Thursday, July 29, 2010

The differences between a 5 year old and a 20 year old?

As it turns out, there aren't too many. The only one I can think of is age. Sure, fifteen years is a big difference, but the mentality isn't different at all.

Last night I watched my niece, Faith, despite my seemingly "adult" age paired with my long list of aspirations and life goals, our thrill for simple things in life is the exact same. She showed me her first Build-A-Bear animal and pulled me up the stairs to show me the computer game that went with it. I have many Build-A-Bear bears, but the computer game is something I'd never had. So I sat on her pink beanbag chair while she showed me her interactive world. I could almost see the wheels spinning in her mind, much like mine when I'm hard at work.

Then we jumped into her room where she pulled out her Nintendo DS and starting working her magic on the twisted levels of Bolt. She showed me how he jumped and kicked, laughing at her own little jokes the whole time. But then she suddenly threw down the Nintendo and jumped through the air yelling "Tickle time!!!" and started clawing my face, chest and legs. I laughed through the scratching and managed to flip her over and start tickling away. Jason and Sophia were downstairs getting ready for their date and I'm sure our giggles echoed in every room.

We must have heard someone coming up the stairs because we both snapped to attention, found the Nintendo and laid on our stomachs facing forward, pretending to be locked in on the game. Jason came in the room and asked us what we were doing...Faith and I just glanced over at each other, hair a mess, bed sheets all crumpled up, and we started laughing out loud. Not everything Daddy's Little Girl does with Aunt Lauren has to be shared with Daddy does it?

Faith batted her eyelashes and brushed some of her tickle-soiled hair from her face and asked Jason to get her past a level on Bolt. She then told him he and Mommy could stay out as long as they wanted cause we'd be playing a long time. So as soon as the door shut downstairs, Faith jumped up in the air and said "You're all mine now! Tickle fight!!" And away we went.

But then the tickle fight game morphed into something different, something a little challenging and scary for Faith. She climbed on my feet to fly in the air like a helicopter. She had a death grip around my hands which helped her overcome her fear of heights. "I won't let you fall sweetie, I promise" I told her, so she started to take her hands off for a photograph. Then suddenly she wrapped her arms around my legs and a look of fear took over. I grabbed her little face and told her she could trust her Aunt Lauren and that I wouldn't let anything bad happen to her. The smile creeped back on her face and she asked if I could crash the airplane onto her bed. So suddenly her fear of heights vanished and she was ready to fall from three feet in the air.

We must have played that game for a while because suddenly it was dinner time and we were both hungry. But Faith wanted to keep falling, asking to be tossed off my feet faster and faster, and I just wanted to see her keep laughing and facing her fears.

But we agreed it was probably time for dinner so we ran downstairs and I made some delicious microwaveable chicken nuggets for Faith and some oatmeal for myself. Sitting on the island we talked about how to make sure the food wasn't too hot and what we would do next. The new Scooby Doo movie was on the list so we popped it in and I did my best to figure out the sound system. About fifteen minutes later we were watching the movie, Faith had a freeze pop and was comfortably sitting on my stomach.

But after the ghosts and goblins were all gone, and the mystery was solved, Faith wanted to play again. So I cranked up the music and we started a dance party in the kitchen. Dancing by ourselves in the beginning I noticed she and I were spinning the same way, hands in the air, smiling and bopping along to the beat. I picked her up and we spun around the kitchen giggling and yelling. Faith wanted the music louder so I chased her into the living room and she jumped up on the couch so we could dance at eye level. I held her hands to make sure she didn't fall off but soon the couch dancing turned to couch bouncing and then we were spinning around and around again. Still wanting the music louder, we moved the dancing out onto the deck and Faith wanted me to teach her some dances. So we slowed danced a bit, and then an early 70's song came on so I showed her my best hippie dancing skills, locking hands and spinning in a circle while throwing our heads back.

"This is the best day ever Aunt Lauren!" rang through the air.

Once the bugs got to us we moved back inside and this time we danced while playing volleyball with a balloon. Ah, the never boring game of "DON'T LET IT HIT THE FLOOR!!" was played until Jason, Sophia & Ayven came back. The fiesta, as Faith called it, was in full motion, and we were both diving to the ground so as not to let the balloon fall.

