The Purpose of Unexpected Joy

Bonne année, mes amis! Happy 2016!

Despite growing up 25 miles away from New York City, I never spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square, much to the chagrin of my European friends. I never felt a desire to stand in the cold for 10 hours in the middle of a drunken mob, waiting for an event that was over in a blink. This year, being a part-time New Yorker changed that.

One of my friends from my NYC Catholic book club was the organizer of an annual New Year’s Eve party at St. Malachy’s Church, one block away from Times Square. I expected a fun night with a few good friends. Little did I know that God wanted to give me an NYC afternoon adventure with a new friend from out of town, a sparkly disco ball mask to wear, Mass in a beautiful church, drinks and dancing, and the crown jewel of the evening: getting to pass through the police barricade around Times Square and watch the ball drop in person with a million rejoicing people and probably a billion pieces of confetti.

I never asked for it, but God decided to give His little girl one last gift to celebrate the end of the year.

Today, I kept asking myself why I of all people received such unexpected joy at the end of the year. A few weeks ago, my book club discussed the purpose and beauty of suffering, how it can shape us into better people and teach us to rely more heavily on God, among other things. After this discussion, I expected God would bring some suffering in my life in order to put these ideas into practice. But the end of my year was so joyful that I got a little confused. 

Of course, this is only the first day of 2016. A lot of suffering can happen in the near future. But is there a purpose to joy? Are we supposed to just appreciate joy, or is there a responsibility that comes with joy?

The comparison between my average expectations for the evening and what I experienced reminded me of a quote by C.S. Lewis from his book The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about … when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We often don’t expect to find joy because we don’t think we deserve it. We’re not miserable, so we don’t need anything to bring us joy. We’re just moving through life trying to get it all done, and that’s enough for us. Besides, why should we be so happy when so many people in the world are suffering? But those who have experienced deep joy know that it’s impossible to hide. It shows in your face and your smile and your eyes, and other people can see it.

That’s the great responsibility that comes with the great power of joy: to let our joy spill over into the lives of others, to use our light to cast out, even partially, someone else’s darkness. One of my coworkers told me recently, “Your smile is the first thing I see when I walk into the office, and I know it’s going to be a good day.” In 2016, I hope to continue to bring joy to others, no matter what suffering I may have to face.

God doesn’t just want us to feel “fine,” he wants to give us joy! Jesus says in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give to those who ask him.” So as we move into 2016, I challenge you to expect joy. Expect love. Expect positivity. Expect laughter. Expect friendship. And when you or someone you know is in a tough situation, use your joy to make a difference.

Thank you to all who have followed this blog for the past three years. I wouldn’t be here without you. Here’s to making 2016 the best year yet!

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on this blog every Friday. Share your resolutions in the comments below!

Dear HONY Girl: An Open Letter

I’ve followed Brandon Stanton’s photo blog Humans of New York for a very long time and I love it. I’ve always believed that people are far more interesting than meets the eye if you know how to ask the right questions, and this blog is proof. There have been so many moving and funny stories shared thousands of times on social media that come from this blog. HONY was even able to raise more than $1 million for a school in Brownsville, Brooklyn after a photo of its valedictorian went viral.

So why do I bring it up? Last week, one post broke my heart. The subject was a young woman, though she didn’t show her face, only her hand. On her finger was a silver ring that spelled LOVE in curlicue letters. In the accompanying caption, she said that she had been in an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship for five years. Please read the original post here.

I commented on the Facebook post, like more than 33,000 others, but I wanted to write more. Please share this post with anyone who is in a similar situation:

Dear sweet sister,

I’m so sorry this is happening to you. But I understand. I understand because I’ve been there.

I know how it feels when love is romantic and exciting when you’re together, yet you cry for hours when you’re alone. I know how it feels to believe that your worth is directly related to your relationship with another person. I know the fear that if the relationship ends for any reason, it would be all your fault and you would be a failure. I know how complicated your feelings can be; how can this person hurt me so much if he says he loves me? I’ve bought the lie that physical harm is the only kind of abuse. I know rejection, self-loathing, anger, and despair, and I know wanting to get up the next morning and do it all again, thinking this time will be different.

