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So this morning we woke up with a bit of determination. Hazel had a meeting planned with someone from the international school her uncle asked her to check out. Right now his son is going to a school in Hong Kong, and apparently he does very well in his academic studies. He is currently taking French classes, but he would like to study French in France. So we were off to an area around Marseilles starting out from Aix on a shortbus. Well, it was a very short bus, kinda cute.  Anyways we traveled for a while, and finally came closer to where Hazel had approximate directions for. It was an international school, and she described this to the driver, asking him to let us off there, so after a while of traveling through some really nice, green neighborhoods reminiscent of Illinois, we came to the stop, got off and walked towards the school…  however, it took us a while to figure out that it was the wrong one. heh. So we were late for the meeting, and Hazel was freaking out, so we got directions from someone inside that school that told us where it miiiight be. So we started walking back towards the town, over an interstate, traffic circles, where finally the woman with whom Hazel was supposed to meet called her cell phone. So after describing where we were, the woman laughed and said we were not close. Very polite of her, she offered to come get us or give us directions to try one last time, walking. I thought Hazel was going to suck it up and try to walk (she has a lot of pride and doesn’t like to be an inconvenience) but thank god she obliged. I feel like such a wimp around her sometimes, ha ha. So The woman pulls up to us in a traffic circle (looking back on it now, methinks we should have moved away from a traffic circle to be picked up from. ha.) and is very polite, even to me whom she needn’t try to impress. The dirt road winded around for a while through the french countryside before arriving at the school. The school seemed new, yet full of character – something that I don’t usually see so quickly. The woman gave us a tour of the facilities, and knew many of the students by name – there were certainly not as many as my high school had. However, during the visit I was able to see the appeal of a private school, when compared to a public high school. The visit really made me start to think about how I would raise my children. Schooling affects a certain amount of what the child learns (and aside from actual educational material). I made a few mental notes that day based on what I saw, experienced. I don’t think I would homeschool my children, I believe that they need more structure and complexities, interaction with others (social intelligence of sorts). Basically, I couldn’t give them everything they needed. Public school can be harsh sometimes – some people have very good experiences, some have some really bad character-altering experiences. I’ve seen some people change so drastically because as children they soak in so much – good and bad and all the in between. They are so easily influenced without always having the experience to understand everything they are taking in. I know, it is a risk that every parent has to take, and you can only do so much… and I know that it will better prepare them for the world and the complexities of it.  However this… the idea of a sort of “in-between” school, it has its upsides and downs. For one, it is a great learning experience to have a great ratio of teachers to students to help foster creativity and focus. They have a lot of choices for extra-curricular activities and teachers who won’t have too much stress because they are overloaded with students teaching the same thing to five different classes a day. I have seen kids be able to form tighter-knit groups, too. Although some of the children who attend private schools tend to rebel against their parents (sometimes the situation at home is not the best, therefore they act out in ways meant to attract attention, not always the good kind)… and if my children were to become friends with other children who rebelled, etc… they might get into some not-so-great activities or take on some unfortunate characteristics. The funny thing, or maybe ironic? is that you never know how things will turn out – sometimes you worry for nothing. Sometimes a child might have a very grounded moral, or clear-minded personality to begin with that they can carry with them throughout their whole lives, sometimes. Then again, sometimes people don’t get rounded out as they get older, more mature- they can get worse, further down the road that you can’t follow… that others can’t follow. And that must be one of the worst situations… but you know, that’s stepping waaaaay ahead of everything. Of course any loving parent wants the best for their child, but I believe that you have to be able to know when to take a step back, when to let them make their own decisions, and when to play a part in them … but most of all, to just be as loving and supporting (knowledge, experience, actions, character, morals) as you can and know how to accept… many things. Change. Wow. Watching your children throughout all the stages of their lives. That will be a very wonderful part of my life, when it’s time.  So… Here’s to the future, come what may.

P.S.     I’m totally gonna rock those maternity clothes.