Telling Sophia all the fun things we did, I realized that I wasn't just doing them because Faith wanted to. I helped come up with what we did too, and enjoyed them myself. Faith and I grew closer while I maintained my child-amusement. After Jason & Sophia wished me luck on another school year, I got into my car and blasted the radio, continuing the Fiest-Dance-Party all the way home.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I could find beauty anywhere.

Today after the rainstorm ended I decided to jump in the car and use the DSLR to take a few pictures at Creve Coeur Park. I'm not sure what I plan to do with them but I had a great time walking on and off the trails, snapping life as I see it through a lens.

So here's just a few sample photos from my walk through the beautiful park this afternoon. I know this isn't a "photoblog" but I thought I'd share some of my work. Enjoy.

"Calm After the Storm", Creve Coeur Park, 2010

"The Power of a Broken Heart", Creve Coeur Park, 2010

"Natural contrast at its finest moments." Creve Coeur Park, 2010

"A Daydreamer in Motion" Creve Coeur Park, 2010

Life will pass you by if you don't have the antidote to the toxin.

I find it insane how much of our life we spend worrying about nothing, about everything. Minutes turn to hours of worrying everyday, and so much of life's beauty is forgotten. The idea of not having enough money blocks out the thought of how warm a kiss on the cheek feels, how pleasant the sound of a baby giggling can be. Everyday sights and sounds become blurred into the background as life's major concerns take us over cell by cell.

Of course I can't sit on a high horse and judge everyone around me, because I too find myself over thinking, worrying about finances, the future, and how to maintain the certain happyness and childlike wonder I hold so very deep in my soul. What I've realized the past few weeks is just how viral such thinking can be. It seeps into my skin, attaches to my cells and soon enters my bloodstream. From there I can feel my temperature rise, my breathing strain and a sense of anxiety enters my mind. The twisted, sick feeling sits in my chest, stomach and brain for hours upon hours, consuming my every thought. Sometimes it is easier to just fall asleep and hope that when you open your eyes, those feelings will have resided, and the world will once again find equilibrium.

We all know viruses never go away. There is no cure for a virus that enters the body, the risk of it coming back is always there-- lurking in the background.

But my question to the world, to myself, Why do we let such a virus enter our system? What happened to the days when all we worried about was getting to stay up late in the summertime, sneak an extra dessert after dinner, or getting that first kiss without our parents finding out? What happened to the days when childlike wonder flowed through our mind, making the world seem brighter, happier and full of possibilities with very few heartaches? There was no worry over money, jobs, living conditions, or transportation. There was no fear of being heartbroken and alone for life. None of that was relevant. Why does it have to be now?

I can try to deny the lurking fears that I've allowed to enter my body, but I know that sooner or later they will surface. Instead of masking them with bad decisions, impulsive buying, or even rash decision making, I try to find the simple things that make me happy; baking, reading, writing, petting an animal, helping someone find their way (whether it's physically finding their way on the road or metaphorically speaking in life), listening to music, and taking walks.

Some people choose to call this 'therapy', but I just call it living. Ooh, there's a radical idea. Go out and do the things I love to do, seek the finer/beautiful things in life instead of laying in bed late at night, worrying about the mysteries of my private student loan, wondering if I will be able to find my next place to live by the time my Lease is up in 10 months.

Babies laugh. The sky burns blue in the daytime. The sun sets in the West, rises in the East. Flowers bloom. The eyes of a broke street performers light up when a few cents are dropped in their hat.

Musicians put their heart and soul into every piece of music.
(Artists put their heart and soul into every work of art.)
[Authors put their heart and soul into every piece of writing.]

Lovers hold hands at 2 years old, 10 years old, 24 years old, 50 years old, and even 90 years old.
(Lovers kiss in public at 2 years old, 10 years old, 24 years old, 50 years old, and even 90 years old.)
[Love never dies.]

People may live their lives when they want to, when things are easy and fun. But it is very seldom to see people living their lives when they need to; when life gives them lemons, which is really just a nice way to say when life beats them over the head with a frying pan.

Two mottos to try to follow.

One modifies the other, and vice versa.
(Change the world one heart at a time.)
[Starting with your own.]

From there, spread the joy to every plant, animal, and human being on this Earth. If we're all put here together there must be a reason for it, and what better reason than to share life with one another? What better reason than to not let life pass us by because of solitary worries?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Just an empty weightroom.