However, it seems like it hasn’t been different. It will never be different with him. You can’t change his behavior, but you can change your perspective.

Many comments on your photo, mine included, told you to get out. It’s not too late. You CAN get out. You say you’re scared to leave; I understand that too. But let me tell you some truths about you that may help you.

You were created, beautiful and worthy, fearfully and wonderfully, by a master artist. By your very existence, you have value and deserve to be treated with respect. You know deep in your heart that you were made for free, total, fruitful and faithful love. You know that you deserve more than a relationship that robs you of your self-worth, your joy, your goals and dreams. You deserve a partner who celebrates YOU, all of you, as you were created to be. You are worth celebrating.

It is only through believing these truths that you will find the courage to break free. Trust yourself. Trust my words. The longer you wait to break up, the harder it gets. This relationship does not merit another second of your time. Seek help. If you think your safety is in jeopardy, have an authority figure go with you to break up. Reach out to family, friends, a clergy member, a counselor, anyone who will support you. If you can’t find anyone to help, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

I wish you all the beauty, joy and love this world has to offer, and I wish for the world all the beauty, joy and love you have to offer it. I love you. I’m praying for you.

You are enough.

Love,

A sister

First Impressions: Hocus Pocus (1993)

Joyeux fête d’Halloween, mes amis! And welcome to my very first First Impressions review of Kenny Ortega’s 1993 Halloween comedy, Hocus Pocus, starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy.

Previous Knowledge of the Film: I might have seen a clip or two years ago, but I was too busy trying to figure out what was up with Midler’s dentures to pay attention to the plot. This series got started because my coworker, A., was scandalized that I had not seen it. So this review is for her.

Recap: On Halloween night, Max, the new kid in Salem, Massachusetts, accidentally resurrects the three witchy Sanderson sisters, who seek to steal the souls of little children to make themselves immortal.

First Impressions:

  1. I was always told that running away from your problems won’t solve them, but in this movie, it seems like a lot of Max, Dani, and Allison’s problems could be solved by running away. Seriously, they just stand there when there are three bloodthirsty witches riding brooms and coming to kill them!! They could have avoided capture so many times if they had just remembered they had mobile legs. I can’t count the number of times I screamed at the TV, “RUN! RUN! GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
  2. Is this the movie that got Parker the role of Carrie Bradshaw?
  3. Emily is the most useless character in the film. Unless Winifred, Mary, and Sarah put her in a trance, which is never indicated, no little kid would be that obedient when his or her life is being threatened.
  4. Dani is my new favorite little sister from popular culture. She’s cute, funny, sassy, and quite perceptive. She annoys and embarrasses her brother, but she doesn’t annoy the audience like so many younger sibling characters do. And the relationship between her and Max is sweet and surprisingly believable. She’s easily the best child character in the film.
  5. Midler is the reigning queen of all things campy and awesome. “I Put a Spell on You” is the best part of the whole movie, in my opinion. Even better than “Come Little Children.” I don’t understand why they gave that song to Parker when they had Bette Midler as their lead actress. That’s like casting Broadway veteran Jonathan Groff in Frozen and giving him a throwaway one-minute musical segway. Oh well, Midler’s song is the one I’ve had on repeat since seeing this movie, not Parker’s.
  6. Max and Allison are pretty boring as characters and as a couple. Max is the fast-talking moronic dweeb who tries to put on a tough act and fails miserably. Allison is your basic 90’s pretty girl with no backstory, no character development, and who only exists as a prize for the hero. Been there, seen that. I’d have liked to see a little more depth in these two, especially since Dani is such a great character, but this movie really isn’t about the kids; it’s about the witches.
  7. … Are you sure this is a children’s movie?
  8. Was there an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie dated a NYC bus driver and he let her sit on his lap while she drove the bus around the city on a romantic date? Because it would be just as weird as it is in this movie.
  9. OK. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS MOVIE’S OBSESSION WITH MAX’S VIRGINITY. The constant jokes about this are creepy and totally unnecessary. Why is this point so important aside from the virgin-lighting-the-black-candle thing? We can guess that Max is probably younger than 16 because he doesn’t have a learner’s permit. So why does this movie make fun of a very young teenage boy who’s still a virgin? Is it supposed to embarrass Max in front of Allison? Does that make him less attractive or more attractive in her eyes? Are we supposed to infer that Allison is not a virgin? Why does this matter? Is this what casual sexism looked like in 1993? I need answers!
  10. I know that everyone usually talks about SJP and Midler, but I’d like to see more of Najimy’s work. As she’s mostly done television, that would mean me watching a lot of stuff that I haven’t seen but everyone else has … Oh, wait.

