgotten white deco-style candleholder on a shelf in the coal cellar. The candleholder was covered in dirt and soot but it was still in one piece, unlike most of the other things in my grandmother’s house, since no one had remembered it was even there over the years.

On the right is the milk-glass candleholder
that belonged to my grandmother.
Candles just put everything in a better light. People look softer. Rooms look more appealing. They glow. I’m always trying a new brand of candle, hoping to discover the most aromatic, long-lasting and delicious-scented candle. I like Tyler candles, with their whimsical names to describe their unique scents. Glamtastic, High Maintenance, Girly Girl and my favorite, SugarBaby with the richest shades of vanilla I’ve ever smelled. I like to light 20 or 30 white candles in tiny jars and place them throughout my house for festive gatherings. I love to put candles outside too. An outdoor setting looks so magical with lots of candles flickering.

Several years ago, on a trip to Los Angeles, I was with a friend who somehow managed to talk her way past the doorman and into the guest-list-only rooftop patio of the ultra-glamorous Skybar in the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Once we got to the top floor of the hotel and stepped outside, I couldn’t believe I was in one of the hottest celebrity nightspots created by super-model Cindy Crawford’s husband. The open-air terrace was filled with pillows, couches and chairs arranged around a sparkling blue pool. Tables were filled with hundreds of tiny white candles and servers strolled around with trays of candles to replace extinguished ones. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The views of the Los Angeles city lights twinkling at nightfall were stunning. Ever since my one fabulous evening there, I have been inspired to create a similar ambiance with plenty of candles in my outdoor spaces. Even though my courtyard doesn’t overlook an amazing skyline, a few candles can make all the difference to create a place of enchantment, tranquility and enjoyment.

So can the words of God. The promises from the one who was the creator of light give my spirit hopefulness, joy and peace. The presence of God in my life is the illumination that provides direction. It radiates hope. Enlightens my gloomy doubts. Keeps the flickering flame of my dreams burning strong. So I light a candle. And pray for understanding. Of how I can diffuse the light. That reveals the one who can chase away the shadows that lurk in the dark corners of the world.

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. Psalm 89:15