There's something very peaceful about an empty weightroom. It's not just the sound of the metal clanging against itself after a set, and it's not the fact that the mirror is vacant from all wandering eyes. Usually I wear headphones while I workout to drown out the heavy breathing of other lifters, or to keep their small-talk out of my thoughts.

Today I walked into the weightroom and noticed it was empty. Not a single person had a towel on a seat, weights on the bar, or a med-ball misplaced. Everything was where it should be and there was a beam of sunshine coming into the room, landing in scattered spots on the floor.

Not knowing where I should start first, I put my headphones in and stand in front of the mirror where the same rack of dumbbells exists in every weightroom worldwide. Deciding that it was too early for hard rock or gangster rap to get me through a workout, I slide on some Bob Marley for my warm-up. Most people assume that headphones should only blast very powerful music during workouts, in order to ensure that motivation levels stay high. But who's to say that Bob Marley isn't powerful enough?

So I grabbed a set of dumbbells and warmed up my rotator cuffs and shoulder blades. "Ya see, in life I know there's lots of grief, but your love is my relief." The song played on and I did some body-weight squats to wake my legs up. And as the music played on, the mood in the room picked up. No longer just a room full of metal, but suddenly a moving workshop had come alive.

I felt myself ease into the workout, knowing I could take it anywhere I wanted next. So I did a few hanging leg lifts, moved over to bench and set up my squat rack at the same time. But now I was ready for a little more music, so I turned to Mariana's Trench. Not quite a hardcore, punch someone in the face kind of sound but it was good enough to get me through the four sets of bench and three sets of squats that lay ahead of me.

"And I can feel the water changing me, it's changing me for good." A drop of sweat falls on the floor and I know its time to towel off. Even though nobody is there to scoff at a girl who actually perspires, it's still common courtesy in case somebody else walks in.

Feeling brave enough to workout without my headphones, I take a whack at going solo-- without the help of any genre. The calmness of the room overtook me a little bit. I felt like I was back in high school when our coaches didn't play music so that we could concentrate on the new lifts we were trying to master. But suddenly my focus sharpened and I was only thinking about my lifts, feeling every movement of each muscle. For the first time in a long time I could feel the benefits of my work right then and there, and not twenty minutes after when I am sore and trying to relax. I had almost forgotten what it was like to be so focused in on one act that it brings out all of these small details in the work.

Lunges with 60 pounds on my back. Suddenly, instead of just feeling my quads get tired, I felt my shoulder blades tense up to help my back stand me back up. I could hear my own breathing and how it changed with each movement. The serenity of the room elevated every sound I made.

I miss the days when I lifted alone, concentrating only on myself and not on the teammates surrounding me. Sure, we all help each other get through our grueling practices, but it's nice to just take it one lift at a time and dig deep into my own heart and soul and find that inner strength to finish on my own.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Whatever your faith, it's beautiful.

I've always felt a little lost when it comes to religion. Growing up, Church wasn't a mandatory thing, and when I went with my friends I just listened and went more just so I could spend time with them and their families. While I support 100% each individual's religious practices, going to Church or Saturday Services was never a religious event for me. And it didn't occur to me until middle school that that wasn't normal for someone who went pretty often.

And then of course, when a few events changed my life at a young age, I started to question why anyone would want to believe in God, especially if such horrible things happened to a girl who was only twelve years old. So for a while, I was bitter with the concept of religious practices, giving all your faith and hope to one belief. I wanted to make my own way of life, and follow my own morals. They were morals I had always been raised with, and my mother isn't particularly religious either, so I know her morals didn't come from Temple, or the Bible, or any other religious manuscript. At that point in time, I knew I could follow my own way and make it out all right.

"Toute seule dans le jardin", Luxembourg, 2010

When high school hit me, and things worsened a bit, I tried to explain to myself that bitterness would help nothing. So instead of casting off the concept of God, I simply disagreed with it and believed in a higher order, something out of human hands, but not necessarily one creator of the world. And again, for a teenage girl, that was very hard to accept. And to be able to discuss, or defend. I still went to Church services with friends, but was more hurt by not being included or not feeling welcomed at times.