IN COPENHAGEN, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is ending today. It started two Mondays ago on December 7th. Leaders from 156 countries came together to reach a much much more concrete goal for climate change. Developing countries are required to come up with “actions” instead of just talk. It’s about time. A great many people are excited about this… economists, environmental groups, developing countries, developed countries, countries who have already been on the road to sustainability for years, just waiting for everyone else to come aboard as well, and everyday people like you and me. We need to be excited, and we need to have hope. On the left side of my website you will find two new things: First, I have put up pictures from the Christmas Market in Monaco – I felt that they had the right idea. They had a “Save Our World” tent, and beyond the alluring exterior, there were some very creative ideas and innovations dealing with renewable resources. The theme is “Closing the LOOP.” It’s not exactly saying “save the world by redecorating your living room with colorful oil barrel seats,” or that by “putting a bottlecap dresser in every home,” you are making the world a better place… But what it is doing is igniting a spark in the everyday person’s mind to get them started on thinking creatively, thinking renewable, thinking wisely. I walked away with a smile.

Close the Loop

I want to share something with you – something that has become close to my heart. I wrote an essay (a loose essay – semi-professional: just like me) which consists of my feelings compiled onto a page on the left side under “In Discovery of Ourselves,” called : “On HOPE”

I didn’t write this for a class, and it was not a required project. I wrote this for me, and I wrote this for you. I’m not trying to preach, but I am very passionate about this. Right now, awareness is our greatest ally in combating climate change. So please, take it or leave it but I hope sincerely that you read it.

 Set your playlist to the song “Marchin’ On” by OneRepublic while reading. Yeah, I’ll admit it could be more epic – but this is me, and you’re looking through my eyes here ♥ Or not, it’s as you like.

I can only tell you in so many words how beautiful our Earth is, but sometimes you really need to see it to believe it… to be reminded of what is worth saving: A 4 billion year-old legacy. Please take the time to watch this video before or after:  HOME

Thank you.

References for facts and figures are available upon request. =)

 

Just Wow.

 

I first came across this beauty when I was on the train to Monaco, staring out the window as it zipped through the tunnels in the mountains. I knew I was supposed to be going to Monaco, but when I caught sight of this village hovering above those crystal blue waters, I seriously almost shouted something like “Stop the train!” ha. Kind of, I almost got off at the next stop… but I waited until later and I am glad I did. The first part of the day I went with Sasha, Olga, Raquel and Andrea to a village nextdoor called Beaulieu Sur Mer, and it was very nice but I fell in love once I set my eyes on Villefranche Sur Mer. It means “Villefranche on the sea” but I am not entirely sure what villefranche means except that it has something to do with a city/town/village on the sea. 

The rest of the girls went home (poor Raquel was sick – I have a cute picture of her pouring honey on a lemon slice) and I continued on to do some searching for a room with a seaview. =)  And to explore. The way you get around is similar to Monaco – there are no real bee-line ways to get from the top of the mountain down to the beach, you must zigzag throughout the streets! But it’s actually pretty fun, and I went reeeeally close to the top just by hiking. And it was HOT outside that day – but very worth it. The view was breathtaking, literally. The pictures you see looking down on the water are from that spot. I love the one where you can see the other cap of Beaulieu sur mer just a stone’s through away.

So pretty much, Villefranche sur mer is my favorite village in France (that I have seen thus far), and I just felt a connection as soon as I saw it.  It’s peaceful, and clean, and the water is the bluest I have ever seen. I also love the colours of the villas and the way they all climb up on top of each other. I can’t wait to show you the Cinque Terre because that is such a prime example of what I mean, but every place I have seen is just as beautiful in its own way.

Oh, Hello there!!!  😄   Hope you are having a wonderful day, well, so you tell me I just called you! But I wanted to wish you a happy birthday as well on here! I love you so veeeerry much! AND guess what your favorite daughter has got planned for you?? Lyonnaise (arguably the best French cuisine, besides haute, and you would like it more because it’s a lot more French country-side/down to earth type) sausages and moutarde (mustard) from Dijon!

Hope you and mom enjoy celebrating your birthday tonight! Pistachio encrusted trout does sound pretty tasty.

I love and miss you!!

