Monday, December 9, 2013

Bleeding Hearts of the World Unite

Last week I posted the following status update on my Facebook page: 

I feel like a Grinch. Songs like "Let It Snow" and "Frosty" and "Winter Wonderland" are pissing me off. I don't want fluff – I want meaning. 

The responses were varied and fervent.  Some agreed, some disagreed, and some were concerned for my mental health.

I gave it another week, alternating between four radio stations (two Christian, two secular) that were playing Christmas/holiday music.  I cannot hide my disappointment.

Let me rewind just a bit.  I despise Halloween – I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  On November 1, I happily turned my focus to Thanksgiving – my favorite holiday.  I wanted November to be about family, gratitude, and the beauty of autumn.  Instead, I saw decorations and trees and lights and signs and sales touting the Christmas season.  “NO, it’s too early!” I protested, to no one in particular.

The radio started playing holiday music.  I changed the station.  My boys started teasing me, singing Christmas songs at the top of their lungs, and asking why I hate Christmas.  “I don’t hate Christmas,” I told them.  “I’m just trying to enjoy Thanksgiving!”

On Thanksgiving night, I finally switched gears.  We built our gingerbread house, which has become a yearly tradition to signal the start of Christmas festivities.  And on the drive home from my in-laws’ house, I finally switched the radio to Christmas music, much to the boys’ delight.

Silver Bells, Deck the Halls, Frosty the Snowman, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Winter Wonderland, White Christmas, Let It Snow, Rudolph…

Something didn’t feel right.  The music that was supposed to lift my spirits and put me in a festive mood did the opposite.  What a downer!  I kept flipping stations, searching for something, anything, to get me out of my funk.

And then I realized what I was looking for – what I needed – to fit the pieces together:  Music that reflected the real meaning of Christmas.

That’s not to say the Christmas season cannot include bells, sleighs, trees and snowmen.  But that is not what Christmas is all about – at least not to me.

I am a sinner.  And the worst kind, because I know it yet continue to sin.  God, in His grace and mercy, is not sending me to the hell I deserve.  Instead, He sent His only Son – born as a baby – to live on earth and be an example to all of us.  Jesus was a shining light in a dark world, and through His suffering and death on the cross, saves all who believe.  It’s free, it’s guaranteed, and it’s ours for the taking.

It’s powerful.  It’s meaningful.  And I’m hungry for it.

I’m fighting with everything I have to keep Jesus our focus this month.  I’m fighting the boys’ natural desire for presents and more presents.  I’m fighting for peace in our flurry of activities.  I’m fighting for clarity in charity.  I’m fighting for a moment to reflect on that babe in the manger.

And I’m looking to music – the nurturer of my soul – to help me.  Instead of being filled with lyrical force and melodic power, I’m getting snowflakes and bells.  Yes, there’s a place for sleighs and snowmen and cookies this Christmas.  Of course they add to the spirit of the holiday.  But I want more than just fluff and stuff.  I want meaning, value, depth, significance.

Christ wasn’t born so I could eat gingerbread cookies or build a snowman.  Those are fun activities and I’m not trying to boycott fun.  But if all our time is spent on Christmas shopping, baking sweets, putting up lights, playing in the snow, ringing bells, going to parties, and configuring elves, when do we think about Jesus?

This might help.  Here are two stanzas of “Let It Snow,” which I’ve heard about 17 times in the last 24 hours: 

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no where to go
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!!

Oh, it doesn't show signs of stopping
And I've bought some corn for popping
The lights are turned way down low
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! 

And now, two stanzas of my favorite Christmas carol, “Mary, Did You Know?” 

Mary did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God. 

It’s no contest.  There’s room for a little bit of everything in Christmas – it’s a magical time for many reasons.  But the most important, the most momentous, the most crucial and necessary, is Jesus Christ.  I don’t want Him to get buried under the snow, hidden behind the presents, obscured by traditions and masked by good intentions.

I’m craving HIM this season – not just on the radio, but all around me and in me.

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

40 Words for 40 Years

1)            Empowered – There were times in my 20s when I felt uncertain, and going into my 30s I felt extremely confident.  Now, in my 40s, I feel nothing but empowered.  I know that my dreams are not too far-fetched, not unreachable, not too fanciful, and completely attainable.