When I traveled to France with PNH, I saw some of the most beautiful Cathedrals in the world. I stepped inside the walls of history, where people came to beg for forgiveness, beg for good health and pray for a good season. These people all truly believed in something higher than themselves. And for me, I tried to feel that same way. I sat in the most beautiful church of all of Paris and talked to myself, hoping a more powerful voice would enter. But it never did. So I knew I wasn't meant to believe, or to have this kind of faith. And the search ended.

"Nous avons peur", Notre Dame, 2010

When Shay died my whole world collapsed. A young, vibrant life, lost so violently-- to me, had no excuse. No reasonable explanation could dictate to me why one of my best friends was killed late in the night, while his father was out of town. Even to this day I find myself with the same hating thoughts from time to time. And they're not healthy. It's never a healthy lifestyle to be so consumed with confusion, anger and frustration.

But to try to cope with Shay's death and the history that floated in my mind, I restarted the search for God, or for understanding this January. I found a Church who's Chapel felt warm and welcoming even on the coldest day in Miami...which happened to be 38 degrees. And living in Miami, I definitely didn't own a coat. I walked in and was greeted by a wonderful Pastor, her husband and a sweet couple who sat in the same pew as I did for the first 8 weeks to make sure I felt welcome. I followed every service and tried my hardest to pray and understand the scripture. And for a few weeks I truly felt like things were changing for me. I felt more at ease with the world and I even felt good about most of the scripture readings.

As the semester pressed on, I again started to feel distanced. But instead of angered, I just felt blank. There was no emotion towards going to Church or not. So naturally I found myself very confused. I still went for the company and for the non-Biblical lessons, but I wasn't studying at home as much and I certainly didn't schedule my week around going to church on Sunday as much.

This summer, since I left for Europe religion hasn't been an important part of my life. It's not that I forgot about it because I still read daily scriptures, but I found myself not praying as much. And when I learned about the problems my family was facing, I told myself I couldn't pray for good health because I hadn't been to Church in ages. I have little respect for those who run to a Church when things get just a little bit hard. So I relied on hope, on faith, that the doctors would heal the ailments my family members faced. And it worked. But I never told myself that God didn't have a hand in it. Because I know some of my family believe that God did, and I 100% respect that notion.

But onto the point of this blog. All of these things combined have helped shape my religious beliefs, but this trip is starting to change them yet again. Walking to school, riding the metro, getting stitches and even dining in small cafes I see so much pain and self-destruction in the world. And I can't even talk about the world in a greater sense because I was only in a few districts of one major city.

Every corner I turned I either saw a woman huddled over a cane with a dirt covered hand out, one small mangled foot revealed from under her skirt; a man sleeping against a wall with a puppy in his lap, sleeping just the same; or even children walking around trying to sell pieces of paper with prayers written on them for spare change. For me, if God created everyone just the way they were meant to be, and everyone is perfect in their own sense, how do you explain those people? There is no way that every single one of them had a perfect life before and they, themselves messed it up. Children who are born into poverty hardly stand a chance at getting away from it. And people who lose their jobs but have ailments that require medical attention literally wither away in the streets.

"Le chien innocent", La Rue l'Arbalete, 2010

Most of the time people just pass them by and pay no mind. But I see every single one of them. I see every single diseased foot, coughing chest, torn pair of pants, and sun burned back. And you honestly can't blame them for turning to bottles of wine, there's no other way to stay warm. Today I was on the Metro going to a Museum in the 16th district and a man stepped onto the train and asked everyone for a few cents so he could call a shelter across town to try to reserve a room. He had lost his job and was unable to find another. He also mentioned that this summer there will be a lot of homeless shelters being closed from over-crowding and not enough funding. For me, if there is a God, what good is it to put people back out on the street where skin diseases and fleas run rapid through the gutters?

I hope I'm not sounding bitter, because I'm not. I understand that God cannot help everyone in the world, and you have to help yourself. But there's a point when self-help isn't enough. There comes a point in everyone's life where you need someone to offer their hand, or their home for the night. If we all just rely on ourselves and turn to God for help from time to time, nothing will get accomplished. You can't boil water without heat and you certainly can't expect miracles to happen without a little help.

"Personne n'aide jamais", La Rue l'Arbalete, 2010

This summer I found out that I can't be satisfied with changing one heart at a time. Because I tried to help people one day at a time and I would turn the corner and find another tragedy at my feet. And that's fine if you want to tell me that "you can't help everybody", but alas my friend, I can and will help the world, with or without the help of a Higher Power.

