Tag Archives: family

Symbols of My Grandma

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October 13, 2017 will forever be a date that I remember. It was the day that I learned that my grandma, Nene, passed away. I was broken hearted because I had gone through so many life milestones with Nene and I couldn’t imagine her no longer being in my life. I had the opportunity to write her eulogy, along with my mom, and share stories about Nene’s life from a granddaughter’s perspective. I wanted to pass along my words about Nene to you as she was a person that I, and many of us, can aspire to be.

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“I have spent time reflecting on what Nene has meant to me. I wanted to share a few symbols of Nene with you that will always remind me of her.

First, the rosary. Nene was one of the most faithful people I knew and was also an inspiring model of church principles, treating everyone with love and compassion. I am blessed to have a grandma who guided me in my own faith, encouraging me as she was my sponsor for my confirmation in the church. She answered my questions along the way and was the best sponsor I could ask for.

Second, a deck of cards: Nene always knew how to have a good time and was the best friend to those around her. She played cards regularly with her friends, often going out to lunch or planning get togethers. I was blessed to join her in some of those get togethers as a little girl, where she taught me Pinochle, Old Maid, and War. She was so caring that when I would cry about the prospect of losing a game, she would make sure I won by the end. I can say with confidence that not many people would do that for others, and that’s just how caring she was.

Third, French anything, starting with French toast and more recently with the French language: Nene made the best French toast I’ve ever had, and I remember vividly eating it at Nene’s black kitchen table, sitting between Nene and Papa Ed, when they would babysit me on weekends. To me, French also symbolizes exquisite taste, which Nene definitely had. She always dressed stylishly and classically like the French. And most recently, while I spent time in Paris and FaceTimed with Nene, she could understand my host mom speaking French in the distance and would respond with “oui oui.” I hope to continue to embrace the French culture that Nene demonstrated to me for the rest of my life.

Fourth, candy: Nene was infamous for her candy cupboard, which was like the holy grail for our family growing up. When all of us would visit Nene, from Sprucewood in Farmington Hills, MI and even in the nursing home, we knew we could find candy. Nene always made sure her guests felt welcomed with treats, and the candy again reinforced how sweet and generous Nene was. She has inspired me to always have treats at home for when guests visit me as well.

Last but not least, chardonnay or vodka, depending on the occasion: Every day was a celebration with Nene. Every time I got together with Nene, we would toast to something, whether I was having apple juice as a little girl, or a glass of Chardonnay as an adult. It always felt like a special occasion. I’ll never forget having my first shot with Nene when I turned 21, or when I made vodka gummy bears for Nene to share our love for vodka and gummy bears. Nene was the perfect example of living life to the fullest and enjoying each day. She was always ready to toast with a glass of Chardonnay or vodka!

As the days pass and we come across these symbols and others, may we be reminded of Nene and the strong faith, love, care, and joy she shared with us. Nene – I know you are already having a great time in heaven and I can’t wait to share a glass of Chardonnay with you there in the future!”

I hope that these words inspire you in the same way that Nene inspired me!

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Love Rocks Zion

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A few weeks after going to Seattle, I had the opportunity to visit Utah for my cousin’s wedding at Zion National Park. I flew in a few days early to take advantage of the excursions that my cousin planned. Let me tell you, my cousin and her now husband couldn’t have planned a better trip for our family.

I flew into Las Vegas and drove straight to Bryce Canyon National Park for the Astronomy Festival. What started as a flat drive through Las Vegas turned into a mountainous, red rock drive through a gorgeous sunset. I arrived to Ruby’s Inn right outside of Bryce Canyon National Park, which was the perfect rustic hotel to stay at before a day of hiking.

My first day of hiking at Bryce Canyon started bright and early. I was blown away by the stunning rock formations, called hoodoos, which were scattered throughout the canyon. While all of the trails were beautiful, I highly recommend the Navajo Loop, which is moderately strenuous, but gives you a great glimpse of all that Bryce Canyon has to offer. The Queens Garden Trail also gives you more views of the hoodoos which look like figurines of queens when you use your imagination. The Rim Trail is a great option for those with strollers/wheelchairs, or those who are looking for a flat path. In between hikes, I stopped by the Astronomy Festival to view famous telescopes and look at the sun up close. It was fascinating and I wish I could have stayed another night to view the constellations. In the evening I drove to Zion National Park to meet my family.