2)            Excited – I get butterflies in my tummy thinking about how God will use me in the coming decade.  He has plans for me, and while they may not be the exact plans I have for myself, I’m excited for what’s in the making.

3)            Energized – Knowing everything I have yet to do and knowing that I can do it all energizes me (and terrifies me a little, too).

4)            Strong – I feel physically strong.  I’m proactive with my body and although my metabolism may have slowed down, I still feel pretty healthy.

5)            Intentional – My life is probably about half done by now.  I don’t mean that in a negative way, only that time is moving along and I want to be intentional in my choices to be certain I keep doing the things I need and want to be doing.

6)            Resilient – I’ve bounced back from very painful events in my life:  my mother’s illness and death, my father’s massive heart attack, moving across the country, my father’s deteriorating health and watching him take his last breath.  Pain, suffering, heartache, and yet I pull through thanks to an unshakable faith in an unshakable Christ.

7)            Thoughtful – It takes so little effort to put a smile on someone’s face.  A kind word, a helpful gesture, a sincere compliment – just thinking outside of myself and reaching out in small (and big) ways to brighten someone else’s day.

8)            Enthusiastic – I don’t want to drag through life as if it owes me something.  I want to live life fully, thankful for my blessings.

9)            Experienced – Experiences make us who we are and inform our identity.  I may not love everything I’ve experienced in my life, but those experiences have profoundly affected me and made it possible for me to relate to others in a human way.

10)        Anticipation – I love routine.  I feel better – list in hand – knowing what to expect from each day.  And while I don’t usually love surprises, healthy anticipation leaves room for something new each day.

11)        Connected – I have a different and unique connection with each person I know and interact with, and that variety of relationships enriches my life and keeps me inspired.

12)        Editrice – I’ve figured it out.  Editing electrifies me (I know I’m a big nerd – a word nerd!).  This is what I enjoy doing, and I think I’m skilled at it.

13)        Seeking – There are so many areas in my life that need improvement.  I’m seeking ways to be better, increase my knowledge, grow as a person, and develop my character.

14)        Appreciative – My blessings are too many to count.  I’m thankful every single day for God’s mercies.

15)        Children – Silas and James:  They make me smile, they make me cry, they make me want to pull my hair out, they make my heart swell.  They are God’s miracles – two pieces of heaven entrusted and on loan to me.

16)        Student – I don’t think you ever reach a point in life when you’re done, when you know enough.  I’m constantly learning.  I want to surround myself with people who have more knowledge than I do so I can soak in their expertise and wisdom.

17)        Emotional – I think I’m getting more emotional with age.  I used to never cry; now I can’t hold it in.  I don’t love it, but I can’t always control it, either.

18)        Francophile – Oh Paris, what have you done to me?

19)        Pleasure – I take pleasure in big things (faith, marriage, children) and small things (macarons, new pens, blank paper).  I pray that my Father takes pleasure in me.

20)        Outlook – I’ve been around positive people and I’ve been around negative people.  You can be a realist but temper it in a positive way without unleashing crap to the people around you.  Even in the hardest circumstances, you can choose to let hope propel you.

21)        Passion – I have many passions in life; it’s hard to contain sometimes.  Live life with passion and be an inspiration to whoever may be watching.

22)        Fearless – I have fears.  Creepy crawly things, banality, and failure.  Time to push through some of these fears (not the creepy crawly ones) and come out triumphantly on the other side.  God is love, and love drives out fear.

23)        Filter – I need one.  In my mind and on my mouth.

24)        Marriage – After my relationship with Jesus, my relationship with my husband is the most exceptional, most unique, and most important thing in my life.

25)        Scleroderma – I hate this word, this disease that took my mother’s life.  She was 49.  I’m only nine years from 49, and sometimes I think, what if…?  But I cannot let my doubts and fears trump my faith, and so I focus on my favorite verse, Philippians 1:21.  That’s all that matters.

26)        Jesus – My everything.

27)        Honesty – I have to be honest with myself.  I can say Jesus is my everything (in fact, I just did), but am I living it?  Time to face some harsh truths.

