Thursday, July 3, 2014

About a month ago, Aidan, my mom, and I were sitting at my parent's kitchen table, drinking coffee, and chatting. Coffee conversations in our house can quickly take a turn for the deep and meaningful. We talked about life and the value of a good "butt-kicking," and I found myself reflecting about how much I value those experiences. I value the chance to learn from getting knocked down a few times, I value being a little fish in a big pond of people who are smarter than I am, and I believe that if you know where to look, each experience is an opportunity for growth. Let me tell you, that was easier to say a month ago than it is today. 

I'll be honest; I'm getting my butt kicked out here. But in spite of a pretty big butt kicking, one that seems so much harder than going to college or being abroad, I've managed some pretty big victories. Here are the highlights of the last 3 weeks... 

Battle #1: Me vs. Jet lag
I landed in Denver at 11:30 pm (3 hours late, 1:30 am Indianapolis time) on June 6 (7th) after an emotional last day of school. Despite being a mess, I was thrilled to see Aidan, and I was so excited that we were heading to the mountains for his cousin's wedding. Within 12 hours of landing in Denver, we were hiking in Estes Park! We spent the weekend marveling at the happy couple, taking in the breathtaking mountains, and enjoying the feeling of peace that comes from being around family.
Battle #2: Aidan and Me vs. the Cardboard
Aidan deserves a ton of credit because he did the majority of the unpacking and furniture arranging. Our kitchen was spotless and organized when I touched down in the Mile High City, and my clothes were unpacked and perfectly folded in the dresser. The rest of the place needed some work, and frankly I was excited for the challenge. So I took on the living room, getting my classroom stuff out of our house, and making our apartment look like home. I dare you to figure out a way to make concrete beams looking cozy and cute, and if you do, send ideas our way :) Here are the before and after pictures:

Battle #3: Me vs. Learning to be a student again while the World Cup is going on
I love learning, I love reading about things I am passionate about, and especially having been on the other end of it for four years, I love the opportunity to be a student again. However, when I had to read 250 pages for my first class, I struggled. Call it World Cup fever, call it being rusty, but I found something else to do every 5 minutes. Finding the balance has been a little tricky, but I'm slowly learning to make it work with a few study breaks built in!

Battle #4: Homesickness vs. Being Thankful

Home is far away. I knew that when we made this move, but some days it definitely hits more than others. In the past few weeks I have struggled with this, but I'm making the choice to find things to be grateful for. Between weddings, visits, and people who live in Denver, I have seen/will see more of my college friends than I have since I graduated. Add in the number of family and friends who are planning on visiting us, and our second bedroom is going to be a revolving door! And then there are those mountains... They surprise me every time I see them and are a constant reminder of how the world is so much bigger than me. Aidan got home from work on Friday, and within 40 minutes we were starting an 8 mile climb. We were home in time to meet a friend for dinner. We are talking about a trip to San Francisco in the fall and already have our skis ready to "shred the gnar." This move can be overwhelming, but I still believe there are great opportunities ahead. We plan to find every one of them! 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dear Indianapolis

To my home, my love, and the most underrated place in the world, it is time for me to say goodbye. I'm not leaving forever, but I feel like I owe you a goodbye and some credit for bringing me to this point. I never understood the whole "Naptown" thing. Maybe you had grown up a lot before I was born. Maybe I was too young to understand what made Indy a sleepy city. Or maybe people from coastal metropolises just do not understand the beauty of it all.

Driving around the last few weeks, I have been taking it in and savoring each moment, the photographs in my mind that I need for the hard days. I drove to visit a friend at her new house, and within 10 minutes, I had driven through downtown, past bustling city streets, dodging pedestrians leaving work, and found myself in quiet farmland, weaving through country roads, watching the cows, and enjoying the corn begin to grow. There is something startlingly beautiful about watching the sun set over your fields. 