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Bryce Canyon

Upon arriving to Zion National Park, I’m pretty sure my jaw didn’t stop dropping for days. My Hampton Inn hotel was located in the middle of the red rock formations and I never wanted to stop looking at them. I spent the first evening at the Whiptail Grill, which was an old gas station converted into a southwestern restaurant. If you are looking for a unique dining experience with delicious southwestern food, this is a must see! I also stopped by the Bit and Spur to catch up with some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins who I hadn’t seen in far too long. We had a great time and I knew the next few days of festivities were going to be a blast.

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Angel’s Landing


My next day of hiking was by far the most exhilarating hike I have ever done. I hiked with my family close to the Angel’s Landing point, where we all had to make the grueling decision whether to hike to the top….on an over 100 degree day, with extremely steep climbs, and a metal chain to support us along the way. I am proud to say I was one of the crazy ones who agreed to continue on, and with the encouragement (and lifesaving water in their backpacks) of my cousin and her now husband, I made it to the top! I felt empowered by this hike, reminded that I can do anything that I put my mind to. The full day of hiking led me to jump in the Zion river with my cousin (the bride!), which was a memory I will never forget. After I craved a nice afternoon nap and swam in my family’s hotel pool. My family spent the evening by the pool, catching up as more family came into town for the wedding.

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My cousin and I after our hike!

After an exhilarating hike, we spent the next day doing what I would call a refreshing, but also balance-testing hike…the Narrows. And I have to add that my cousin rented a convertible for the drive into the park, which was such a fun way to start the day. We rented heavy wader boots and hiking sticks, not only to look awesome and official ;), but to be able to trudge throughout a river filled with giant rocks. Each step through the river was a combination of wondering whether we would slip and feeling in awe of the rock walls surrounding us. I felt very refreshed in the water especially with the record high temperatures in Utah. After the hike, my family got dazzled up for the wedding welcome party, where we were greeted with local beers and wine, and cake, overlooking the Zion rock formations. Again, I was stunned and couldn’t believe that people actually lived in such an amazing place!

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The Narrows

 

On my cousin’s wedding day, I had some extra time to explore the farmer’s market and boutiques with Native American heritage gifts, trinkets, and the coolest rocks, bringing me back to my childhood days of collecting rocks. I bought some new rocks representing Utah and was inspired to look back at my old rock collection back in Michigan. I loved them all so much that the rocks are now part of my centerpiece in my Greenville apartment today.

And now for the #LoveRocksZion wedding…my cousin and her now husband planned the most intimate, personal ceremony. All the guests had shade umbrellas to help us keep cool for the outdoor ceremony, again, overlooking the Zion rock formations. No cell phones were allowed, which was a refreshing way for all of us to stay in the moment. I felt so connected to the ceremony. For the reception, we enjoyed a Southwest inspired dinner with geodes decorating our tables, and a cake in the shape of a geode! We danced on the outdoor dance floor with the sun setting around us and beautiful decorative lights overhead. One confession…I caught the bouquet that my cousin (the bride) threw. This was the second time this has happened to me…and I still don’t have a groom :). If anyone has any insight into this, I’d love to hear it :)! To me, there is no better feeling than having many of my loved ones in one place, at one time, dancing together. I will never forget this incredible wedding.

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My brother and me at the reception

My last day in Utah involved a drive back to Las Vegas, where I strolled the strip for several hours before flying home. No, I didn’t gamble or do anything else Vegas-y, except enjoy the views of what I like to call the lifesize adult Disney World. I look forward to going back to Vegas to experience all of the wild adventures they have to offer :).

I hope my stories help you if you happen to visit Utah one day. I can’t wait to go back!

Overcoming Living Abroad Challenges

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We often learn about all the adventurous and joyful stories of studying abroad. But what happens when life gets in the way? Studying and living abroad are very exciting life experiences, but they come with challenges. Below are some of the common challenges I have faced and insights about how to overcome them to make the most of your time abroad.

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Source: expatexchange.com

Insomnia: Time differences and foreign beds make insomnia a likely occurrence when moving abroad, especially when you first arrive to the destination. I experienced this intensely when I studied in Spain a few years ago. It took me almost a week to adjust to the time difference! Now in Paris, it took me no time whatsover to adjust to the time difference. My secret this time was to not take a nap when I first arrived on a Thursday morning, and to instead go to bed early that evening. I have experienced insomnia in recent days, likely related to doing too much (e-mails, studying, blogs, social media, chatting with friends) before bed. This is common for me even at home so I need to remember to give myself time to disconnect and unwind before bed.