♥ Laura

Dani's Rose - Bright, Beautiful, Warm and daring with some spunk :)

Dani's Rose! Very unique: Bright, Beautiful, Warm, and daring with a lot of spunk!

Here is wishing you an amaaaaaaazing day and how I wish I could be there to celebrate it with you! As a mini-gift until I get to see you, I went to a Japanese Zen Garden and a Rosarie in Monaco and so all the pictures from them are for you (check the side bar!) : )

I miss you sooooooo much!

♥  Love you,

Laura

“…that tonight’s going to be a good, good night.” I don’t know if that song is as popular over there as it is here. So this morning Jonathan was driving us to school (in his BMW lol) and we were trying to beat Benjamin to school – which is a feat, because you have to know how the traffic works, ya gotta feeeeel it, so it’s kinda like a sport- you gotta know when to get into one lane to get a few cars ahead, gotta know which windy road will let out ahead of others, and most importantly which streets are only one way. Lol. And it was pretty funny, us all keeping a lookout and shouting things like “go go go!” or “come on lady, a 3-point turn?” or “You can take him! GO!” with our music blaring, until we reached the highway just as the song “Live Your Life” came on. And I couldn’t help but really smile as I held my breath and I thought about this summer when we were going to TJ’s beach house at LBI and he waited just until we reached the causeway before echoing that same song along the entire way over. The feeling was pretty intense… it was getting dark and I felt really giddy as we drove over the bridge, us together. I smiled, also thinking that nothing here could touch that moment. You guys create quite an irreplaceable feeling, just wanted you to know.

Ani!!!

I can’t believe you’re 21 already!!! Of course I’ll call you today too but you’re probably out celebrating right now… and again tonight huh? Take care of yourself, k??? I’m wearing my Jimi T-shirt in your honor of “good music” : ) You’re an old man now!! Which of course makes me an old woman but hey. I miss you soooooooo much! And I love you a bajillion times more than that! I hope you have a wooooonderful day! 😄

I love you so much!

♥ Laura

P.s. I’m not allowed to send you your present cause of the postage hahaha but I shall bring it back with me!

 

Villa Atalante

Villa Atalante

 

Well here it is, Villa Atalante.   And no, we are not actually making a sitcom.  I don’t know how we did it – a combination of perseverance, combined efforts, and luck.  It is a really beautiful place and I remember the first sign that it was going to be wonderful was when we were being shown the villa by Brian’s agent Florent, and the pressed a button on his key and the wrought iron front gates opened before us. Hahaha – Florent told us that Roman Abramovich is our neighbor and we were joking that we would have a block party and we would be able to say “So guess what Abramovich did when got totally smashed at our pool party??” But… not… haha. We’re so weird. 

So the whole gang is: Hazel -26, Chinese from Canada;  Jonathan – 23, Belgian from Belgium; Sasha – 23, Croatian from Canada; Me – 22; Benjamin – 21, French from Grenoble, France; Olga Maria – 20, Mexican from Mexico; and Isauro – 21, Mexican from Mexico (He is a friend of Olga’s and is such a polite and nice guy – he’s like a younger brother) and so far we all get along pretty well!