Aidan and I ate breakfast at Cafe Patachou a few weeks ago and began talking to a woman and her daughter, visiting from Boston. They made a comment that people here were "simple." Simple. As in stupid? Boring? Or centered? Genuine? I hope they meant that Hoosiers are the kind of people you want around you in good times and bad. The kind of people who drop everything to help you fix a flat tire or offer to carry your groceries to your car. I hope they noticed that Hoosiers are the kind of people who send you e-mails at 2 am, just to wish you well. They are the kind of people who put you on a plane to Colorado, reassure you that you are loved, and tell you that this adventure is going to be the best of your life. I hope that's what they meant.

Indianapolis, it's been real. I grew up during my first 17 years here, and the last 4 have changed my life. As I pack it all up, as I say some very difficult goodbyes, as I get on that plane, I can't help but think that there is so much more learning to be done. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Next Step

Life is funny. Two years to the day after I left for Paris, Aidan and I take our next step together. June 6th is the day that I leave Indianapolis and head straight for Denver, Colorado. Our life together and our journey has consisted of so many steps, highest of highs and lowest of lows, but this step is special. It is our first married adventure, and it is a decision that we made 100% together.  

When we made the decision to take Aidan's new assignment, it took quite a bit of processing, prayer, and convincing to really leap into this next chapter of our lives. Change isn't something I take lightly, and the decision to leave Indianapolis was difficult. Leaving Indy means leaving our families, friends, a job I love, and a community that feels like I could stay here forever (I say that sitting among boxes, bubble wrap, and a complete mess!). Leaving Indianapolis means a million unknowns, and a lot to worry about. Where will we live? Who will we meet? Where will I work? What if we don't fit in? What if we hate it? What if.... What if... What if...

I'm a superficial pessimist. When I'm afraid, I consider everything that could possibly go wrong, and I process my way through all of the possibilities. I guess you could say I hate being surprised by bad news. Deep down, however, I truly believe with all my heart that life always works out. I believe that the pieces fall into place, and somehow, miraculously in the last week, they have. I have accepted admission into graduate school and a new 4th grade teaching position, and my amazing husband has signed a lease for our new apartment after weeks of worry, travel across the country, and a huge deadline looming. The pieces found their way together, and as I sit in our condo for our last night here, with a million new things running through my head, I cannot help but smile. We are going to do this, and it is all going to be okay. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm still afraid. I am asking questions daily and wondering what our next step will really look like. The moving trucks arrive tomorrow, and it is going to be bittersweet to close the door to our first home. As we've started packing, Aidan found notes exchanged between the two of us during the years we spent apart. One of them was written the day Aidan left for Paris. "I wonder what our 16 year old selves would say.." it starts. You know, I think they would be pleasantly surprised that it really did all work out. The pieces fell into place, and our journey is well on its way. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Saying Goodbye

What do you say about a "once in a lifetime opportunity" that I now got to do twice? And how do you say goodbye? It's bittersweet sitting here, letting the sun come into the windows, drinking my tea, and thinking about how this time tomorrow I will be on a plane heading west, heading HOME. I cannot believe how lucky I have been to spend an extended period of time in Europe... TWICE, and like any good student of life, I've decided to use today to figure out what I have learned this time around and then to say goodbye.

The change in myself is slight, but it is something I had an extended conversation with one of Aidan's friends about. He asked me what my favorite part of being over here had been, and I told him that I really had learned to live in the moment. That sounds so cheesy coming out of your mouth, let me tell you, but it was the most honest answer. When you are in a relationship of any kind when you are away from someone you love, often a lot of your energy goes into counting down the days, minutes, seconds until you see them again. I've been guilty of that a lot. But this summer being with someone I love very much, I can honestly say I've learned to enjoy little, ordinary moments. I can't wait to be home, sitting on the couch with my family watching House Hunters, and I can't wait to see my colleagues at work and talk with my team about our new lessons or enjoy getting to know my new 25 friends. I miss the ordinary moments, and I am so excited to appreciate them. 

