Saturday, December 11, 2010

À Bientôt, France

In just another hour, I'll be hopping on a bus that will take me from Ambialet to Toulouse. From there, the group will fly to Paris, where we will (weather permitting) board a plane leaving at 4:40 pm France time to arrive in D.C. around 7 pm EST.

I wish I had taken the time to post more frequently this last week, as I could probably write a dissertation on the past few days here alone. But with final exams and tearful goodbyes, doing so just wasn't realistic. Still, I need to write one final post:

Europe has been very good to me. The highlight of my entire time here has undoubtedly been getting engaged to my best friend. I could not be more excited to come home and see you, Alek. That clock never seemed so alive as it did in Paris and Rome. We need a lifetime together in order to make up for how fast the time goes by.

Secondly, I think about how lucky I am to have been able to visit 4.5 countries (counting the Vatican) in three short months. Little pieces of Barcelona, London, Paris, Rome, and the Vatican are with me wherever I go now, and I think that's pretty spectacular.

Finally, I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to get to know some incredible people along the way. Living at Le Prieure has been nothing short of an unforgettable adventure. I've had the time of my life, and I owe it all to you.

À bientôt, France. I'll be seeing you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Saint Nick's Day

I stumbled upon this music video by Matthew West on Saint Nicholas Day and felt compelled to share.

Monday, December 6, 2010

7,000 Words

Today marks the start of exam week for all Saint Francis students here and in Loretto. In an attempt to provide my friends currently studying their badonkadonks off with a little comic relief, I've decided to upload photos from mid-semester break that were taken by my fellow tourists who didn't know the first thing about how to take a picture. You see, when you want to be in a picture with your travel buddy in front of an ancient, famous, or breathtaking (fill in the blank) and there's nobody else you know around to take that picture, you're forced to follow a very precise protocol.

You have to first wait around at the particular spot where you want your picture to be taken. You then begin the search for a character who seems nice enough to take a picture that you can someday frame and put on your mantlepiece (and who isn't going to run away with your camera). Typically, the people you're looking for is another couple trying to take a picture of their own--this way, you can offer an exchange of photography services. Seemingly judgemental, that's just what you have to do. Unfortunately, it never works out quite like how you had originally hoped. Take a look:

Remind me why we came all the way to the Vatican to see the bricks?

(This one seems okay, but the man taking this picture stretegically covered a beautiful dome with Alek's head).

New photographer, still no dome.

Yes, my friends, that is Notre Dame.

Alek was ready for this one; I was trying to explain how to use the camera.

Alek's still ready to for his picture to be taken; I just wanted to be sure she understood what I was saying.

Alek gave up; why is she still taking pictures?

See what I mean? Nobody in Paris or Rome knew how to take a proper photo! So for all you weary travelers, the next time you're asked to help someone take a picture, pretty pretty please with a cherry on top (and rainbow jimmies) take your time and do what you can to help a brother (or in my case, sister) out. Chances are, they don't know when the next time will be that they're going to return, if ever. Remember that the beauty of their scrapbook is, quite literally, in your hands!

P.S. These wrinkable city maps would have also been useful while traveling!
P.P.S. There's not many things better than getting snail mail to say "good luck" on your first day of exam week. Thanks, Mom! (And a big thank you to anyone else who has taken the time to send smail mail my way these past few's always the sunniest kind of day brightener).

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Today was our last Sunday in Ambialet, meaning that it was the last time I'll have contact with the villagers until I next return to Southern France. I am sorry to report that Pere [Fr.] Jeamme had a minor stroke earlier this week, so there was nobody to perform Mass this morning. When I first introduced myself to Pere Jeamme back in September, he somehow repeated my name as Madeline. I've earned a couple nicknames that have stuck over the years...I answer to Mel most frequently (it always catches on without my even telling people to call me that) and smile when Alek calls me Mellie, but Madeline seems a bit further off. To this day, I'm not sure how the man derived "Madeline" from Melanie, but it was a nickname I gladly adopted considering how cute I think the cartoon is.

