Beyond Fear…Lies Freedom

BeyondFearWhen I first heard this phrase, it struck me as simplistic and naive. Fear protects us from hurt – why would I want to potentially endanger myself to see what lay on the other side?

That type of thinking was much earlier in my journey (so happy to admit). I now see this phrase from a completely different perspective.

Fear is not protection…it is limitation. Setting aside obvious safety concerns (wearing a seat belt, not using a blow dryer in the bathtub, etc.) fearful thinking is entirely generated by your mind.

The thoughts you think repeatedly will become your beliefs. Your beliefs guide your actions and that is how your life is created. Thinking fearful thoughts leads you down the path of lack, scarcity and protectionism.

Move beyond your fear and find your freedom. 

Allow me to give you a small example from my recent trip to Paris.  I have a small bit of claustrophobia. Nothing debilitating, but I know when it comes into my awareness, because my heart starts beating faster, my breath comes in shallow gasps, and all I can think about is that I have to escape the environment that triggered that reaction.

To capture this photograph of the gargoyle looking out at the Paris skyline (the Eiffel Tower in the background is the cherry on top), I had to climb the North Tower of Notre Dame. 300 stone steps that formed a circular staircase inside a stone chamber that was probably 5 feet wide. People in front of me; people behind me. No flat spot to catch my breath, only small, narrow windows cut out of the 2 foot thick walls (did I mention they are made of out stone?) The combination of the small space, physical exertion (when was the last time you climbed 300 steps without stopping) and the knowledge that I was surrounded by an immoveable material, triggered my claustrophobia.

I knew what this climb would entail, and I suspected that it might have that effect on me. To prepare, I gave myself three simple things to focus on while I was climbing:

1. Sing the words to Pharell Williams’ Happy song, which always makes me smile;

2. Focus on the other people making this climb with me; and

3. Keep my end goal in mind – I wanted to capture those gargoyles and the Paris skyline on my camera.

I discovered by keeping myself busy (at one point, one of the other tourists asked me what I was singing, which combined #1 & 2), I was not thinking fearful thoughts. My  mind was focused on others instead of myself, I was in a great mood (courtesy of Pharell’s catchy song). These techniques worked until about 2/3 of the way up.

Our progress came to a stop. While I was grateful for the rest, it took me out of my rhythm (step and hum; step and wonder where the family was from in front of me). Now that we had stopped, the fearful thoughts came crashing back in. The thought of escape flicked across my mind, but I knew there was no way to go but up. So I pulled out my most powerful technique – my vision of my goal.

I was so close to the top, I had to get those photographs of the gargoyles! That was enough to quench the fear and make my feet move again. It turns out that we were only 10 steps from the top. If I had quit at that point, I would have deeply regretted it.  And fear would have won.

Beyond Fear…Lies Freedom. 

What fear is holding you back from discovering your freedom? What can you look at differently in your life that will propel you forward to a more expanded and evolved you? Do one thing today that triggers a fearful thought, but do it anyway. And discover what you have been missing!

The future depends on what we do in the present. – Mahatma Gandhi

The future depends on what we do in the present. – Mahatma Gandhi

Little thing.

If you have not heard of Hannah, you will soon. She has a new book coming out…and lots of other cool projects. Enjoy this post–and you will become a Hannah Brencher fan too!

hannah brencher.

With permission, I have posted the email below.


I’ve had a pretty rough semester, and it’s finally coming to a close in just a few weeks. I’m getting ready to graduate and move back to the West Coast, and I don’t have a job. I don’t even have all of the money that I need to get back yet. I’ve been going through physical health issues this semester, not to mention a pretty serious depression. All I want is to trust someone. And I feel like God has been asking me to let Him love me, and to trust him with what comes next, but I’m  struggling with that. I’ve struggled with that for years – I find it so hard to trust in general, and especially when I can’t see Him standing in front of me; can’t have a conversation with him at a coffee shop. I guess…

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Paris Dreaming

We woke up to sunshine…lots of sunshine. The cooler temperatures that we enjoyed all week had given way to summer – 80 degrees +. Suddenly, everyone was wearing skirts, shorts and maxi skirts with sandals. No more tights or coats!

I took the opportunity to see one of my “to-do” list items while she stayed in bed. To climb to the top of Notre Dame, you have to get there an hour early and wait. I stopped at a boulangerie and brought several croissants and an espresso that I enjoyed while waiting in line.

The great thing about traveling is the random strangers you meet. The young man behind me was very friendly and we exchanged Paris stories. I was able to tell him about the Musee DÓrsay 5th floor secret (see my previous blog post) and the backstreet tour by electric bicycles. He kept me entertained with his travel stories and the time passed quickly.