Final Thoughts: It’s easy to see why this movie has such a nostalgic value to it. It’s clearly a product of the ’90s, when children’s movies showed all their adult characters in a ridiculous and idiotic light and the children outsmarted the adults in childish, slapsticky ways. This movie was released the year after I was born, and I never saw it growing up, so it doesn’t have the same sense of nostalgia for me that it has for many people. However, Hocus Pocus was a ton of fun to watch and I liked it despite its many flaws. On the Worth Meter, I give it a Worth Owning Used.

Hope you enjoyed this review! For next time, the theme is: Love Stories. Please leave a comment below with your vote. One vote per person, please.

  1. Amélie (2001)
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
  3. The English Patient (1996)

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful Halloween!

“I put a spell on yooo-hoooo and noooooooooooow you’re mine!”

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

First Impressions: An Introduction

Bonjour, mes amis!

Today is the beginning of an all-new series on this blog and I’m so excited to share it with you.

I love movies. I love talking about movies, watching movies, and binge-watching movie reviews on YouTube way more than television. That’s not to say that TV can’t be good or enjoyable, but I personally can’t make the commitment to sit down at the same time every week to watch the next episode or spend an entire weekend watching a whole series on Netflix. The only reason I still have Netflix is for the instant streaming movies and DVD delivery. I would rather watch a whole story completed in two and a half hours as opposed to several seasons of 60-minute morsels. But that’s just me.

I’ve seen a lot of movies over the past 23 years, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. (Actually, I haven’t seen that one.) However, whenever I talk about movies, there’s a good chance that someone will bring up a really popular movie that I haven’t seen. And when I reveal that I have not seen said movie, this person’s reaction runs along the lines of “WHAAAT?! HOW HAVE YOU NOT SEEN THIS MOVIE? HOW ARE YOU STILL CONSIDERED A HUMAN?! PUT YOUR ENTIRE LIFE ON HOLD BECAUSE YOU NEED TO SEE THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW!”

Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of beloved and popular movies that I had not seen up until 2014 or so: Naked Gun. Spaceballs. A Christmas Story. Clueless. (500) Days of Summer. Enchanted. A Muppet Christmas Carol.

See my point?

In an effort to shorten my Netflix queue, I present “First Impressions,” a series in which I will write short reviews of popular movies that I somehow missed. These might be scattered thoughts or full-blown analyses, but I will try to keep them under 200 words. For a rating system, I’ll be using the Worth Meter used by YouTubers like Matt Guion, found here. Then, I will present three choices for my next review, and YOU, my beloved readers, will vote on which movie I just have to see next.

This idea was partly inspired by a conversation with a coworker, who was horrified that I had somehow missed a certain Halloween classic.

Therefore, my first review will be of the trippiest, scariest movie to came out of 1993: Hocus Pocus.

À bientôt! 

– Vicky

TAPIF: One Year Later

At the beginning of October 2014, I began my year in Compiègne with the Teaching Assistant Program in France. One year ago.

I was supposed to arrive at the end of September, but plane engine issues coupled with airport strikes in Paris (Ah, la joie des grèves françaises!) delayed my arrival in France by 10 hours. However, I arrived. And what a year I had!

When many people describe a profound experience, they say it “changed my life.” This often implies that something (a quality, an idea, a person) was missing before the event took place. My seven months in Compiègne were not life-changing in the sense that I became someone I wasn’t. Rather, I changed because qualities that lay dormant in me were revived and strengthened, and even some faults were diminished. I begin to think that growth is not so much an addition or subtraction as it is a refinement of spirit. If God formed us fearfully and wonderfully, He must have given us everything we need to go through life, and sends people or experiences into our lives accordingly to draw out and refine these different qualities in us.