Adapting to food: With a new destination comes new cuisine and dietary habits. I like to call myself a fish for the large quantity of water I prefer to drink. In Europe, I have felt like I have been living in a dessert because of the small portions of liquids and tiny cups to fill with water. In class, I bring two cups of water to make sure I stay hydrated throughout the day. I encourage you to bring a water bottle that you can easily refill (assuming that water is sanitary in your destination). It is also challenging to adapt to the timing of meals, quantity of food, and food content. For example, in the United States, I am used to Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast at around 8am, a salad or sandwich for lunch at around 12pm, a protein bar at around 3pm, and meat/carbs/vegetables for dinner at 6:30pm. I have learned to let go of this expectation, as it is common to not eat snacks in France and to have dinner at 8pm (or 9pm for my host family). Despite Americans having a reputation for eating poorly, I have learned that I actually have access to more fruits and vegetables in the United States than in France. I have learned that Parisians often eat fruit as a dessert rather than a staple food for meals. Vegetables are often cooked or are prepared in soups rather than in the form of a salad. I have adapted to this custom, but also make sure to purchase salads and fruit when I eat at restaurants. Enjoying the local cuisine is part of learning process of living abroad, but make sure that you maintain a balanced diet to keep your digestive system in check!

Living with a host family and cultural differences: This is one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself into a new language and culture! However with that immersion comes the expectation that you will adjust your routines and adapt your behaviors to mesh well with your new family. It is sometimes difficult to let go of everything you know. Before moving abroad, I encourage you to research your new destinations and customs. For example, it is an adjustment for Americans to get used to the French greeting of a kiss on each cheek, rather than a handshake. The more informed you are about the new culture before arriving, the more mentally prepared you will feel. However, don’t be afraid of the unexpected – this is part of the adventure! I am still trying to figure out why my host family closes every door of every room in the house – but I am starting to realize it is a habit of privacy, which is less common in the United States and respectable in some ways. Adaptability is one of the most important life skills, especially in the ever-changing global world where we live.

Keeping in touch with loved ones: Time differences and new schedules make it difficult to contact our loved ones. However, modern technology has been a God-sent in our mobile world. My favorite communication tools are WhatsApp (free international messaging and calling) and Facebook messenger (which now allows international calling). I also plan Skype dates with friends and family to have an “as-close-as-possible” experience to chatting in-person. Postcards also seem to be a more thoughtful approach to staying in touch, since they take more effort and are a flashback to the past of international communication. I encourage you to use all the new applications, but don’t forget to be a little old-fashioned and send postcards, letters, and packages to stay in touch with your loved ones!

Making friends: This is often what intimidates people the most when moving abroad, especially because of language and culture barriers. A university setting caters to social networking with planned activities and field trips for students. For those outside of the university setting, check out http://www.meetup.com which provides networking groups related to any and all topics (local events, sports, arts, dating, etc.). I have enjoyed attending expat events in Paris, which includes expats from around the world. We can all relate to the adjustments involved in moving to Paris! Also, for those hoping to learn local languages, check out conversation circles. Especially if you speak English, many countries have conversation exchanges between English and the local language. I look forward to trying this in Paris. It is a win-win for me to practice French and help others practice English!

For those of you considering or in the process of moving abroad, you may face these challenges like I have, but I hope that you remember with any challenge comes a solution. Now that more and more people are moving abroad, there are more advice articles than ever before. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about moving abroad!

La mère est la lumière de la famille

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I’ve always heard that a mom is what makes a home for a family…and it’s absolutely true with my host family in Paris!

Last night, Marie Christine, the mother of my host family, arrived home from her Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF) trip to China. I was eager to meet her and talk about our mutual interest in sustainable development and international travel. I was excited to learn that she also works with Michelin (my summer internship will be with Michelin’s Global Leadership Program) and she studied at the University of Salamanca, Spain (as did I in the summer of 2011).

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Source: environmentallysound.wordpress.com

When she arrived, it became clear to me that la mère est la lumière de la famille. Marie Christine truly lit up the home the minute she walked in. Lights literally turned on, and the energy in the home went from somber to cheerful with her presence. She joined us for dinner and talked about her trip to China. Her daughter, my host sister (Marine), was stressed about university exams, as are many of the French university students this week (Quick side note: Your grades determine whether or not you can get free university education in France!). Marie Christine tried to cheer up Marine by giving her a Panda teddy bear which was her favorite animal.