28)        Laughter – The best sound ever.  My kids’ laughter, my friends’ laughter, my husband’s, the lady at Starbucks – it doesn’t matter.  Laughter is contagious, and the wrinkles are worth it.

29)        Respect – It has to be earned, and it has to be shown.

30)        Friendship – Can you ever have enough friends?  I love meeting new people.  I love getting to know people in a deeper way.  I’m so grateful for my friends – old and new, near and far – because they each enhance my life in a different way.

31)        Awareness – I hate watching the news because it is so depressing.  But I can’t ignore what’s happening in the world and in my community.  If anything, awareness should increase my compassion (severely lacking in that one!) and compel me into action.

32)        Priorities – I can make a list, but it means nothing on paper if I’m not living it.  Talk is cheap.

33)        Dignity – This is a really important word for me and it should be for you.  We are valuable, and our dignity should be valued.  Expect nothing less.

34)        Flawed – Yeah, I’m not perfect.  GASP!  It’s true.  I have lots of flaws, probably too many to count.  But it’s through those cracks that Jesus seeps in.

35)        Model – I may not be 5’9 with a 25 inch waist, but you don’t have to be a model to be a role model.  Act in a way that is worthy of your calling.  People are watching.

36)        Motherhood – A thankless job, but a noble calling.  Just when I think I have it figured out…

37)        Music – I grew up listening to my Dad sing.  He could have been a professional had his own father not discouraged him.  Music stirs my soul, helps me feel alive, encourages me, lifts my spirit, energizes me, comforts me, fills me, inspires me.  Music colors my world.

38)        Struggles – I’ve had many struggles in my life.  Sometimes I remind God that I’ve had my fair share and to move it along to the next person.  But I know that there are no guarantees that more struggles – even harder struggles – are not coming.  I don’t dwell on it.  I will face them if and when they come, because I won’t have a choice.

39)        Chocolate – Thank you, Jesus, for the cocoa bean.

40)        Shoes – I will always, ALWAYS love a striking stiletto.  Size 8.  Thank you very much.

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Paris: The Fashion

The last of a four-part series on my experiences and observations in the City of Light.

Paris:  The Fashion

By sheer coincidence (really!) we happened to be in France during Paris Fashion Week.  Of course my fashion receptors are always up, but it was especially exciting to be on the lookout for Parisian style.  There were 15-20 shows happening each day for a week and a half, but I spared Jayson the trauma of getting dragged all over the city to see the latest shoe or catch a glimpse of a well known designer.  My favorite shows (Chanel, Valentino and McQueen) were all taking place the day after we were leaving anyway.

In Paris – the epicenter of all things chic – every week is fashion week.  On the Metro from the airport to the hotel, I couldn’t help but immediately notice the men – dressed for work in slim navy suits and equally nice shoes, some with scarves around their neck – looking so incredibly sophisticated.  A few hours later, after settling into our hotel room, we walked to the corner bistro for lunch.  I couldn’t help glancing down at the shoes of the women seated around me (I always check out women from the feet up).  I was surprised to find basic, low-heeled shoes that were scuffed.  Scuffed!  Decidedly non-Parisian, I thought.  I later realized how much abuse shoes get because of all the walking Parisians do, and on cobblestone streets no less!  I decided to forgive the scuff marks.

The fashion in general was effortlessly chic – simple, stylish, elegant and well put together.  Everyone (male and female) wore skinny jeans.  Moto jackets were everywhere, as were ankle boots.  Also popular, much to my chagrin, were sheer blouses.  Jayson saw more bras than ever necessary.  He couldn’t turn to the right or left without noticing it, and I couldn’t blame him.  And although it was apparently warm enough for transparent tops, almost everyone wore a scarf.  Go figure.

Another trend was denim shorts over tights.  This was popular on natives and tourists alike, mostly on women in their teens and twenties.  Finally, I spotted this Kate Moss tee (seen below on Rihanna) over and over again – on both men and women.  Kate followed us all over Paris.
Along with denim shorts, tights, and Kate, there were many people wearing Converse sneakers.  In fact, US brands were displayed on so many people it almost felt like we were in the Big Apple instead of the City of Light.  Jayson marveled that so many guys were styling NBA caps – last we checked, Paris does not have a basketball team.  But Nike, Adidas and New Balance were ubiquitous regardless.