I've learned that education is a subjective term: it's all about how you define it. For a teacher I know that is a bold statement, but stay with me. Aidan and I were talking last night about all of our trips over the past year, and we talked about a man we met in the slums of Marrakech, Morocco who had nothing more than a 5th grade level education but was fluent in 5 languages. There are so many people like him. In the US we would call these people uneducated, but are they? I have a lot of thinking to still do on this topic (and luckily a very long plane ride tomorrow!), but I'm starting to think that education is about creating a state of mind. Every day I teach useable skills to my students, but I like to think I do more than that. My ultimate goal is to create a mindset and foster a way of thinking so that students can take in information and in a meaningful way. I think being educated is learning to think critically and to adapt to the world around you. Can you learn those things without formal schooling? Probably! But in most of the developed world, school is exactly where we learn to adapt, solve problems, and ultimately survive. And when you think about it that way, teachers are the most important people you've got in this ever changing world. 

I've learned that food should taste good. In my post "Things America Could Learn from France" that never got published, this was one of my big points. I enjoy every meal here, and maybe it has something to do with enjoying the little things or maybe it's the fact that the French have phenomenal food. Here, people go to the grocery or market every day and buy food for their meals because it will all go bad if they buy it days in advance. And when you eat it, guess what? You feel AWESOME! I've had one meal here where I have gotten up from the table and wanted to roll over into a food coma, and that was the day I met my little Swiss friend who made me eat half a roll of cheese! I work- a lot and multiple jobs- at home, and I know this lifestyle isn't realistic. But I have never been so inspired and encouraged to cook using fresher food, smaller portions, and ENJOY what I'm eating. This is a single step in the right direction for little Miss Qdoba and the girl whose Mom makes things for work pitch-ins :)

I've learned that pieces fall into place. I caught myself several times thinking about moments or things that got me right here to this moment, and there were so many (seemingly insignificant at the time) factors that without them this would never have been possible. I don't know how I feel about fate, but I do believe things work out. Call it faith, call it whatever you want, but we're all going to be okay, people. I know it.

I've learned a few other things that for now I'm going to keep to myself- things about where I'm going or who I want to be. I am completely sincere when I say that there are so many people I cannot wait to hug, there's a car I cannot wait to drive, a bed I can't wait to sleep in, and a job that I have never been more excited to get back to. I think travel gives you the best gift- time away but a chance to see the other side, taking a little piece with you. I'm ready to go home and share my little piece. Life is good today.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I realized that there were a lot of things that happened that I didn't blog about because I ran out of time, I couldn't think of anything thought-provoking to say, or I just forgot, but I wanted to share a few highlights that I haven't yet told you about.

Budapest with the Fitzgerald Kids
Aidan's brother and sister came to visit, and we decided to take a group trip to Budapest. It was my first time in Eastern Europe, and I loved it! The Communist influence is still visible in Hungary, and this definitely peaked all of our curiosity. We had many conversations about what traveling even further east to Romania and Russia might be like... I guess I'll just have to go some day! Highlights from Budapest: it was dirt cheap, incredibly warm (a welcome change from the 60 degree rain in Paris), and a very walk-able city. We enjoyed climbing up the different hills to get great views, and we ate unbelievably delicious meals that lasted 3 hours. Great company, great weather, great weekend.


Menu at one of the restaurants where we ate. This one's for my dad :)

The Elizabeth Bridge


Versailles was everything you would expect it to be- a huge, magnificent palace. We opted for the self-guided tour and enjoyed looking at the elaborate decorations, ancient furniture, and expansive grounds. Highlight: Strolling through the gardens and running into a family from Nashville. The parents had graduated from Vandy, and we chatted for a little while about what an amazing place it is! In the gardens are several large lakes, and you can rent boats to row around. We wanted to do that, but unfortunately it was closed for the day. Next time!