While eating homemade carrot and cheese soup (or as my French translation understands), whitefish, liche fruit, and yogurt, we discussed (in French) our time since Marie Christine was away. I explained that I enjoyed my first week in Paris, and was adapting to the metro system, having classes completely in French, and learning about history everywhere I looked. Marie Christine comforted me by saying I can ask the family to slow down in French so that I can understand. She also clarified any questions I had in English. My host dad (Alexandre) talked about his busy week as an ENT surgeon, although he didn’t go into much detail. Marine discussed her exams and how she thought it was crazy that her fitness class was of equal importance to her other management classes. My first few dinners were just with Alexandre and Marine, where we ate lots of good food (cheese, bread, pasta, avocados, salmon, chicken, and did I say cheese and bread?!) and had brief conversations. I was surprised by the brevity, given the stereotype of long mealtimes in France, but we started eating after 9pm and had early mornings, so it made sense. With the arrival of Marie Christine, though, we spent much more time talking, reflecting, and relaxing. I could tell that Alexandre and Marine were grateful she was back home.

Despite experiencing jet lag, Marie Christine woke up early this morning with her husband. I was surprised to see her and asked her, “aren’t you tired?” She said, “it’s nice to eat breakfast with someone.” How selfless and sweet of her to join her husband for breakfast! I also asked her if I could be late to dinner today because I have a “meet and greet” with my school, and she said “no problem! In our house, there are no problems, just solutions.” What an optimistic mindset that I think could benefit many of us.

While drinking N’Espresso (addicting!) and eating toast with strawberry confiture and fresh fromage, we briefly discussed her work at WWF and how she would work from home today. She described that she loves her job and never feels the need to complain about it. I immediately thought of what I read by Elizabeth Gilbert about planning our lives to include a job, hobby, vocation, and career. Elizabeth Gilbert explains the definitions here and reminds us that they may not always be interchangeable. We must include our job, hobby, vocation, and career when making our decisions for today and the future. Based on Marie Christine’s positive energy, I have a feeling that she balances all of these components of life. I am excited to have the opportunity to learn from her over the next few months. I hope that I can be la lumière pour ma famille en la future.

Cherries and Sand Dunes and Wine, Oh My!

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InspirNational will be spending Memorial Day weekend in Traverse City, Michigan. I look forward to spending time in the cherry capital of the world, wine tasting in Old Mission Peninsula, and exploring the sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. It will be wonderful to spend quality time with my mom and our loves in my mom’s new home!

Flashback to 2013: Visiting 2 Lads Winery in Traverse City with my mom!

Flashback to 2013: Visiting 2 Lads Winery in Traverse City with my mom!

Learn more about Traverse City, Michigan and other beautiful places to visit in the Midwest in my post, Why More People Should Visit the Midwest in the United States.

I hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

From Explorer to Settler

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InspirNational readers: We all love to explore and travel, but how do we decide where to settle? Thank you to Hunter Reams for writing this guest post with some great insights about choosing where to settle.


There are countless blogs and advice columns on traveling and exploring the world. While we all love being an explorer, at the end of the day, or at the end of a great vacation, we need a place to call home. Deciding where you want to settle down can be one of the most difficult decisions. From affordability to an awesome job market, many variables impact your decision on that place that you can call home. I have narrowed down my top criteria in making the all-important decision of where to plant your roots.

Job Opportunities
Job opportunities vary from state to state and region to region, and this is a very important variable as it is the foundation upon which you will prosper. I believe that the best place to start your “quest to settle” is to analyze the job market. If you work in investment banking, New York City will be much more likely to have opportunities than Gary, Indiana. Or if you are interested in supply chain management for oil, Texas and North Dakota may have the best opportunities. Network with friends, network online, network some more, and search for the employment opportunities that will make you happy. Once you have located either specific jobs or areas that have a demand for your expertise, narrow your search area to those places. This way, you will be much more likely to be financially stable, and derive the most enjoyment out of your new location!

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Family and Friends
If family and friends play a major role in your life, you may not want to locate far away from them. While social media and communications technology have made it much easier to stay connected over long distances, it is nonetheless very difficult to live far from your closest circle. Personally, this is a particularly difficult criterion as my parents relocated to a remote Appalachian city, while my friends and extended family are in Michigan/Ohio…When analyzing this variable; keep in mind the age/health of your family and friends, as well as the possibilities of them relocating. If you are looking to settle away from friends and family, consider living in areas that are near airports or other forms of public transportation to help you stay connected.