After we bought our tickets and enjoyed the gift store, it was time to begin the climb. 300 steps inside a small, curved staircase made of stone. Small windows kept pace as we trudged up…and up…I started singing the “Happy” song just to pass the time!LastDay 017

When we emerged on the upper landing and walked out the narrow door, there was sweet Paris, laid out at our feet. The Eiffel Tower kept watch to the left, while the Seine flowed through as the liquid heart of Paris. Sacre Coeur stood proudly to the right, set on a hilltop and majestic even from this distance.

Suddenly, a hundred small voices made us look down. A tourist boat had just passed under the bridge next to Notre Dame. The children all had their hands in the air and were yelling loudly, to hear the echo of their voices off the ancient stone bridge. Everyone who stood on that parapet looked down and laughed. We waived gaily but we were too small for them to see us.

The Notre Dame gargoyles are famous for their fanciful expressions and medieval ferocity. I captured many photos of different gargoyles, looking down on their city. But I discovered a little known fact about several of the statutes that I never read about in a guide-book. There is a statute of two most unlikely subjects tucked away in a corner of the roof that few people notice. (To find out what it is, keep reading).LastDay 018

We enjoyed the view of Paris and could see many details. Taking other people’s pictures became my job, as one group after another passed me their camera or phone. We finally started walking toward the other side, and discovered an open door with another staircase. Taking it up brought us to the top of the tower, and another spectacular view.

I missed a small step coming out of the doorway, and the young Frenchman who minded that part of the Tower helped me. We started talking and he explained that he was born and raised in Paris. He was now a student at the Sorbonne but did this job in the summer to make some extra money. He agreed with me that he has the best view of the entire city! I wish I had asked for his name, because I will always remember his kindness and friendly demeanor (who said the French were always nasty?). This young man proved that general statement to be utterly false.

I could have stayed at the top of Notre Dame forever, but the next small group of tourists were waiting on us to leave. They have to time the groups, because the area where you walk and stand is so small. I thanked my new French friend for his kindness and he thanked me to letting him practice his English! My walk back to the apartment was leisurely, because I knew we had to leave this wonderful city in less than 24 hours.

Le Bon Marche

The rest of the day we went shopping. Bon Marche is a wonderful Parisian Department Store that can be slightly intimidating. Each section is set up by Designer, not by the type of clothes. We kept walking and stumbled upon a boutique named “Maje.” A wonderful sales person named Nicole offered to help find a Homecoming Dress. She had so much fun trying on dresses, modeling them for other customers and finally discovering “the One.” Our trip was successful and we found our way back to the apartment.

For our final night in Paris, we walked down Rue de Saint Beaux Arts then turned down a side street that was much quieter. We found a wonderful Italian restaurant that carried its own stories. As we sat at our sidewalk table, a young mother stopped by with her two children, a girl about 3 years old and a toddler. As we watched, she went over to one of the waiters and they began an animated conversation. The girl quickly grew tired of being ignored and said loudly, “Papa!” He turned to her and picked her up, he smile lighting up the room. Now it was clear – this was his family!

They ended up sitting across from us. The girl was distracted by counting money and her sing-song cadence of “un, deux, trois, quatre…” was a moment I will always remember. She stopped after “quatre” and asked her mom the obvious question, and she answered patiently “cinq.”

Later, as more people came in, it became apparent that this restaurant was popular for pizza take-out. Our waiter was the  delivery man, and whenever someone came to pick up their pizza, he would saunter out with the box on his head. It was very effective to capture the attention of other people, and several stopped to eat here because of his antics. So French!

What a marvelous way to end our adventures in Paris – to enjoy a waiter with his family while enjoying a marvelous meal. Tres bon!

What I love about Paris is her many faces. She is proud, aloof on the surface, but warm and friendly underneath. Beautiful architecture and graffiti exist side by side. A sense of place and the urgency found in every city compliment each other. Paris asks to be accepted for who she is…the contradictions and the beauty all join together to form her heart.

And the discovery of the various aspects of her soul can take a lifetime of study.

I promised to reLastDay 014veal the mysterious gargoyles that I discovered in a corner on top of Notre Dame. Look closely at each of these photos and see if you can’t spot the two statutes that seem ordinary and out-of-place next to their gargoyle cousins. Instead of fanciful, they are lifelike and from the natural world.