Nevertheless, it's a very sad thing to say hello to such a sweet someone one week and then just seven days later know that they're in poor health. Though we greatly missed Pere Jeamme today, Peter and Margaret did a lovely job in leading the small congregation in a little Sunday service of our own. The townspeople took turns with today's readings and we were still able to sing the hymns we learned on Friday. As a farewell to the villagers, Saint Francis students sang "Canticle of the Sun" and "On Eagles Wings." Dr. Woods, Dr. Lynch and Debbie watched on from the audience as we gave our little performance, making me feel like they were my older sister and parents at the 5th grade choral concert! It was certainly a special morning and something I'll miss in a week from now for sure.

A group shot of today's congregation on the front steps of the church.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


What kind of terrible blogger would I be if I didn't take the time to properly thank Nutella for all he's done for me this past semester? I think that every student here would wholeheartedly agree that he's been there for us whenever we needed him. He's been there for us during our petite dejuner; all our lunches...he's a great friend to have when you need an afternoon snack and probably an even better friend after dinner. He was there for me the night I got engaged and today he helped me finish my last art history paper about Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (with some assistance from Monsieur French bread and le banana, of course). I'll be honest with you, Nutella, I never thought you could compare to Mr. Skippy, but you've sure done a swell job of getting to know me these past few months. I hope that when I return to the States, we can stay in touch every now and again. xoxo

P.S. I'm finding it nearly impossible to believe that in just one week, I'll be on a plane homeward bound! (I'm getting pretty darn excited about that).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Peter & Margaret

The group just returned from our very last choir practice with Peter and was such a bittersweet afternoon. Peter and Margaret are a British couple who live directly down the mountain from Le Prieure. They decided to retire in France about ten years ago; they keep busy by working for a bike company, guiding tourists with the best routes around the Pyrenee Mountains.

Every Friday afternoon in Ambialet, Peter and Margaret have invited the Saint Francis students to their home for choir practice. Margaret does an excellent job of teaching us the hymns for the upcoming Sunday Mass (which has greatly improved my French) while Peter plays the guitar. After we do our best singing all the French hymns, Peter and Margaret treat us to a traditional English afternoon tea (I've since decided that Earl Grey+a splash of milk is my favorite).

If I had to pick one thing that I've enjoyed most about living in Ambialet, it's probably having been given the opportunity to get to know such a darling couple. Peter and Margaret have always happily welcomed our group into their home--even when we were complete strangers. I greatly admire their kindness and think that the world would be such a better place if there were more people living in it like Peter and Margaret.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


In celebration of the first day of Hanukkah, I think it's the perfect time to describe to you one of my favorite areas in all of Paris: The Marais District. The Marais District is historically the place where Paris' Jewish community has settled. It is home to the Picasso Museum, Bastille, Victor Hugo's house, and my favorite restaurant of all time: L'as du Fallafel. The first time I ate at L'as du Fallafel, it was a planned activity for the study abroad students. After my life was forever changed by that first falafel experience, I made a point to return to the same restaurant with Alek not once--but twice more--during our short time in Paris together. Never have I ever been to such a busy restaurant or one with better service. For all my fellow Marylanders, it's like a charming cross between Damascus' Jimmie Cone and Annapolis' Chick n' Ruth's...but so much better.

Unfortunately, words cannot properly credit or accurately describe this brilliant creation. All I can say about falafel is that it is a delightful mixture of vegetables that resemble meatballs but tastes completely original. I learned by looking at everyone else sitting in the restaurant that there are multiple ways in which one can enjoy their falafel; each time I had mine in a gyro with grilled eggplant, cucumber & radish slivers, and topped with a creamy yogurt sauce. Boy would I give anything for some falafel right now. With mango juice from Israel.

Falafel #1

Falafel #2

Falafel #3

P.S. I read in my Rick Steves' Paris 2010 guidebook that Lenny Kravitz is a regular at L'as du Fallafel.
P.P.S. The last time I was there, Alek and I had the honor of sitting at the table next to his picture!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

24 Days 'til Christmas

Somehow, it's already the 1st of December! You know what this means? That there are only 31 short days left to enjoy 2010! This also means that the time has officially come to open the first window in your chocolate-calendar-countdown (or time to make an even better countdown of your own).