I love the sky in this shot of the palace

Hunter, Sean, and Ellen

Chandelier in Versailles

Famous Hall of Mirrors

Bastille Day in France
When Aidan first suggested that we stay in Paris for Bastille Day, I was a little bummed about missing another opportunity to travel. However, Bastille Day (French Independence Day) was one of my favorite days here! The French know how to party! We woke up early and went to the bakery for breakfast. As we were walking to the bakery, Aidan and I saw a military flyover that was basically a timeline of French aircraft. What I mean is, the flyover started with modern day planes (Aidan was proud to tell me his company made those) that emitted red, white, and blue smoke, and the air parade continued until the last planes were those used to fight in World War I. It was so interesting and enjoyable to stand on the streets watching this. People were stopping in the streets to look up, and there were even viewers shouting "VIVA LA FRANCE!" from their balconies! After the "parade," we took a walk through the market collecting things for our get together later. We sat in Luxembourg Gardens for a while where we saw 5 men jump out of a plane with a parachute that looked like a French flag! Finally that night, we met up with several coworkers and friends at an apartment close to the Eiffel Tower and had a pitch-in before heading to watch the fireworks. It was a great final weekend in Paris, and I am thrilled I was able to participate in it all! 

Happy Bastille Day!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hidden Gems

With the clock winding down and my flight home becoming closer and closer, I realize that I need to start wrapping up this chapter of my life and this blog. It's bittersweet to realize that my year of travel back and forth to Europe is ending, but I am not at all hiding my excitement about the movers coming tomorrow, packing up this apartment, and shipping it all HOME to Indianapolis where Aidan will soon be taking a job! YAY! 

I was strolling around today when I realized that during my time here there were a lot of museums I didn't go to, a few parks I didn't read in, and obviously quite a few crepe stands I left untouched. But I did my thing- I explored, I relaxed, and I just enjoyed Paris in its purest form whether I was nibbling on a fresh, warm baguette, sticking my head in a corner jewelry store, or laying in the grass and reading a book. I did everything I came here to do, and while I did miss a few things, I found a few gems too. In the event that you come to Paris and want to see something besides the Lourve, Eiffel Tower (don't get me wrong, it's my favorite too! :), Notre Dame, and the Champs-Elysses, here are a few of my favorite places that are a little off the beaten path but an absolute joy:

1- Luxembourg Gardens: A short walk from our place, these gardens house France's Senate. With perfectly trimmed grass, beautiful flowers, tennis courts, playgrounds, and chairs around a beautiful fountain, this is the best place to just be. I ran there, I drank wine with friends, I watched cute little kids chase their boats around the fountain, and I soaked up some sun. What more do you need?

2- The Jewish Quarter: The Latin Quarter gets most of the credit for being a fun, lively neighborhood in Paris for young people to stroll around... which is why I love the Jewish Quarter. It is far less crowded, every bit as interesting, and has the most delicious fallafel I've ever eaten! I had the time of my life one day walking in the rain, wandering through the various shops, and nibbling on a few local delicacies!

3- Les Parc des Buttes-Chaumont: This park is in the northeast part of the city which is much more residential than downtown Paris. It was a PAIN to get to this park (which is probably why most tourists don't go), but the journey was well worth it for these amazing views. The park is built on a rocky hill, so it is a perfect place to walk around, see some great views of the city, eat a sandwich in the grass, and spend some time soaking it all in. This was the view from my picnic:

4- Any place with a television and a sports channel: While in Paris, I think everyone should soak up a little piece of the local culture... FOOTBALL! Even if you are not a fan of the game of soccer, there is nothing like watching a game with crazed fans who hoot, holler, scream, and throw things. They get excited for any game no matter how big or small, and sometimes watching them is more fun than watching the games. I was lucky enough to be here for the Euro Cup Finals and watch the final game at the Eiffel Tower!