Paris will continue to haunt my dreams. Her allure is wrapped in history + romance + mystery. Her ambiance is enticing and hypnotic and her attitude will always be, “Joie de vivre.”

Follow the Crowds…or Not

Today as Versailles – an all day excursion to the country estate of the Sun King, Louis XIV. We had to take the Metro to the next station to catch the train. I thought I was being smart by buying a round trip ticket (keep reading to the end to find out what that is not a good idea). The train had a stop at Versailles-Chartes, but that was not the name in my guidebook.

So we missed our stop.

No big deal – just go to the next stop and wait for the other train to take us back. But the wait seemed infinite…and I needed coffee…deep sigh.

It finally came and we arrived in Versailles-Chartes, a small city that revolves around the Palace. Only problem was that their signs were non-existent and my guidebook did not include directions on how to get to Versailles (the Palace, not the city)…deep sigh.

This was going to be one of those travel days.

Or not. We started walking and following the crowd, and after 20 minutes and several turns — eh voila! Versailles!


Hall of Mirrors

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Ceiling at Versailles

We were still early enough to get inside rather quickly, but then we made our fatal error. We had a backpack with us that we were going to use later to carry food for a picnic. When the guard asked if we had food inside the backpack, we said yes (error #1). He said that we had to check it and could not take it into the Palace (error #2). So we stood in another line, watching all of these other people walk past us with backpacks. (I just know that they had food in the packs!)

Going through Versailles after just seeing the Louvre was a bit of overload on French decadence. Plus the crowds made it difficult to see the rooms (greeting, guard, chamber, royal bedroom, conference, etc.) The Hall of Mirrors was amazing but we were drawn more to the gardens.

The gardens of Versailles dwarf the Palace. On the map, the actual building is a small part of the entire estate. Marie Antoinette had her own set of apartments about 1 mile from the Palace, and you have to wonder how many times she retreated to the peacefulness of her special haven when they were in residence.

We bought tickets for the Petit Train, which is well worth it. It is a hop-on-hop-off form of transportation that becomes quite convenient later in the day. It takes you through the grounds and to the Trianon and Petit Trianon, the Grand Canal and back to the Palace.

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One of the many paths you can enjoy on the grounds of Versailles.

We decided to rent bicycles and that made up for the previous missteps. If you ever go to Versailles, you can rent bicycles in the middle of the Grand Canal and ride for miles and miles. People are picnicking on the banks of the Grand Canal, others are in row boats on the water, and the pedestrians and bicyclists add symmetry and motion to the entire scene.

The freedom of movement that comes with riding a bicycle in beautiful forests was memorable and made this day special. We stopped for a gelato at one of the small vendors and had our picnic on the grounds. Just to imagine the life that the people had was amazing. Remember, it was so decadent that it sparked the French Revolution!

We turned in our bikes and took the Petit Train back to the Palace (otherwise, we would have had to walk – and it is quite a distance!) Getting back inside to retrieve the backpack was fairly simple, but if we had to do it again – we would never had checked the backpack! (I can’t tell you how many times during our bike ride that we said, “It’s in the backpack!”)

Walking back to the train station, we took a wrong turn and got lost. After several conversations with extremely nice strangers who could barely speak English, we found it.

As we walked through the turnstile at the Train Station, the gates refused to open. Another kind stranger looked at our tickets and announced that they had expired! The lovely woman I had bought the round trip tickets from that morning had sold me the return trip to take place later that morning, not later in the afternoon. So it had expired. After grumbling about buying the same thing twice, we finally got on the train and headed for home.

Lessons Learned (to help other travelers):

1. Do not buy a round trip train ticket in Paris, unless you are specific about which train you want to return on;

2. Make sure that your guidebook is up to date and has the correct name of the train stop; Verify the name of the Station before you go;

3. Do not check your backpack at the Louvre. If you have food or drink, just wait until you get back outside.

4. Buy a ticket on the Petit Train – it takes you to the other sights that are part of Versailles and it gives you a convenient way to get back to the Palace after you have completed your tour of the grounds. The train picks you up just feet from where you rent the bicycles, so it makes for very easy way to get out of Versailles and back to where you need to be.

Versailles was definitely an adventure. But we were more than ready to get back to Paris.




Rainy Days are Magic

It rained all night, lightly tapping a dance on the clay tiles and plexiglass skylights. Damp, wet smells of saturated earth and porous stone RainyDayMuseeD'Orsay 010permeated the cool air of our apartment. Burrowing deeper under the down duvet was the only reasonable option.