To help you get into the holiday spirit, I've complied a list of my Top-11 (couldn't narrow it down to an even 10) Christmas Movies: 1. It's a Wonderful Life (if you have time to watch only one movie this holiday season, you should make it this one); 2. Miracle on 34th Street (the original version); 3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (he had a very shiny nose); 4. The Polar Express (beautiful animation); 5. Elf ("The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!"); 6. Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown (you should also look into the soundtrack); 7. The Holiday (any chick flick enjoyed by both my fiance and I is automatically a good movie in my book); 8. I'll Be Home for Christmas (favorite scene: when one of characters is trying to serenade his wife in a diner and a cow outside starts mooing), 9. Frosty the Snowman (I never liked the sequel, but the first one is great); 10. The Family Stone (you may need a box of tissues for this one); and last but not least 11. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (to get the Cindy Lou-Who look, all you've got to do is place a plastic bottle on your head, wrap your hair around it, and fasten with a hair tie).

So there you have it, folks. My best list of Christmas movies to keep you occupied the whole holiday season long!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mad Lib: Tuesday in Ambialet

Instructions: Grab a piece of paper and a pen/pencil, jot down the first idea that comes to mind for each of the numbers below (without looking at the story beneath the picture), and then complete the story by filling in the blanks!

1. feeling
2. way in which a person can get from one place to another
3. letter
4. wild animal
5. adjective
6. adverb
7. adjective beginning with the letter "A"
8. verb ending in "ing"
9. number
10. color

I wake up around 8 am, feeling 1.___ and ready to start the day. I 2.___ downstairs to eat my petite dejuener before heading to French class at 9. After learning that I got a 3.___ on my last French quiz, I look forward to lunchtime. The lunch bell rings around 12:30; I go to the dining room to find that Bernard has prepared 4.___! Somehow, it tastes 5.___. After lunch, I 6.___ remember that it is Team A: Team 7.___’s turn to do the dishes. We wash the dishes quickly so that we can spend the rest of the afternoon 8.___. We finally eat dinner around 7:30, staying at the table to talk for hours because everyone drank 9.___ glasses of 10.___ wine. Then it’s off to bed until the next day in Ambialet begins!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

A meal without cheese is like a day without the sun or a kiss without a mustache.
-French Proverb

Sunday, November 28, 2010

And the countdown begins....

The first day of Advent has arrived once again, meaning there are less than four weeks until Christmas! To mark the beginning of the holiday season, Dr. Lynch and Debbie bought a nativity scene for the dining room and Ed constructed a lovely Advent wreath from empty wine bottles (we've really caught on to the "Go Green" iniatives here at Le Prieure) and some natural foliage he found outside. Though I do miss the holiday jingles I'd be listening to on 97.1 fm if I were home right now, I've enjoyed recognizing the start of Advent without being surrounded by all the commericial ideas of Christmas.

Are you doing anything special to get ready for the holidays this year? I just love the idea of performing 24 acts of kindness every day through Christmas!

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Today the group journeyed to Lourdes, France, the place where our Blessed Mother appeared to a young Bernadette on 18 separate occasions. It is said that at the time in which the apparitions occurred, the church officials didn't believe Bernadette. It was not until she told her parish priest that she had heard the woman talking to her say that she was the Immaculate Conception--an explanation that such a young girl who had not yet finished her catechism would be able to give--that her story was believed.

At the spot in which Mary appeared to Bernadette came forth a spring whose water has been known to have cured thousands of people. Millions continue to visit Lourdes each year to offer their intentions at the grotto and find healing in the baths.