While walking on the Rue Saint-Honore, known for its many museums and upscale boutiques, I noticed red soles.  First one pair, and then another.  After walking a bit further, (fine, I followed them like a stalker), I looked up to see the famed Christian Louboutin boutique.  I drooled at the window for a while before we went across the street for lunch.
Another meaningful visit was to the original Chanel Boutique at 31 Rue Cambon.  Above this shop is the apartment where Coco Chanel lived in the 1920s and 30s.  While the apartment is not open to the general public, I did peruse the boutique, where I’m happy to report every employee was exceedingly polite.
Something I wasn’t expecting was the overwhelming emotion I felt passing by the Guerlain shop on the Champs-Elysees.  Founded in 1828, Guerlain is one of the oldest perfume houses in the world.  The reason it means so much to me is because Shalimar by Guerlain was my mother’s signature scent.  Walking by the shop and seeing the scallop-shaped bottle in the blue velvet box took me back to my childhood, watching my mother in her bedroom as she got ready for a night out – dabbing just a drop of the very expensive perfume behind her ears.  Such sweet smelling memories!
During another walk, this time in the Latin Quarter, Jayson and I came upon a photo shoot in progress.  A photographer was crouched down taking pictures of a lovely model leaning against a post.  I couldn’t help but watch for a bit and take my own photos.  I know from my position as Fashion & Beauty Editor of our city magazine how much work goes into planning these things, so it was nice to be a spectator and enjoy the glam aspect of it all.
Not once did I see anyone in public wearing pajamas, sweatpants, or oversized clothing.  From the catwalks to the streets, Parisians always look chic.
OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Paris: The City

Part three of a four-part series on my experiences and observations in the City of Light.

Paris:  The City

Paris, like most big cities, is beautiful yet dirty.  Being a city girl myself, that’s never bothered me.  My other favorite city, New York, is also beautiful and dirty.  I always look past the ugly to appreciate the beauty within – the spirit of the city.
I had to make a difficult admission before leaving for our trip:  I would be the dreaded “T” word (tourist).  In past travels we have flown through Paris, but we had never before spent time in the city.  As first-timers, I accepted the fact that we would be tourists and that is that.  We would just have to visit the big sights with the throngs of other tourists – cameras and iPhones in hand.

Riding the train into the city from the airport, one thing we noticed was a lot of graffiti on the buildings – “Just like any other city,” I told Jayson.  See, I can be realistic about my perfect Paris.  In fact, it was an interesting juxtaposition of these incredibly old, beautiful, historic buildings with their inspiring architecture, and the modern, edgy graffiti adding another layer of art via vandalism.

When we walked out of the metro station into the sunlight and took in our first official views of Paris, we were almost immediately approached by a homeless man.  Our luggage and ridiculously googly smiles as we snapped pictures within seconds of stepping on the sidewalk must have screamed “we are tourists!”

Mr. Homeless Man held a simple “gold” wedding band and asked us if we had dropped it.  We said no and were immediately looking around to find the poor guy who may have lost his wedding ring, both hands still on our luggage (we may be tourists, but we’re not fools).  So the man says to me, in broken English, “It’s too small for my fingers; why don’t you keep it?”  We go back and forth and I finally accept it, thinking I’ll just give it to our jeweler to melt down when we get back home.  We barely take two steps when Mr. Homeless Man returns to ask for a Euro for something to eat.  Hmmm, sorry, we haven’t exchanged any money yet and have nothing to give.  More back and forth and he finally asks for the ring back!  We think nothing of it and happily move along to find our hotel.

A couple of days later, we’re walking along the Seine by the Eiffel Tower, enjoying an outdoor photographic installation.  A smiling man in his late 20s or early 30s stops us to ask – wait for it – if we dropped a gold wedding band.  Immediately I think “SCAM.”  I mouth it to Jayson.  Mr. Smiley tells us the ring is too small for his fingers but would fit on my slim fingers.  Sure thing there, buddy.  At this point Jayson wants the ring, so he takes it and, sure enough, the guy starts to walks away but comes right back, asking for money.  Jayson gives him a Euro and happily puts his new memento in his pocket.