So about the Villa:  It is a stone villa (with beautiful ivy crawling everywhere!) and it has a lot of space for living, and we are just down the road from the beach. We have… six bedrooms and each bedroom has it’s own en-suite bathroom and shower, and 2 of them have whirlpool tubs as well.  So there are 9 bathrooms total. Sasha has the biggest room which has doors that open out to the outdoor terrace and she has a king size bed.. or bigger. It’s huge. and massive closets. We have 2 fully equipped kitchens, one on each floor – and I mean fully equipped. We have everything we could ever need and more – Everything from a juicer to a french press coffee maker, to all sorts of knives, wine glasses, china, tart pans and cooking equipment. Yes, I am in heaven. There are windows in the kitchen as well and they open out and when the breeze comes in it’s just wonderful. And we even have a half kitchen outside near the grill. We have a pretty large heated pool, a hot tub, a pool house including a shower stall, a bathroom and a changing room, a pretty decent sized sauna, lawn chairs, two huge outdoor tables and chairs enough for 6 or more to eat dinner on, and a lime tree! We have a ping-pong table, a dart board, a huge yard and garden, statues, an outdoor garage, an alarm system, huge decorative iron gates that open automatically when you let someone in – which you can do from the 2nd floor kitchen as well as the main foyer (as in they ring you, and you can listen to who it is, and there is a surveillance camera where you can see who it is and zoom in. We have 3 bars (one on each floor and one outdoors) and a huge wine rack, 2 smaller wine racks, 2 huge living room/terraces, two dining rooms, a study with a library, a printer, fax/copy machine, and a mini artist/drafting table, a huge front door, a marble staircase, hardwood floors, huge windows, 2 washers and 2 dryers and a room for ironing and washing clothing, a fireplace, several cd/speaker systems thoughout the house if not one in each room (and one in each kitchen!) an outdoor speaker system, remote controls for a/c and stereo devices, lights that come on all over the villa and yard, a sprinkler system!  Best of all, there is a view of Antibes and the mountains, and a view of the Mediterranean. All the windows either have wrought iron and wood doors and shutters or automatic shutters. My room has 2 tall french doors that have two wrought iron and wood doors behind them that open out to the garden, as well as windows just the same that open out to view the backyard and stone arches. We also have a gardner, a pool guy, a plumber, an electricien, and a jack-of-all trades guy so if anything needs fixing we just call our agent, Florent and he sends them over! Crazy…  So…. um now you don’t have to be scared for me, right?

 So a few things that I love:  Eating dinner outside on the terrace watching watching sailboats on the Mediterranean, all of us in the upstairs kitchen making dinner (and making fun of Benjamin’s pasta and cheese every. Single. Day.) listening to the Riviera radio as the breeze blows through the windows and just having a good time, everyone’s (especially Olga, Sasha and Isauro’s laughter while watching Big Bang Theory in the downstairs living room for 6 hours straight – haha Isauro has the most infectious laughter – he reminds me of Alex a little when he laughs.. but you know… just Mexican… and they are about the same age and both such gentlemen. I also love how I can open my French doors in the morning, play music from my laptop, and just relax – or, run out my room across the lawn and jump into the pool! Hahaha. Funny story – I was the first one to run and jump into the pool, and the second I hit the water the alarm went off! It was an alarm for if children accidently fall into the pool when no one is watching – which is really smart to have, but it scared the crap out of me!  We just set it to swim mode and all was fine. =)  I also love my orchid – I had always wanted one but they were too expensive and they are so cheap here! So it brightens my room, along with my sheets! But… not the picture of the three clowns hanging above my head… creepy. Must find something to cover over that soon… I also love playing “find the statues” cause we had to do inventory to make sure everything was there (that took soooo long it is such a big place) and it said there were 4 statues on the property but we could never find the fourth until recently. My favorite is the Lion on the right-hand side. Something else I love – waking up in the early morning after having a coffee in an espresso cup with a croissant smeared with Nutella and walking down to the bus stop and being greeted by a beautiful view of the cap and the Mediterranean, and also – walking half a mile down the street to see the beautiful blue water (all the pictures of the water you see on the side bar that leads you to my Flickr page are from the ½ a mile walk along the rocky beach).  I will keep updating my photos as they come now that I finally have my camera! =) I also posted the fireworks display we saw in Juan les Pins for you (although Olga was the one taking it and I think she forgot that you shouldn’t tilt the camera on its side when taking a video haha)! If you click on the “Slideshow” button on Flickr I personally think it is the best way to view the pictures and the video! Enjoy! ♥

So if you would like my address just let me know, I just decided not to post it online for the world to see is all  =)

I know I said my next post would be about our living space but something came up – Ethics class, which reminded me of several recent conversations I have had with a few people – about things you may be aware of, and things you may not. I guess this is a sort of disclaimer (before I very excitedly post about our place after all we’ve been through) saying that I truly realize how blessed I am in life – having a place to rest my head, security, food… (and other more intangible aspects) what might seem like simple things that we either choose to believe most people in the world have, or really, we know that many people do not always get to experience some of these “simple” things. Basically,

We don’t always know or remember how good we have it.