Wanting to take part in this, I mustered up the courage to bathe in the [frigid] Lourdes water today and found it to be surprisingly rejuvenating. While I have no serious ailment for which I needed to ask healing for, the bath was undeniably a breathtaking experience that I will always remember.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rendre Grace (Give Thanks)

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! We had our very own celebration here in Ambialet...the group was happily joined by almost everyone who we have grown close to since our arrival. If you take a look at this short clip, you'll be quickly introduced to most of the people who were in attendance. Present were people from five different countries altogether; France, England, Russia, Canada, and America were all represented last night! For some of our guests, this was their first Thanksgiving, and a very special one it was indeed.

Our feast was prepared by the oh-so-talented Bernard and included turkey with a sweet apricot and white raisin stuffing, corn, salad, cranberry sauce (courtesy of Mrs. Roche who had it shipped here from the States just for the occasion), French bread, 10 variations of cheese, pumpkin pie, and lots of vin.

Dinner was followed by music and merriment in the stone room, which was historically the place where the friars in the Middle Ages ate their dinners in total silence. One might say that we broke that tradition of silence with the help of Peter, who led the singing with his guitar playing. (We were all pretty excited when Shane decided to join in too).

The holiday, while certainly much different from my typical Thanksgiving back home, was undeniably a memorable one. My life has been so blessed by the people I was surrounded by last night that I really couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate our time together.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my readers: you have my best wishes for a festive day filled with friends and family (also friends that feel like family). May today start a beautiful holiday season centered on everything important and meaningful in our lives.

To my favorite people back home: I miss and love you all! I am very blessed to have you and there's nothing I could really do to express just how grateful I am. I will be thinking of everyone all day long, wishing that I could have woken up early to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and fall asleep on the couch during Dad's football games.

P.S. To anyone out there experiencing difficulty with their turkey, the Butterball Hotline stationed with turkey experts can be reached at: 1-800-BUTTERBALL.

P.P.S. If their line is busy, you may find the help you're looking for on their website:

Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pronino Foundation

With Thanksgiving quickly appoaching, I have been giving great thought to everyone and everything in my life that I have to be grateful for (as cliche as that may sound). And as I count my numerous blessings, I frequently think about the street kids who forever touched my life in Honduras. About one and a half years ago, I traveled to Honduras with my university to The Pronino Foundation, an orphanage that has been organized to take children as young as three or four years old off the streets. Nearly all of the children living at Pronino have, at some point, been involved with gangs, drugs, abuse, or a combination of all three. The story of every boy there is really nothing short of a miracle. They have experienced more suffering than you or I can imagine, yet these kids are now the happiest, most thankful people I have ever met--all because of Pronino. Their resiliency is absolutely admirable; their joy for life is something that we should all be striving for on a daily basis.

It's my hope that all of the boys I met in Honduras will someday be able to go out on their own, land a successful job, and continually spread more of the same love and kindness that they showed me. As such, I strongly urge anyone out there in the blogspot world who wants to make a charitable donation this holiday season to consider Pronino. I can promise you that the boys there will genuinely appreciate it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Case of the Missing Coffee Machine

It was a dark, rainy night in Ambialet. The group had just sat down to dinner when someone noticed the coffee machine was missing. It wasn't near the sink as usual, nor was it inside the kitchen waiting to be cleaned. In fact, it was nowhere to be found. Petty to some, the coffee pot is a way of life for Dr. Woods, Kerstin, and me. Without the coffee, we can't function. I thought to myself, "How exactly will my projects or grad school applications be completed if we don't have a coffee machine?"

Deeply troubled, we had to go to bed with worries for what would come (or not come, rather) in the morning. Would we be drowsy for the rest of our days in France, or would our sacred caffeine machine magically reappear? In Dr. Lynch's wise, understanding words: "I don't drink coffee, but I know what people are like without it."

Thankfully, all the lessons I ever learned reading Nancy Drew and and playing Clue Junior didn't need to be put into practice because Kerstin was able to find the misplaced coffee pot on a shelf in the kitchen before our French class began this morning. Once again, all is well in Le Prieure.