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Climate and Geography
If you love the beach, should you focus on living beachside? If you want to ski every day, should you narrow your search to mountainous regions? Do you want to live right by the Detroit Tigers’ stadium so you can get season tickets to the games? Both the climate and geographic region play a huge role in determining your hobbies, behaviors, and activities. A good way to analyze this variable is to write down all of the hobbies and activities that make you happy, and determine if each geographic location can cater to them. If you absolutely cannot go a week without playing golf, then living in Maine would not be a great idea. If you love the snow and four seasons, then maybe Florida is not the right place for you. This variable should not be overlooked because you can find employment, affordable housing, good education systems, and culture all throughout the country. But certain geographic locations have characteristics that others do not possess. (i.e oceans, warm weather, sports teams). Choose wisely when determining what geographic locations can best satisfy your needs.

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Population and Culture
I grouped population and culture together because I have traveled to many large American cities and have yet to find one that does not offer plenty of culture. On the other hand, the majority of small cities do not possess as many offerings of cultural stimulation. If you crave the variety of cultural foods, music, atmosphere, ambience, etc. then living in cities like New York, Los Angeles or Miami would be a great fit. Those cities are full of vibrant offerings that will keep any cultural sommelier happy. If cultural diversity is not as important to you, then a small town or suburb will likely be a good match.

Population is also an important factor because life in a small town is much different than living in a suburb, which is much different than living in a large city. Having lived in all three, I will share my opinions per population size:

If you enjoy seeing neighbors at the local grocery store and enjoy being a bigger fish in a small pond, then the small town life may be for you. Living in a small town provides a sense of community – you feel like you truly are part of the town. There are also fewer worries about crime, traffic, other annoyances, and the ability to frequently see friends and family at the local restaurants, churches, and stores. Additionally, it is typically much more affordable and land is abundant. The biggest disadvantages to small town life are the lack of amenities, culture, and job opportunities. In the town I lived in for 6 months, there was very little to do, not much shopping/entertainment, and lack of cultural exposure among many of the people. The town did not have any major corporation and held very few job opportunities for a young college graduate. I believe that living in a small town is best suited for those that want a slower pace of life, close-knit community, and more privacy. Families, retirees, and those who love the outdoors are best suited for the small town.

Growing up in a suburb provided a great mix of the small town and bigger city. While I could travel into Detroit for sports games and concerts, I also could retreat back to the safety and privacy that the suburb provided. There were great job opportunities in the suburb itself and in the surrounding cities. I feel that the biggest disadvantage to suburban life is that there is not the abundance of culture/entertainment that one finds in a big city, and it also lacks the land and community involvement compared to a small town. Some may find that suburbs are unsatisfyingly mediocre. I believe that suburbs are the most ideal location for families and those that want a comfortable lifestyle.

Life in the big city has the advantages of all the amenities you can ask for; lots of entertainment and culture, and tons of employment opportunities. Cities often have public transits systems that eliminate the need for a car and a short bike ride or walk can get you to where you need to be. I feel that the biggest drawbacks to living in a larger city are the lack of nature, expenses, small fish in a big pond, crime, and annoyances such as traffic and higher taxes. I believe that the big city is best suited for young professionals and those that want to experience a fast paced lifestyle with tons of culture and diversity.

Overall, small towns, suburbs, and larger cities all have pros and cons. It is important to discover what makes you happy, and find a place that works for you!

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Longevity
My final variable in making the decision to settle down is longevity. It is important to grasp an understanding on long-term variables that will be important to you. Education systems, healthcare, governmental benefits and taxes, real estate markets – these things are easy to overlook when you are 25 and excited to start your career in a new place. But in a few short years when all of your friends and colleagues are starting families, these variables can become extremely important, if not determinative. So when making your decision on where to settle down, keep in mind that your priorities will likely change. To help analyze this factor, reaching out to family members or friends who are at a later stage in life may be of help. Ask them what they look for when relocating, and the best ways of ascertaining that information. This way, you are not only preparing for the present, but also for the future.

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Final Word
Overall, there is no right decision and that is a beautiful thing! You cannot make a wrong choice, only choose a different path. Do your diligences, discover what makes you happy, and then go for it!