Thursday, December 26, 2013

La Joie

Merry Christmas everyone! My gift to you all is a new post! 

Now I know some of you were slightly worried after reading my last blog post on 'le temps'. I certainly 
Fake snow in Perpignan

appreciated all of the calls and emails I received from friends and family checking in on me. Well I'm here to reassure you that everything is GREAT, for just after my last post, fair weather returned Perpignan (literally and figuratively).

Michael getting roasted chestnuts

Nearly every day for the past two weeks has been 60°F and sunny. Sorry Chicago, but the closest we have gotten to snow on the ground in Perpignan is the fake snow surrounding the nativity scene. Still, the warm weather hasn't prevented anyone from getting in the holiday spirit. People may be jacketless, but they are still enjoying vin chaud & marrons chauds (roasted chestnuts). 

Marine & Santa

The Castillet (mini castle) and all the trees surrounding it are beautifully lit up. An ice arena has been set up behind the Castillet for all the kiddos in Perpignan to enjoy. Two weeks ago on Saturday, I brought the young girl I mentor there to skate and see a performance.

Afterwards, we took a nice stroll around the center of town. We passed Christmas markets, kids rides & games; cotton candy stands, Santas on Christmas floats, donkey rides, traditional Catalan dance troupes, and live nativity scenes.

Traditional Catalan Christmas dance
Castillet decorated for Christmas

Live Nativity Scene

Getting festive for the holidays

I was inspired to get in the holiday spirit. This meant:

1) Decorating my room for the occasion.
2) Sending out hand-written notes and greeting cards.
3) Going to the Cemoi chocolate factory (where my friends Marine & Camille work) and spending nearly ten percent of my montly stipend on chocolate for friends and colleagues.
4) CRAFTING! (my gifts to my colleagues were handmade cardboad ornaments with inspirational quotes about teaching & a little poem).

 My purchases from Cemoi Chocolate Factory

Holiday apératif with AFEV
In the time that I wasn't working, running errands, or home crafting, I was hanging with friends or attending holiday gatherings! AFEV, a non-profit that I volunteer with, organized a soirée, which included a white elephant gift exchange. The organization's mission is to combat educational inequality in low-income French neighborhoods, by pairing university student mentors with at-risk youth. What I love about the AFEV soirées is that it provides me with an opportunity to meet other young people who share similar values. We get to discuss issues that are important to us over wine and hors d'oeuvres. I've also made some good friends through my involvement with the organisation.

My friend Bahet and I unknowingly chose each other's white
 elephant gifts. I received tea and she received tea cookies.
Great minds think alike?

 I also attended a holiday potluck hosted by Espace Créa-Harmonie (the yoga studio I attend in Perpignan). Despite having had the stomach flu and not being able to stuff my face as much as I would have liked with all the gourmet food, I had a truly beautiful evening. I'm having trouble finding the right word to describe the wonderful feeling I was experiencing in that moment...but I think it was...JOY. And I can't really pinpoint why I felt that way. Was it the scent of creme brulée and chocolate lava cake wafting in the air? Was it the gorgeous alter? The live music? Certainly, it was a combination of everything. But without a doubt, the biggest factor was being in the company of so many kind, compassionate, mindful, and joyful (joyeux) individuals. We laughed, we sang, we danced, we ohmed...we lost track of time. It was after 1 am when we started to clean up. I had no desire to leave. When I got home, I felt high on life. I didn't want to get off the joy ride.

Holiday party at Espace Créa-Harmonie

Luckily, I didn't have to. The following day, I went with my friends Marine & Camille to a farm just outside of Perpignan. The official purpose of the journey was to do mounted archery (shooting bow & arrow on horseback), although Marine was the only one who actually tried it in the end. Most of the time we were there, we simply walked through the fields. We skipped, sang disney songs, climbed trees, and simply delighted in the beauty of the countryside.

I felt like a child. The moment was so simple and yet I felt so much joy! I felt grateful to have a healthy body, a beautiful planet, and good friends. It was a good reminder that to be happy, we don't necessarily need everything we think we do.

The Joyride continued. This past weekend, my friend Michael (another Fulbrighter) came to visit me from Montpellier. Saturday night we went out for the best Tapas & Sangria in Perpignan. My friend/colleague Amel joined us for the Tapas and the electro/dubstep "concert" that we went to afterwards. We hated the music, but we still had fun joking and laughing about how "old" we felt, while trying to avoid any student encounters.