I’m not going to write a “listicle” for this topic because it’s too simple. Rather, I’ll just share two of the most poignant lessons from my time in France, hopefully in a semi-coherent manner.

I’ll be honest: I’m no expert on children.  I took a babysitting class in middle school, but there were never any kids in my neighborhood to babysit, and my youngest cousins lived far away. I never took a pedagogy class in college. So no, I didn’t really know what I was in for when I accepted a position teaching middle school English. Since I returned home, I’ve gotten a lot of messages from prospective teaching assistants expressing the same fear: “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never taught anyone anything! How am I supposed to teach them for a whole year?” To those assistants who might be reading this post: you don’t need a long resume of teaching experience to do this. You just need to be a resource.

On January 7, 2015, the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked, and many of France’s prominent political cartoonists were killed. The next day, I walked into my weekly conversation club with a lesson all ready. One of my students raised his hand and said, “Miss, can we talk about Charlie Hebdo?” I could see the fear and pain in the eyes of my 12- and 13-year-old students, so I agreed. We spent the whole hour discussing the event (in English) and I said very little. The class carried the conversation all on its own. My only remark was at the end of the lesson: “There are many people in the United States who are thinking of you and who support you.”

Kids are used to adults not taking them seriously. It used to infuriate me when I was younger, and I’m sure it was the same for you. The best thing you can be for any child is a willing listener.

Outside from teaching, I became bolder. I learned bite the bullet of fear and take chances, especially when it came to meeting new friends.

There is a stereotype that the French are not as friendly and open as Americans are. In my experience, this is only partly true. Most of the French people I met were very friendly and open, especially once they found out I could speak French well. But it was not the same smothering friendliness that you often see from Americans. It was a reserved politeness that slowly, organically developed into friendship.

I found out about the Communauté Chrétienne des Étudiants (Catholic community at the local university), a week or two after I arrived. It took me another month to work up the courage to attend a meeting. What sort of community was this? What if they never had an international student before? What if my French wasn’t good enough? And was I even allowed to join because I wasn’t a student?

God makes swift work of our doubts when we trust Him and take a leap of faith. I attended my first CCE Mass and dinner in November, and my only regret was not going sooner! In this community, I found warm, welcoming people from all over France and the world who cared about me and made me feel at home. Some of my best memories of the year come from this community. It was so wonderful to make real French friends!

And of course, I can’t forget the other language assistants I met from all over the world, an eclectic little family of expats that supported one another exploring a new country. And abundant kindness flowed in from my roommates, my coworkers, my students and their families, and even the everyday compiègnois. Most greeted me with a kind bonjour and smile, and many went beyond the call of politeness, inviting me to dinners and parties, or taking me on excursions to tourist sites in the area. It was truly heartbreaking to leave a place that had become like home in less than a year.

Toward the end of my stay, I thanked as many people as I could in person for their welcome and hospitality. One friend responded,  “It was nothing. You were so dynamic and happy that you fit right in.”

Goodness attracts goodness. You don’t have to be an outgoing or extroverted person to find friends in a strange land. You just need to be present, be open, be kind. There will be times of loneliness and homesickness, and that’s OK. But if you have courage enough to reach outside of yourself, you will make a home wherever you go.

Merci à tous qui m’a très bien accueillir pendant mon séjour à Compiègne. And bon courage to all the new language assistants in France this year.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Hundred Word Review: “The Cupcake Queen” by Heather Hepler

Challenge No. 6: A Book From an Author You Love But Haven’t Read Yet

“The Cupcake Queen,” by Heather Hepler, finished May 26. Hepler co-wrote one of my all-time favorite YA novels, “Scrambled Eggs at Midnight,” with Brad Barkley, and I was so excited to read her first solo novel. Also, who doesn’t want to read a book about cupcakes?!

cupcakequeen

Hundred Word Review: Penny is dragged along when her mother returns to her small hometown and opens a cupcake shop, leaving Penny’s father and Manhattan behind. In between cake decorating and homesickness, Penny makes new friends, daydreams about the enigmatic boy in her art class, and becomes the target of the class mean girl’s vendetta. This coming-of-age novel reminds me of, well, a cupcake. Your adult brain says you’re too old to enjoy it; however, after one bite, you realize it has substance and sweetness, sass and sincerity. Fourteen-year-old me would love this book; for twenty-three-year-old me, it satisfied her literary sweet tooth.