I don’t ever want to forget the people and events in my life that have brought me to this point, and myself for making decisions – those defining moments that lead me to where I am now. Mentally and intellectively (teachers, professors, friends, parents and the list goes on), financially and security-wise (mostly my parents), and about love, loyalty, friendship, and everything in between… and hope, and faith.  I had a conversation with Olga the other day that started with her telling me how back in Mexico, her boyfriend hired 15 Mariachis to go perform and sing to her underneath her window at midnight on her birthday… isn’t that so romantic? =)  Mmmm…  yes, but then we started talking about something very disturbing to me. She told me how the Mexican president had been cracking down on drug cartels for years, and the governor of Chihuahua (where Olga is from) had always given permission to one drug cartel to sell their drugs in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. However, recently he gave permission to one more, which has created a war. Seriously, didn’t he see that this would happen? Even I could see that would inevitably come to pass – just look at history. Well, in this drug war, everyday people who are not even involved in any of that business have been shot (wounded or killed) in the gunfire out on streets where there are supermarkets because the ones shooting at the other cartel missed and hit innocent civilians- she said that all that is done about it when they realize they shot the wrong person is “oh, it wasn’t them. oh well.” She said it’s terrifying to be caught near that situation- of course it is! It’s horrible, to live in such a place where your security is compromised because of the constant drug wars, and you don’t even know if when you wake up in the morning to go out that you will be safe. I know that this can happen anywhere, that you could die that day for any reason, and there are even worse situations to be in… but wow.  Then we started talking about summer jobs, and I mentioned that I worked for Ironbridge for $5.85 an hour plus tips and that I knew it wasn’t much but I wasn’t really doing it for the money. Which sounded pretty lame on my part when she then said to me “Do you know that the average wage for a worker in Mexico is roughly 7 dollars (like 70 Pesos) – for one day of work. And they have to feed themselves, or their family, pay rent, and find transportation all on that 7 dollars a day.” You know, being here I have met a lot of people from around the world and despite all their differences and cultural backgrounds, they can still agree on one thing:  Americans are ignorant.  Last year in my World Regions class, the professor John Boyer (Boyer as we call him) said something that makes even more sense today for me as it did then: “The reason why a lot of people in the world hate Americans is because we don’t realize why they hate us.” Most of us don’t know how good we have it, and many of us don’t care or don’t know about others around the world and their situations. To Americans, ignorance is bliss – that we sit up on our pedestals in our own little world. It is a pretty interesting (bad interesting) feeling that comes over me when people from all different parts of the world meet me, ask me where I am from, and as soon as I say “The United States,” they say “Oh.” and it feels like judgement has just been passed. Wow. That’s a bit unfair isn’t it? Not everyone is like this image they have of us, this stereotype. But I wonder if we can even call it that anymore. Critically looking at us as a nation, we are just recently really starting to care more about the environment. Half of the stuff we aquire ends up in landfills – we are never truly satisfied, it seems. We just want more and more. My Ethics professor told me ( I was late for class cause the bus came early!) and she caught me up on what they had gone through before I got there and added some to it) that at the conference she was at last week for several large companies from around the world, 2 were from the United States and she asked the question “What has your company done towards going green? And one of them actually said “Well it’s bad for business – going through all those new environmental regulations is a pain and takes up a lot of our time and resources.” The other American came up to her later and said that he wanted her to help his company get started on becoming “greener.” Which is good, and the reason for this 58-year old businessman’s sudden shift of goals was all because he had realized that his 2-year old grand-daughter would be growing up in 2050: If we (Americans) carry on like this and keep abusing the world we live in, by 2050 we will need 10 worlds to accomodate the way we live our lives, and Europe will need 3… yet, we only have one. There is an interesting-looking book on this subject that I plan to read called “Just One World.” by D. Mark Smith.  