Later in the week we’re walking in the 5th and notice a gypsy woman eyeing tourists.  My SCAM radar pops up and we start to follow her.  Predictably, she pulls a wedding band out of thin air and starts walking toward us.  I turn around and yell “SCAM!  LIAR!” right in her face before Jayson yanks me away.  I don’t even care about being that loud American, because I’ve had enough, but as we walk away I pray that she doesn’t put a hex on us.

Paris being Paris, there were tourists everywhere we went.  It wasn’t so bad at the outdoor attractions (Eiffel, Jardin du Luxembourg), but the indoor ones got crowded fast.  The Louvre was insanely busy, especially around the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.  People were NOT nice, pushing and shoving to get their pictures.  Everyone says Parisians are rude, but I found them to be helpful and patient.  It was the tourists who were rude.  When we were at the top of the Eiffel (in a very confined space, mind you), a group of tourists suddenly came upon us and literally jostled us out of their way.  I was incredulous at their brashness but they truly didn’t seem to care.  RUDE.

Despite the pushy tourists, scams and graffiti, the city of Paris is truly lovely.  There is so much history in those beautiful buildings and cobblestone streets!  I especially loved the intricate balconies and detailed doors and windows.  Yes, everyone smokes and there are cigarette butts everywhere, but there is beauty at every turn – whether in the monuments, gardens, or the Seine River.  There is art and culture, a relaxed pace, a rich past – a joie de vivre, even.  And, inevitably for such a romantic city, many, many wedding rings.

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Paris: The Food

Part two of a four-part series on my experiences and observations in the City of Light.

Paris:  The Food

Most of you know that I eat to live, not live to eat, so this may be a disappointingly lackluster post.  Jayson and I are not foodies and eating fancy meals at chi-chi restaurants was not a priority on our trip.  There were some edible treats, however, that I did get excited about.

Our first stop on our first day in Paris was at Laduree, the famed bakery on the Champs-Elysee.  With five locations in Paris, 19 locations in the rest of Europe, and 18 additional locations throughout the world (with New York City being the only US location), it is best known for the double-decker macaron, selling 15,000 daily.  We went in and I stopped to take it all in – the beautiful tea room, the incredibly pretty displays, and, of course, the array of visually stunning pastries at the counter.  I knew I wanted a macaron but choosing which flavor was difficult.  There were at least 25 to choose from, so I went with the Violette and Jayson chose the Caramel a la fleur de sel (soft caramel with sea salt).  What I love about macarons is their texture and punch of flavor in every bite.  The Violette was delicious, sweet and rich in flavor.  After a bite, Jay and I traded.  He liked mine better, so we finished each other’s.  The caramel was yummy – not as sweet, with a hint of salt.  I’ve had lots of macarons, and Laduree’s are definitely the best I’ve tasted.

I loved that breakfast was served at our hotel until 11:00am.  It was nice to sleep in and not worry about missing it!  We went downstairs each morning and picked out fruit, yogurt and cereal.  On our table would be a basket of bread – baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolat – with a plate of spreadable cheese and Nutella accompanying it.  They would also serve tea, juice, and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate).  I was in heaven!

I noticed many people eating baguettes on the metro.  Most popular was jambon et fromage (ham and cheese).  Ham is a staple on French menus, as evidenced in the French specialty croque-monsieur, which is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with béchamel sauce.  Jayson ordered it when we visited Les Deux Magots in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area of Paris.  This café is where the literary and intellectual elite of the city used to gather (think Sartre, de Beauvoir, Hemingway, and Picasso).  Let’s just say Jayson wasn’t impressed.  He was unenthusiastic overall with French food, so we ended up eating at many Italian restaurants, which were everywhere.  In fact, Jayson had the best lasagna he claims he’s ever had in his life while we were in Paris.  As for me, I had lots and lots of salade chevre chaud (salad with warm goat cheese) with baguettes, so I was perfectly content.