*Here's a link to the sitcom that Dr. Woods told us to watch at tonight's dinner (also about someone's misfortune with a lack of caffeine).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

When 10+ people in one place drink wine with their dinner on a nightly basis, it's not too difficult to build a nice collection of wine bottles. As such, I was inspired (by an online crafts blog) to build a Christmas tree out of wine bottles awhile back. Few people in the monastery believed that this would actually happen; I'm just here to show you the pictures:

It took Gabe and I about six hours to put the whole thing together today. Using only a picture for reference, I am so glad that our project ended successfully. Once we were able to figure out how to build a sturdy base (a broken chair, a square piece of metal, 2 screws, and some nails are all you need) the rest just seemed to fall into place. Now we'll have a tree when so many of our friends back home go to pick one out the weekend following Thanksgiving! But who needs to chop down a tree when you can just recycle one?

Cheers to the upcoming holiday season!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bienvenue, Weekend!

It's a Friday night in Ambialet and I am celebrating the weekend by watching Julie & Julia with some of the crew. I'm loving this because:
A. I'm in France watching a movie that [partially] takes place in France. I walked the same Parisian streets as the infamous Julia did just two weeks ago.
B. One of the two stars of this movie is Amy Adams, whose role in Enchanted seems to have given reason for people to serenade me as I wait on their tables back in The States.
C. The movie is based on Julie's attempt to complete all of the recipes in Julia Child's cookbook in just one year and publish an account of her experience in an online blog. In many regards, her experimental blogging is precisely what I'm trying to do. And just like Julie, I find pleasure in knowing that you (whoever you are, wherever you are) are taking the time to read this right now!

The Julie/Julia Project

Julia Child's kitchen in the American History Museum. Taken during a trip to D.C. with my best friend in August 2009, I knew this picture would come in handy someday.

P.S. The movie just got better. "A Bushel and a Peck" is being played in the background.
P.P.S. "A Bushel and a Peck" was my first favorite song ever.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Good Friend and a Glass of Wine

This evening, the one and only John Roche led us in a delightful wine sampling as a precursor to dinner. John (Assistant Professor) has done so much for the group since our arrival in September; we are tremendously lucky to have him here with us. He is one of the most generous people I know, ever-giving of his time, energy, and resources to ensure that all of the students and professors are having the best experience possible. Thank you for everything you do, John. You are truly appreciated.

P.S. You should check out John in all of his wine sampling glory right here!

"Every girl needs a good friend and a glass of wine."
LeAnn Rimes

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Good morning, Loves!
It's a beautiful fall day in the Ambialet neighborhood, so decided to go for a little run with Jay-Z. No folks, I don't mean the rapper, I'm talking about our little furry friend whose favorite thing to do is terrorize les chets. Jay-Z is possibly the best running partner I'll ever have. Don't worry Ashley (Why is the sky blue?), Christina, or Noelle...Jay-Z could never replace any of you. It's just that he is ever-motivating and more than willing to run whenever you are. Like a true gentleman, Jay-Z will run ahead of you and patiently wait until you reach his point. Chivalrous too, this guy will gladly sniff out any and all possible sources of danger along the way.

Jay-Z with our beloved director, Tim.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We miss you, Jenn!

This post is a little shout-out to our great friend, Jenn Lynch. Jenn was brave enough to join our group for these past six weeks in order to visit her parents and do a little sightseeing in Europe. Though I didn't spend as much time around this girl as I would have liked, any time that I was in her company turned out to be incredible fun-from our first day in Barcelona to our last weekend in Ambialet. The time she was with us flew by much too quickly and she is going to be greatly missed!

Today just wasn't the same without you, Jenn! I am most definitely going to look into speeding up the date of our French reunion.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quote of the Day

No man needs a vacation so much as the person who has just had one.
-Elbert Hubbard

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hot Dog Day

Nearly every day my Poppy was alive, he would have two sandwiches for lunch, each filled with his home-grown tomatoes, lettuce, mayonaise--all sprinkled with a touch of salt and a dash of pepper. This ordinary week-day lunch would only change on Sundays, when my grandmother would warm up hot dogs after church. Thus, Sundays were named: "Hot Dog Day."