Yeah, one thing I noticed when I came here is that Europeans seem to be a lot more “green” – you know how in IKEA they make you pay for one of their synthetic/recycled bags to put all your purchases in and you thought that was unfair? Well they are doing it for sustainability, and every big company in Europe does it. (You probably noticed that IKEA is a Swedish company no doubt?) They do it so that you will bring back your purchased bag and use it again and again – and it works. Carrefour does it and whenever I get on the bus I see so many people carrying a carrefour bag to use to put their groceries into.  Also, what’s pretty cool at the Heathrow Airport in London is that they had been having a problem with smaller birds getting caught in the aeroplane engines and doing damage to them, and they had been trying to fix the problem in the past by using poison. Now though, they have a woman who sends out a falcon before the planes go out and it flies over the area, marking the territory so that the smaller birds stay away and they don’t have to use poison, or kill the birds. Just so you know, there are some pretty nonsensical things that Europeans do too, for instance: I figured out why when coming in to the Nice Aeroport down from London we had to make a really wide circle in the air before landing. It’s because there are 14 houses harboring very wealthy residents who pay the airlines to not take the shortest route by flying over their houses in Antibes (because the plane makes too much noise), thus spending 5 more minutes in flight than necessary – and considering how many flights come into Nice Aeroport, that is a pretty decent amount of extra pollution added into the air. It’s all actually pretty fascinating to me – which is why I decided to drop my organizational behavior course (the curriculum was way too similar to the intro to marketing class I took 2 years ago) and take “Introduction to International Relations.” The guy says everything in English, and then says it all again in French, and switches it up a bit. Hahaha – but the first class was pretty interesting – a little world history with a small dose of politics to get us going. Thanks for listening, and don’t worry I am not becoming anti-American – I am just saying part of what I see. But there are many things that I love about the United States, such as the freedom that we and those before us have worked so hard to aquire and maintain… it is really such a beautiful thing. We do try send our troops around the world to try to help other nations and promote the same freedom we enjoy in our own country. And I don’t care what anybody says- we are united. I have seen people come together when it matters the most to help those around them both from the person inside the situation and also the one seeing it from the outside. My friends and I were in a serious car accident a few summers ago and one of the things that I remember most because it amazed me was that everyone surrounding the area ran over and out of their houses to help us. They collectively used a big wooden pole to prop up the car (which was on its side) and they pulled us out. I am very thankful that people acted like I hoped they would, when it mattered the most. The other time when humankind amazed me was when I was in Maryland with someone close to me one summer ago, we were driving on a smaller road when we came to a slow pace because of a car accident, and when traffic moved to be right near it, we could see many people all trying to help – the person was still inside the car but the car door was stuck, and we watched a man pull off the door with just his bare hands I believe in an adrenaline rush. It really moved me – partially because I had also been in an accident but mostly of the intensity and will of mankind to act, and to protect. My friend commented that if he were a superhero looking down on this scene, of normal citizens acting with such intensity to help others in such distress, he would smile. I know you did not know that when you started reading this, it would become so deep – or maybe you did expect it and I hope you take something from it.

Oh – the reason why my Ethics class smells like a Hollister store is because almost half the people in my class are undergraduate (try Freshmen) girls from American University. They are pretty annoying actually… so I only know one awesome girl who is going to that school right now, but she’s a grad student so maybe that’s partially why the difference. =)

So I wanted to say that you all are truly lovely.  I watched all the videos that you guys made for me! And it made my day… wow. There were very cheery ones, funny ones, deep ones, some that were probably filmed after they had just watched “Taken”… hahaha… others were thoughtful, some were very creative, some gave advice in a lot of different aspects, and some were very looooong lol.  And all of them were very sweet and caring. I even teared up a little bit! Thank you all for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers, and in your lives. Thank you for having faith in me – tis what keeps me going! =) I miss and love you all. ♥

Le Calendrier

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In Discovery of Ourselves

Photographies

Fragonard Parfumes for the girls!

The Streets of Grasse

Olga smelling the pot pourri

Pot pourri

I almost sat on this bench, er Fountain...

Galimard orange chocolate parfume... yum.

Galimard bath stars

Love Louise's attire

Louise being... louise. lol.

ZOMG hand.

More Photos