When Jayson and I were in Amsterdam years ago, we marveled at how the waitstaff at any restaurant would leave us alone for hours on end to enjoy our meal.  The same was true in Paris.  They would serve our drinks, take our order and bring our food, and then we were on our own – for HOURS if we wanted – until we caught their eye to ask for our check.  Europeans value the social aspect of the meal:  conversations, catching up, time spent with loved ones.  There is no rush to get us paid and out the door and turn tables to increase business.  We didn't feel pressured to eat as fast as we could and get the heck out.  We were conscious of this and had to force ourselves to slow down and really enjoy our time together.  It was lovely.

Another observation about the endless outdoor cafes:  the chairs are lined up side by side facing outward.  Everyone gets to look out at the people passing by while they enjoy their meal.  One more reason why I love the French – they encourage people-watching (my favorite sport).

One morning we walked to an outdoor market.  It was a long, narrow set up of numerous closely-packed stands, all the way down the block.  Scarves, bags, flowers and FOOD of every kind.  The cheese was the most tempting – blocks and wheels of every cheese imaginable.  The locals had their small wheeled baskets and it was nice to experience a slice of life different from ours.  I wished we had a neighborhood market I could walk to twice a week for fresh food and produce.

Another glimpse into local life came when we were walking back to our hotel one afternoon.  We noticed a group of people gathered on the sidewalk and realized that a school was letting out for the day.  Parents were happily waiting for their children with a chocolate croissant in hand as an afternoon snack for the walk home.

But my favorite food moment had to be laying on the grass looking up at the Eiffel Tower while eating a pain au chocolat.  Perfection.

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Paris: The Sights

Paris, oh Paris.  I already loved Paris before I ever went there, and it did not disappoint.  While my realist husband pointed out the good and not-so-good (“There are cigarette butts everywhere!”), I refused to see it with anything other than rose colored glasses.

I belong in Paris.

In the first of a four-part series on my experiences and observations in the City of Light, I will share some of the sights that made our trip an unforgettable adventure.

Paris:  The Sights

After landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport, figuring out which Metro tickets to purchase, and taking the train into the city, we emerged from the underground mazes and tunnels to a clear blue sky and the Arc de Triomphe in front of our very eyes.  Dragging our luggage against the cobblestone streets, we walked toward the Arc and down one of the many off-shooting streets to our hotel.  As we turned onto our street, I immediately noticed the hotel sign while Jayson, who is blessed to not share my tunnel vision, looked just past the sign to the Eiffel Tower at the end of the street.


We stood in awe for a few minutes, staring at that iconic symbol of Paris, right there, in person, welcoming us – Bienvenue a Paris!

Once we settled into our room (which we changed three times, but that’s another story), we ventured out to get a closer look at the Arc de Triomphe.  Walking just a couple of blocks, there it was – so close, and yet so far – on an island surrounded by a circular road with racing cars, buses, and motorcycles with seemingly no break.  Hmmm.  How would we get across the moat of traffic to reach the island of the Arc?

Attempting to cross the roundabout directly would have been suicide, so Jayson suggested we walk in a circle, looking for a way across.  We quickly found an underground tunnel – success!  We decided not to go to the top, and instead walked all around it and under it.  This “Triumphal Arch” honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic War, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces.  Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, and its eternal flame.

One of the many streets shooting off the Arc de Triomphe is the Champs Elysees, one of the world’s most famous streets.  Once known as a high-end shopping destination, it’s lost a lot of its charm to touristy destinations, including H&M, Zara, Adidas and McDonald’s.  However, it still houses Cartier, Hermes, Guerlain, and my favorite, Laduree.

We visited Notre-Dame Cathedral, with its incredible French Gothic architecture, though the gargoyles on the outside of the building really creeped us out.  The line to get in was long but it moved quickly.  We were able to witness a mass in progress as well as communion.  The art was rich and the stained glass incomparable to anything we’ve seen.  It was definitely odd having a gift shop right in the church – exchanging money at the temple, anyone?  But it really was magnificent, inside and out.  As we left, we walked through the gardens along the Seine River and decided to cross one of the many bridges and wander through the streets of the fifth arrondissement.