Check out PopSugar’s challenge and let me know in the comments if you have a book recommendation for one of the categories. And if you want to do the challenge yourself, let me know what you’re reading!

Also, for a sneak peek at upcoming Hundred Word Reviews, click here to follow me on Goodreads.

Next up … we shall see!

Happy reading!

-Vicky

Meet Magnolia, or How Kittens Are Just Like Toddlers

Bonjour mes amis!

It’s been a while. There has been a big change in my family this summer that I haven’t gotten to share with all of you yet.

No, it’s not my new job in New York City, which I have been loving.

No, it’s not one cousin getting engaged, and another having a baby (which are still major life changes that deserve celebration!)

It’s the newest addition to our family, baby Magnolia, aka Maggie.

image

After years of begging, my sister and I finally convinced my mom to get another cat. Our first cat, Sylvester, died when I was in Nantes, and we miss him to this day. But my mom and I fell in love with Magnolia, a six-month-old tabby with big yellow eyes, at our local animal shelter. The nice folks at the shelter gave her the name, and we decided to keep it because of the beautiful magnolia tree in our front yard.

Side rant: Adopt, don’t buy. You save so much money and an animal’s life in the process.

Bringing a kitten into our family has been a challenging, wonderful, and very entertaining experience. We’ve started calling her “the toddler” because she acts like a two-year-old in a lot of ways. Granted, I have never been the mother of a toddler, and I’m not trying to diminish the struggle and hard work parents of young children face every day. I’m just sharing this list as a fun way to introduce my new cat to the blogosphere.

So without further ado, here are 10 ways in which having a kitten seems a lot like raising a toddler.

1. You have to restrain yourself from spamming your friends’ news feeds with cute pictures/videos.

“Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya.” – Taylor Swift, a fellow cat lady

2. Everything is a toy.

Your sheets. Your headphones. The drawstring of your pajama pants. All fair game. And you will most likely trip over one of her toys as soon as you walk in the door.

3. You have to baby-proof the entire house.

You know those safety gates your parents used to keep you from falling down the stairs as a child? My parents now use it to keep Maggie out of their bedroom.

4. She demands constant attention.

If you sit down, she’s in your lap in a matter of minutes, demanding to be petted. You’re not going to send that email or finish that book or eat your lunch. You’re going to sit there and give the cat love for the next 10 minutes.

5. She gets distracted by the simplest things.

My mom still maintains that she spent the best $3 of her life on a rattling ball for Maggie. She plays fetch with it like a puppy, providing hours of free entertainment. For video footage of this, see my Instagram.

6. She makes big messes.

Knock over a plant? Check. Get claws caught in the curtains? Check. Leave bits of torn paper all over the house? Check. And no, she’s not cleaning any of that up.

7. She follows you into the bathroom …

… and then loudly protests when you shut the door.

8. She cries when you leave to go to the supermarket.

Separation anxiety is real.

9. You’re at least an extra 30 minutes late to everything.

A few weeks ago, I was going to meet my very punctual best friend for coffee. I was trying to lock up the house and pack up my stuff, and in all the kerfluffle, Maggie escaped into the garage and wouldn’t come out. I spent 20 minutes looking for the rattling ball that I knew she would chase back into the house. I was almost an hour late to coffee. When I told my friend what happened, she laughed and said, “I knew it!” (Shout out to said bestie for putting up with my chronic lateness for the past 12 years.)

10. You worry about leaving her alone for an extended period of time.

You would think we were leaving a toddler at Grandma’s house for the first time with the way we acted when we left Maggie home for a family reunion, even though we left her in the hands of a most excellent cat-sitter (aforementioned best friend.)

11. She drives you crazy, but one adorable look and you just melt with love.

I’d like to end this post with a thank-you to all parents, especially mine, who love their kids on their best and worst days.

A bientot!

– Vicky

Question: Feel free to leave me pictures of your pets in the comments. And if you don’t have a pet, post a picture of the mythical animal you would most like to have as a pet.