Finally, it was time to get up. We were in Paris, after all, and there were so many more things to see and do. After much groaning and cajoling, we stepped onto the street, armed with one umbrella and a general sense of the direction and distance to reach the Musee D’Orsay.

We didn’t count on the fact that the person holding the umbrella tends to keep it more on her side. Nor did we consider the traffic splashing water on the sidewalk. But we were in Paris, so who cared? We reached the Museum and figured out the correct line for holders of the Paris Pass (a one-price for multiple museums pass that is a must for Paris). By the time we got inside and checked our stuff, it was 10:00 and time for something to eat.

Instead of starting on the ground floor, we knew there was a cafe on the top or 5th floor. Stairs made it easy to go up, as people poured into theClockLouvre Museum. We found the cafe and something that took my breath away.

One of the large clocks that were part of the building in its former life as a train station. I was thrilled to find it so quickly and began taking photos from different angles. When I finally came up for air, we discovered that the cafe was next to the Impressionist Exhibit – the main reason that we came to this museum! Fortune was with us, because we were able to tour the rooms and see our favorite Monet, Renoir and other painters before it got too crowded.

After walking all over the museum, our feet were tired. We took the train back to the St. Michael stop and walked the last two blocks to the apartment, rain still coming down. Casement windows open to the inside, which let us hear the rain without having it come inside. The perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon…listening to the rain outside and reading a great book, snuggled under the cover.

But the day was not over. We knew that the Louvre stayed open late on Wednesdays until 9:30 p.m., so we waited until about 4:30 to walk over and see our second museum of the day.

The Louvre is housed inside what was the Royal Palace. Photos do not show the sheer immense proportions of the buildings, or the amount of acreage is displaced by the grounds. Again, we were able to skip the lines because of our Paris Pass. But decoding the audio guideParis2014 016 was next to impossible, so we winged it with our guidebook. We found the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, as well as many other fabulous paintings and sculptures. KeePyramid

By the time we walked out of the Pyramid and back into the courtyard, it was 8:30 p.m. but still light. The rain had stopped and left the air washed clean and pure. A walk over the Lock Bridge (Point Neuf) was wonderful, because the sun was below the horizon and dusk had fallen.

Sheer magic in Paris. RainyDayMuseeD'Orsay 011

A Moment to Breathe

We have been chasing the sights, sounds and tastes of Paris that we hit a wall. This morning, we slept in and didn’t get going until 10:00 a.m. Sacrilegious to all of the annal-retentive travelers, but necessary for us.

We needed a moment to just breathe.

I am amazed at how easily we have adapted to the rhythms of Paris. Of course, we are on vacation and not working…but still. Breakfast from the crepe stand, an espresso for me and we are ready for our next adventure.

First to Notre Dame to take in the atmosphere and wealth of spirituality that pours from the statutes, small side chapels and vastness of the space. I can sit inside this cathedral for hours, but a 16 year old would never have tolerated that kind of inactivity (especially without use of her cell phone). A full model of the building was displayed in one of the alcoves, which proved fascinating to my daughter. Not the famous statues or bas reliefs…

Portrait1On to Montmarte and Sacre Coeur. Getting there was a bit of a challenge by Metro – three change of trains/subways, but we made it without incident to the Abysses Station. Many narrow streets beckoned, but we stayed the course and found the Place due Tetra where the artists have set up their easels. After walking around, we chose the artist to paint her portrait. How amazing to see him swiftly stroke the charcoal, outlining her face and its major features, then  going back to add the detail. A crowd stood behind and watched silently admiring his skill.  The end result was everything we hoped it would be!

Next it was the steps leading up to Sacre Coeur and the great cathedral itself. We enjoyed seeing the wonderful painting of Jesus after the Resurrection, which is painted onto a dome over the altar. But it was the trip up to the Dome that got us excited.

It is 300 steps upwards on a small round staircase that seems to go on forever. We walked through a narrow alley to reach the next level anSacreCouergargoyleEiffelTower1d discovered the skyline of Paris. A strong breeze wrapped around us as we slowly walked around the perimeter of the dome, taking pictures as we went. And then we saw it – the Eiffel Tower in the distance! It was great fun to see who could take the most creative photo of the Eiffel Tower with a gargoyle.

The one that made me laugh was her fascination with pigeons…check out the photo I took of her…taking a photo of a pigeon! SacreCouerPidgeonLauren

Retracing our steps down the 300 steps, and on down the hill, we found the Metro station and made our way home.  To a relaxing time on the terrace, jazz music playing from the apartment across the way, liquid note floating on the evening air.

Yes, it is good to take a moment and just…breathe.