The end has come.

I won't necessarily call it the end because I know it's not really the end. Something inside is telling me I will be back, with certain people, or I'll at least be able to see them. I know I'm not finished learning from Rosine's plethora of knowledge and wisdom. And I know in my heart that the Three Musketeers will be reunited in Philadelphia, or in Miami. Part of me wishes it was easier to see everyone again, but nothing in life is ever truly easy.

It's raining in Paris today. Storming actually. The first relief from the summer heat in almost three weeks. Sure it rained a little one week, but nothing like this. It always seems like when I am sad to leave a place, the sky cries with me. And it's never just a few tears and then sunshine bliss part two. It's a day long event of torturous feelings, consuming the lives of everyone. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic, but what's Paris without a little drama?

I don't know if I can bring myself to truly believe I am leaving. Maybe it's because the end approached so quickly, none of the group could really grasp that it was in fact coming. We spent the last few days together talking about how our trip ended up circling back to where it all began.

"Tours", The Loire Valley, 2010

"It's so funny because this all started with just a couple of bottles of wine among 12 strangers in front of the Louvre and now we're ending with just a couple of bottles of wine among 12 friends in front of the Eiffel Tower along the Seine." --M.E.P.

I don't weep for leaving people behind. I weep for temporarily leaving people behind I have yet to even begin to understand. It only took a few weeks for me to fall in love with a few of them, but it will be months before we see each other again. And I can only hope that we do in fact see each other again.

Sure, I made a lot of mistakes while I was in Paris. Missed the last metro a few times, so I had to stay out all night. I slept through a couple of classes and even missed one small excursion so I could nap. But I know that I came here to figure out why I make the messes I do. I came here to understand myself just a little bit better, and to start to grasp the world around me just a little bit more as well. Not only have I learned a lot about how my mind works and why sometimes I make the mistakes I do, but I learned a lot about how the world itself functions. I could finally see how an entire city interacts, on foot, and I saw firsthand how strangers can become friends without doing so in the boundaries of a classroom.

I fell in love with a few new friends, an entire city, and a lifestyle I hope to always follow. When I arrived in Paris my heart was much smaller-- not Grinch sized, but smaller. And now as I start to leave Paris I know my heart has grown a tremendous amount. I'm not afraid to walk up to people and vice versa; I'm not afraid to be approached for directions, in fact I now welcome it. And after seeing how people suffer here, I have much for respect for the lives they lead and for the help they deserve to receive.

"La Fontaine a Saint Sulpice", Marche Bibliophile, 2010

Top 12 Events in Paris: (in no particular order)
1. Marching along the Seine at sunrise to lay down at Notre Dame.
2. Fireworks show at Saint Cloud
3. Lunches at Luxembourg Garden
4. Centre Pompidou
5. Sitting like school children in every Art Museum for Art History Class.
6. Street performances every night at Saint Michael's Fountain
7. Madame Mellado's grammar class
8. Playing/Talking in the forest at Chenonceau
9. Dancing late into the night
10. Going to Musee de l'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris with Rosine.
11. Shopping with Corinne on Rue Mouffetard
12. Sacre Coeur & Montmartre afternoon excursion

"Chere Rosine et Moi", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

To the beautiful city of Paris, you now possess a large part of my heart and even larger part of my soul. Take good care of it for me until I return.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Last Full Day in Paris...

And I have two final exams. I guess it could be worse, though. We have our goodbye dinner this evening and tomorrow morning we head to Versailles to hang out together, but the next two days are supposed to be some of the hottest days in Paris so we'll see how that goes.

I'm very sad to leave Madame Mellado behind. She is a wonderful person, so full of spirit and everything wonderful. I managed to steal a few lessons from her though so I know my classroom will have a little Parisian flavor.

"Ou que tu pense a toi.", Salle de Fleurus, 2010

I'm even going to miss Art History. As hard as it is for me to follow the historical facts behind the works of art, I love looking at each painting and wondering at what point in life the artist was at when he painted it. It kind of fascinates me.

"You naughty, naughty girl", Le Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2010

So while I'd much rather be playing outside or exploring a few more districts, I guess I could be content with spending time with the group and talking to my amazing professors one last time.

"Les Fausses Lunettes", Les soldes dans Rue Mouffetarde, 2010

Live it up, right?