5- Who knows: Regardless of where you are staying or for how long, in Paris you should explore the neighborhood where you are. Get lost for a few hours (as long as you have Metro passes!), find some local stores, and just enjoy. I have found some pretty amazing stores during my wanderings- I would love to recommend them, but I'm not sure I know where they are- and I have enjoyed seeing new things everywhere I go. This sign that I saw today reminded me of my sister :)

6- Lesser known museums: Sure you have the Lourve, the Musee D'Orsay, and the Pompidou, but if you have extra time and are "art-ed out," I do have a two museums that I loved! The first one is the Shoah Memorial. I talked about this one yesterday- it's the Holocaust Museum- but it truly is amazing. Everything is in English, and it is totally free! Plus it's in the Jewish Quarter! The second museum is the Musee de L'Armee or the Military Museum. You may want to brush up on your Napoleon history and some French Revolution, but this one is great! I'm bummed we didn't find it before because my dad would have loved it!

I've found all these great things, so how do I saw goodbye? C'est la vie!
Note: This is not the last entry. I still have things to share!!

Monday, July 16, 2012


I've started this post multiple times, and for whatever reason, I can't get make the words into anything poetic. The topic of perspective isn't anything revolutionary, but it is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about during my visits to various places around France. Though the topic of World War II has always interested me, being in France and finding constant scars of the war has forced me to really consider various perspectives and the lessons that history teaches us.

I have been able to see the scars of the wars in expected and unexpected places. Paris has a military museum which has an impressive timeline of French history including details about France's involvement in the American Revolutionary War and World War II. Not surprisingly the exhibits were from the French perspective highlighting their efforts and strengths. It got me thinking... how many things do we learn solely from one perspective? And more than that, if I grew up learning the American perspective of World War II, and I've now learned the French's story, then what would the Germans have to say? Would they defend their seemingly horrific past, or would they admit fault? I've never been to Berlin, but some day I want to go and learn more. I think I would be surprised by what I saw. Lesson 1: One story is never enough. 

Wandering one day, I stumbled across the Shoah Memorial... the Parisian Holocaust Museum. It is a free museum that highlights German occupation and deportation of the Jews. While I was struck by the pictures and firsthand accounts of the concentration camps, I was equally struck by a unique perspective written on a plaque at the beginning of the exhibit. I had no idea that during German occupation of France, the French assisted the Germans in finding and deporting Jews in hiding. At the entrance of the museum, there was a note from the French government saying something to the effect of, "It took years for the French to admit their involvement in the Holocaust, but it is important to admit our role and educate you in order to ensure that these mistakes are never repeated." I know hindsight is 20/20, but the ability of the French to admit their hand in such a horrible tragedy takes humility and courage. Lesson 2: Learn from the past.

At the same museum, I found myself incredibly emotional. There were two walls of names. The first one was a wall that named every French Jew who was put to death in a camp. Visitors to the museum could light candles and place them in front of various names, and I found myself stopped in front of one wall looking at the numerous people who had the last name of Lehman. Maybe they were my family, maybe not, but regardless, they were daughters, sisters, friends, teachers... who knows! Could have been me. The second wall was a list of names of those brave people who helped the Jews. Whether they stood up to the Nazis, led an underground movement, or housed illegal Jews, this list of names was to honor people who risked their lives. Would that have been me? I think it's so easy to read accounts of the Holocaust and say "How did they not do SOMETHING?" But standing in front of that wall with tears streaming down my face, I wasn't sure. Lesson 3: Stop judging.

Aidan and I took a trip to the D-Day invasion beaches a few weekends ago. Ironically it was a cold rainy day, much like the day of the actual invasion, and we actually enjoyed the rain. It seemed very appropriate- standing at the American Cemetery, staring at the thousands of white crosses as it drizzled rain. And as we strolled through the cemetery and then down to the beaches, the sacrifice that was made that day seemed so much greater than it had ever seemed to me before. When you see the beaches and the cliffs that they climbed and the German guns that were raining bullets, you are immediately taken back and become afraid. Further thought made me realize that the kids who stormed the beaches were my age, and a lot like me, they were doing their job in an attempt to make the world better. I cried with the rain. To make it even more empowering, on our drive out of town, Aidan and I noticed a billboard. It had a picture of soldiers, and it said in English "Thank you to our liberators for setting us free." It's almost 70 years later, and they are still humble enough to do that. Are we? Lesson 4: Say thank you.