Chasing the Sights

Today was a day filled with the sights and sounds of Paris. It is overwhelming to take in (or to describe!) but I will give you a thumbnail view…

We found a boulangerie (bakery) for breakfast. After coffee, hot chocolate and croissants, it was off to the train station to get to the correct Metro stop so we could get off at Traccadero. That took some fancy footwork, but we did it! One thing I will say about Parisians – when they are going in one direction, do not stand in their way! (I forgot today was a workday and these people are relentless to catch their train, metro car, etc.)

We walked out of the Traccadero Station and I knew what to expect right around the corner. I didn’t mention it to my daughter, because I wanted to see her reaction.

We turned the corner…and there it was. The Eiffel Tower in all its glory. She stood stunned for several seconds, then started taking pictures likeParis 2014 007 a mad woman. We did find one nice person to take our picture together, but mostly we took selfies and one-zies (I just made that up. Its the picture you take of the person who is with you, then they take your picture in front of the same thing).

WalkedParis 2014 035 across the Seine to the Eiffel Tower…and the lines were horrible for the elevator to the top. So we did the next best thing and walked to the second level. (What great training for her trip later in the summer to Mount Rainer!) The views from the second level are inspiring, and much better than from the top (its too high to see any detail).

Walked down to the Seine to see if we could catch the River Boat cruise that came as part of our Paris Pass. We finally found the boat and managed to snag a seat. We got talking to a couple from London, who filled our heads with a possible train ride to their city on this trip (not going to happen – it would cost $1200!)

The Seine River boat cruise was fantastic. Slowly moving by all of the famous sights of Paris is breathtaking and humbling all at once. I took too many photos to post here, but let’s just say that it is well worth the time.

We had lunch on the steps of the Seine (who knew that ham and butter nestled inside a baguette would taste so good?) and fed the birds. Two small boys started chasing the pigeons and managed to get water all over themselves (but they never caught a bird). Walking back across the river with the Eiffel Tower behind us, licking ice cream and waving to the other boats as they cruised is a favorite memory of this trip.Paris 2014 179

We took the Metro from the Troccedero to the Opera station, because we had to meet our tour guide for the electric bicycle tour in the middle of La Vendome. This is a large plaza built for the nobility in the 18th Century so they could go outside without being mugged. This is also where the Ritz Paris hotel is located, owned by Dodi Fahed’s father (and where they left after dinner before the tragedy in the tunnel). Paris 2014 196

We rode the bicycles all through back streets and to many hidden gems. The highlight for me was riding through the large plaza that is surrounded by the Louvre. We rode past the Pyramid and stopped at the monument that lines up the plaza with the Champs Elysse, the Arc de Truimphe, etc. Again, too many things to list but the feeling of riding a bicycle down narrow, cobblestone streets was exhilarating!

Paris 2014 252Walking back to our apartment, we discovered Point Neuf, the bridge at the end of the Ile de Citie. Thousands of locks have been placed on the bridge to  symbolize lovers giving their hearts to each other. Beneath the bridge are the keys that were thrown into the river when the locks were first placed on the metal. There is no room left to add a lock – only so many stories of people who love…

What a great day to spend in Paris – chasing the sights!


Chasing the Sun…to Paris

Flying for more than 9 hours can mess with your head. I felt like we were chasing the sun, because it was always behind us as we traveled east and it was setting in the west. But watch out – we played a game of tag and won! We met the sun as it came around the earth on the back side. Only problem was that our back sides were done (literally and figuratively).

Rue des Arts2 Although we slept on the plane, when we finally arrived at St. Andre des Arts, we were exhausted. We staggered through the day, but I am  writing this at 8:00 p.m. and she is already down for the night.

As we walked through our neighborhood, we came across a crepe stand that wPARIS 2014 003afted tantalizing smells into the street. And guess what their favorite sauce is – Nutella! The chef let her go behind the counter for the photo. And the crepes were delicious!

That’s not to say that we did not take advantage of our location. St.-Germain-des-Pres is an ideal spot to get anywhere in Paris. And the best part is the neighborhoods. We walked down small narrow streets that looked just like that hundreds of years ago. Imagine who else walked down these streets?

Notre Dame is a five minute walk from our apartment. We managed to attend a 6:30 p.m. mass (well, I did; she stayed in the apartment). CardinalblessingI couldn’t help taking photos – wPARIS 2014 043ith a setting that fabulous, who could blame me?

Tomorrow is the Louvre and a bicycle tour of the back streets of Paris. Paris is known as the City of Lights. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a great start to see Paris at her finest. Until then, avoir!