On Sunday morning, Michael and I woke up early to head to the mountains for a day of snowshoeing. My friend Paola (who I had met a week prior at the Créa-Harmonie holiday party) organized the entire outing. For 1€, we took a bus that got us to the ski resort in two hours. Having only slept 4 hours the night before, Michael & I crashed during the ride.

Once we arrived, we had a slow start. Coffee & croissants to wake us up. Getting to the trail. Putting on our gear. Stripping off our layers because when the sun came out, it must have been 60 degrees.

But once we finally got moving, we had so much fun! Despite the warmth, there was plenty of snow on the mountain. At one point, we missed a turn on the trail, so we ended up trekking through fresh powder which was an awesome little adventure. And the was too beautiful for words or pictures to do it justice (It didn't stop me from trying to capture it on film though - see pictures below). Before heading back to base, we stopped for a picnic lunch on the mountain. Each person brought some kind of dessert (cookies, chocolate, cake, fruit) to share. It's France, so you are sure to eat well.


The following day, Michael & I spent the morning touring Perpignan. In the afternoon, I brought him to Collioure (the magical beach I talk about in one of my earlier posts). It was as breathtaking as always. Michael was in awe of the beauty and I was delighted at the chance to visit the sea again.


After a super weekend with Michael, he returned to Montpellier and I went to Amel's house to celebrate Christmas Eve. Amel lives in a smaller town just outside of Perpignan. They have a huge garden where they grow their own fruits & vegetables. Their back yard is made up of miles of open fields, and a large body of water, which is the home of some pink flamingos. Anyway, Amel was kind enough to invite me to join her family for Christmas Eve dinner and to spend the night after. To say Amel is a gourmet cook is far from an exaggeration. After appetizers in the living room, we moved on to a 5 course dinner with wine pairings, which was truly unforgetable. 

The Menu:

1/ Seared scallops
2/ Foie gras with onion & fig confit
3/ Kangaroo meat, bacon-wrapped green beans, winter vegetable medley & potatoes au gratin

4/ Rasberry mousse Bûche de Noël, homemade rasberry sorbet & "opera" pastry
5/ Dried fruits, clementines & christmas Cookies

After dinner, Amel's sons (3 & 5 years old) went to their room to rehearse a spectacle they were going to present. While they were rehearsing, Santa passed through (although nobody saw him come - he's a sneaky one that Santa). The rest of the evening consisted of opening presents, playing, and talking. The next morning, we all went for a walk through their enormous "back yard". I loved getting to spend time with the little boys, who are beyond adorable, not to mention intelligent and strong for their age.

As I walked hand in hand with the kids, the feeling of joy overtook me once again. It was Christmas. A holiday that I have never really celebrated nor one that I have ever really understood. Well I think for the first time I really get what it's about. For secular people it's not about Jesus. It's not about the gifts, nor is it really about the food. In my opinion, it's about Joy. Joy. Joy. Joy is not something you have. It's not something you get. It's something you create. You create it by laughing, by singing, by connecting with your inner child. By finding beauty in the simplest things. By taking the time to be fully present. However, the most effective way to create joy is through generosity. When you do something for someone else - whether it be as simple as smiling at them, listening to them, teaching them something, writing a note - you warm their heart, and you also warm your own.

So in case you haven't had enough joy this holiday season, I'm going to give you an opportunity to create some more.

As some of you may know, I am the co-founder of a non-profit organization called Supplies for Dreams

We founded this organization upon the belief that quality education is the foundation for a strong, healthy and prosperous society. In my home city of Chicago, many of the children come from families that struggle to put food on the table, much less provide school supplies or healthy learning environments for their children. Some are homeless, others come from broken families, or have lost friends or family members to gun violence. They face challenges that many of us cannot even imagine – and they deserve better.

Supplies for Dreams is fighting to create equal opportunities for students in Chicago by providing school supplies, mentorship and extracurricular activities. I'd like to ask you to consider making a donation this holiday season - even $5 makes a significant difference, not to mention all the joy you'll experience knowing that you've helped a child in need! Thank you in advance for anything you can afford to contribute! (And I promise, this is the only time I will ever advertise on my blog - thanks for reading!)

Well I'm off to Rome to celebrate the New Year! I'll give you an update when I get back! Happy holidays!

Peace. Love. Joy.


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