Much to our amusement, we happened to walk across the Pont de l'Archevêché, one of two “love locks” bridges.  The story goes that a couple writes their names on a padlock and locks it onto one of the bridges.  They then throw the key into the Seine River as a symbol of their undying love.  Yes, we left our names on the bridge.  Come on, it’s Paris!  It was impressive just how many locks were on both sides of the bridge – not something you see every day.

We loved walking through the Latin Quarter, in the fifth and sixth arrondissements.  One day we happened upon a photo shoot right in the street.  We also passed by the Sorbonne University, and from there the Palais du Luxembourg.  We bought ice cream and walked through the gates, seeing children floating sailboats in the fountains and thinking how much fun Silas and James would have here.  We walked around, stopping to look at the many statues.  Finally, we went to the gardens and planted ourselves down, ready for our favorite activity of all time:  people watching.  We observed many groups of students on the lawns, families with young children, professor types, and many young lovers.  They all came equipped with blankets, baguettes of fromage et jambon (ham and cheese), and other treats.  Many were napping.  We could easily tell the European students from the American ones (the French don’t sit criss cross applesauce).  We enjoyed a lazy afternoon until a light sprinkle cleared the lawn.

While Jayson and I aren’t touristy people, we accepted that as first-timers in Paris, we were indeed tourists.  And so we happily made our way to the Louvre, taking the typical photos in front of I. M. Pei’s glass pyramids.  The museum opened in 1793, and the building itself is as much a work of art as the masterpieces it houses.  Our first stop was the Mona Lisa – by far it’s most famous work.  She was encased in glass behind a velvet rope with throngs of visitors physically fighting to get close to her.  I was elbowed by at least two Asian tourists, and I may or may not have elbowed back.  Once that was out of the way, we took our time exploring the rest of the museum.  It was overwhelmingly breathtaking.  Room after room, hall after hall, one work of genius after another.  My absolute favorite was Venus de Milo.  Even armless she was stunning.  After about three hours, Jayson was losing steam.  I would say, “Just one more room!” only to find that the room was actually a wing containing countless more rooms!  During our fourth hour we started getting kooky, as evidenced by some of our photos.

We also visited the Place Vendome, with the Vendome Column, originally erected by Napoleon, in the center of the square.  We sat on the steps in front of the Opera National de Paris, looking out onto the city.  It reminded me a bit of Times Square, but a lot prettier!

We took the Metro to Montmartre, a hill in northern Paris with spectacular views of the city.  It was a really fun area, full of artists.  Dali, Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh used to work or have studios in this area.  We saw the “I Love You:  The Wall” monument in the center of the Abbesses garden. The wall was created by two artists – Frederic Baron and Claire Kito – as a rendezvous location for lovers and a lasting monument to eternal adoration.  It’s over 40 square meters and has 612 tiles of enameled lava.  The phrase “I love you” is written more than a thousand times in over 300 languages, including Armenian!

From there we walked up the countless stairs to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica (Sacred Heart).  It is majestic – white, historic, inviting.  Photographs are not allowed inside the church and they enforced the rule rigorously!  Jayson dared defy it and he got scolded.  There was no service in progress but the gift shop was bustling!  We sat on the steps outside and stared over the hill onto the city.  We caught our breath and then made our way to the steps, which were a lot easier on the way down.

Finally, our sweet Eiffel Tower.  That beautiful, iconic, rusty tower that encapsulates the romance of Paris.  It was walking distance from our hotel and we must have visited it at least ten times during the week – in the morning, in the afternoon while eating a pain au chocolat on the lawn, in the evening to see it lit up up close, again in the evening to watch the lights sparkle on the hour, and again from the day from the Trocadero for a different angle.  Every time it caught our eye – whether walking around, on the Metro, or at another landmark – we stopped and stared.  It never got old.  We also took the tour up to the tippy top of the tower, and it was majestic.  I’m not gonna lie, it was a little scary going up, but despite the overcast weather that day, the peak was perfectly still – not a breeze to be felt.  We walked in circles taking in Paris from all angles, then went down to the lower floor for another spin.

We passed on visiting Versailles because that would have meant leaving the city, and I didn’t want to part from Paris for even a moment.  Seven days was not enough.  We saw plenty but there was certainly more to see.  Alas, next time.

Next up, Paris:  The Food

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.