Even after my Poppy died, the tradition of Hot Dog Day was carried on for a good while. Simple, great with mustard and a doughy Martin's potato roll...who doesn't like themselves a good wiener?

Well I returned this morning from church (rather hungry, indeed) to find that Bernard, our incredible chef here in Ambialet, made hot dogs for lunch! It was surely the most gourmet Hot Dog Day I've ever experienced (complete with croissant-like buns, mushroom salad, and cauliflower baked with cheese), and the most exciting meal I've had in Ambialet. A little wink from up above!

You made my day, Bernard!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Love Story

Once upon a time, there was a boy and a girl. In their younger years, they both wondered the crowded halls of Damascus High School, talking to each other on the way to their lockers at the beginning of the day and back to their buses at the end of it. Fast forward five and a half unforgettable years, and the boy flies to Europe to visit the girl. He bought tickets to Rome and back to Paris. On their first Friday in Paris together, the two visited some of the girl’s favorite places in the City of Lights, including Notre Dame de Paris, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Latin Quarter.

If that wasn’t enough, the two decided to take a twilight ride up the Eiffel Tower. From the tippy top, they could see one particularly bright spot beneath them. This light would just so happen to mark the place where their lives would soon change. After descending from the very top of Le Tour Eiffel, the two stopped to get dinner at Carrefour, the French take on Giant or Safeway, buying a five-star dinner that consisted of pre-made salads, French bread, and Nutella. After a picnic dinner in the Splendid Hotel that the boy had reserved for his stay, the two went to the balcony to admire the best view of the Eiffel Tower in all of Paris.

Now since this balcony was just barely large enough for one person to sit down on, the boy, being the gentleman that he has always been, let the girl sit down (on a towel, of course, so that she wouldn’t get cold) while he thoughtfully situated himself next to her from inside the room. It was around 11 o’clock when the Eiffel Tower shimmered as it does on every hour of the evening, and the girl noticed that the boy was on both of his knees. At first, she didn’t really think anything of it because of the foot-long height difference between the room and the window leading to the balcony. Then, before the girl had any idea of what was happening, one of the boy’s knees lifted from the ground and he asked her to marry him!

They’re going to live together happily ever after.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The trip of a lifetime.

It's been three weeks since my last post, and oh what a three weeks it has been. I have mastered the Parisian Metro system, walked the narrow streets of Rome in its entirety, and driven the length of France back to my home in Ambialet. In these past twenty days, I have made memories to last a lifetime with the best of friends and I am eternally grateful for each moment along the way.

Of everything I was able to see and experience in these past few weeks, I am most excited to announce to the world my engagement to my best friend and the love of my life. Thank you so much, Alek, for taking the time off from school to meet me in Europe (and for pulling off the amazing surprise without me having even the slightest clue). Our adventures together were better than anything else and I am absolutely thrilled at the idea of being able to spend the rest of my life with you.

To my friends and family back home: I fully intend to update this blog as frequently as possible with all of my best stories from Paris and Rome (and oh golly-gee-whiz is there a lot of them). If I fail to do a good job at this or am MIA for awhile, please forgive me. I still have a month left of classes here in Ambialet, as well as grad school applications to complete.

I miss you all bunches and love you lots,

Saturday, October 23, 2010

And we're off!

Today the group is en route to Paris! It will be about a ten hour or so drive to get there, but it will all be worth it because those who opted to drive will be detouring at Le Chateau d'Usse (aka: Sleeping Beauty's castle)! In fact, I'm supposed to be downstairs with all my things in just ten minutes!

We will be in Paris until the end of next week, when a few other students and I will be heading to Roma (happy shriek!) for our mid-semester break. Since I won't have much time to keep in touch with everyone during these next few weeks, I have decided to temporarily deactivate my facebook account.


P.S. Don't worry, Mom, I'll send you an email to let you know we're safe in Paris as soon as I get the chance!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Make art not war

In honor of today's devotion to homework for my art class, here's a fun little thought via Everything Fabulous: