Joyeux Noel

Growing up I was lucky to spend my first Christmases in winter wonderlands, surrounded by grandparents and cousins. They were magical and perfect in every way. When we started moving around there wasn’t always snow and extended family couldn’t always join us but it was still a magical time. No matter where we were we always celebrated with the same joy and love as those first snow-filled Christmases.

My parents did an amazing job and passed on a love and appreciation for Christmas that we will always have. The most important thing they passed on is that Christmas is a time to be with loved ones. They taught us that as long as you’re together it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. Today we’re heading off to join my family for Christmas – to talk, laugh and make new memories together. I hope that this Christmas you are surrounded by loved ones, wherever you may be.

 

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad!

(Please share in any other languages you may know!)

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One Year Later: What Have We Accomplished?

The subject matter of this post often stirs up strong and opposing viewpoints, so please be aware that these are simply my opinions. You may agree or disagree, but if you choose to comment, please do so courteously.

* The second part of this post explains why I’ve chosen to write about this topic, as I feel it is important to explain where my thoughts and emotions are coming from.

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It’s been just over a year since the Newtown, CT school shooting. A little more than a year since I read the horrifying news and saw the heart-breaking videos. It still breaks my heart today.  But as time has passed, I’m more than just sad – I’m angry and frustrated too. Angry that something like this can happen and frustrated that as a nation we seem incapable  – or worse, unwilling – of doing anything concrete to stop it. Instead of trying to work together to find a solution, everyone obstinately clamps down on their own opinions, unwilling to listen to others. Our government, even us as a people, has seemingly become incapable of open, civil and effective discourse on issues that really matter. And doesn’t something like gun control, mass shootings and our rising number of gun related deaths warrant such discourse?

I am aware that gun control is a complex issue, one where everyone seems to have a strong opinion on opposite ends of the spectrum. I know there are many factors that should be covered in a conversation on gun control. Perhaps the true problem with finding a solution is that no one seems to want to address the entirety of the issue. Some focus solely on the mental health aspects, others focus on the lack of control for selling and buying legal guns, while still others focus on the role of illegal weapons. These are all part of the problem and we should work on them simultaneously. It is true that in many of the mass shootings the perpetrators suffered from psychological troubles. We have heard time and time again “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” – but without guns, it is more difficult to kill. We shouldn’t ignore the mental health aspect, but we also shouldn’t forget that we’re letting these people have relatively easy access to legal weapons. That we are unable to recognize the severity of the problem and find a unified solution is disheartening.

We seem to forget that legally purchased weapons are the biggest culprit for gun-related deaths. There’s so much concern that restricting gun access infringes upon the rights and liberties of law-abiding citizens, that we lose any rationality when discussing these issues. What does it say about us, that we seem more concerned with protecting our right to bear arms than protecting our people? We could drastically cut down the number of deaths due to guns; cut down all those devastating mass shootings that have become a normal part of our lives. We seem to have become de-sensitized to such crimes if the shooting of 20 children under the age of 7 does not spur us into action. Real action, not empty words.

I have lived in many different countries, and I have never seen as many reports of shootings as in the U.S. In fact, I almost never saw reports of shootings, because they were so rare. And I did not only live in Western nations. Since we moved back to the U.S. just over 3 years, I have noticed nearly daily reports of shootings and far too many mass shootings. Even that phrase betrays the depth of the issue – “far too many mass shootings”. Isn’t one already too many?

Oh, everyone is appropriately shocked after they happen – but as soon as conversation turns to gun control, one roadblock after another pops up. First it’s the supposedly caring version: it’s too early after the tragedy to talk about gun control. Then it’s the psychological view: the shooter was disturbed, so it’s the health care system that’s to blame. Then the usual slogan: ‘guns don’t kill people; people kill people’. Then we end up at the final roadblock, which I find to be so illogical, and yet so clearly sums up the problem: the true solution is that more guns are needed – “the victims should have been armed, then they could have defended themselves”.

And I worry…

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* Why I Write:

Many may ask why write about a topic like gun control? Why write about something so controversial and that stirs such strong emotions?

Because it matters.

Do we not care what we’re becoming as a society anymore? Should it not matter that so many are getting killed by guns, including defenseless, innocent young children? How is it that 20 children under the age of 7 are killed and we’re still incapable of taking any real action to prevent another tragedy like that?

I worry about my future children.

I worry for all the children and all of the innocent victims.

I worry that so many seem to think that only criminals and illegal weapons are responsible for these horrifying massacres.

I worry that our government as a whole is more concerned with getting money from lobbies and getting reelected than about protecting the lives of their people.

I worry that as a society and a country we’ve become completely de-sensitized to the real tragedy of mass shootings or of any shootings really. We seem to accept them as simply another part of our daily lives. Does that not speak volumes about the gravity of the situation?

I worry that we’ll never have a real solution – not because there isn’t one, but because we’re not willing to implement it.

I worry that no matter what is said, no matter what is written, it will fall on deaf ears.

And yet, I write.

I write because of all these worries, these frustrations and these indignations.

I write because sometimes I feel that is all I can do.

Summer Loving

I’m happy that autumn is approaching, as I’m ready for the cooler temperatures, the brightly colored leaves, snuggling under blankets and drinking hot chocolate… But I loved the summer and all it entailed this year – road trips, air trips, beaches, champagne, exploring new places and fondly re-discovering childhood ones, burgers and shandy, lots of family, lots of laughter and lots of love…

… And also a wedding celebrated among wildflowers and butterflies. Although the scenery was beautiful, it was the love and celebration that really made this special. Since it was a cousin getting married, it meant lots of family, which is the best way to go. Lots of family means LOTS of fun, laughter, great conversations and most importantly love. It always feels so good to be surrounded by family and I feel so lucky to have them all, no matter where we are in the world.

 

… Beautiful views of Vermont on our drive back from Montreal, after visiting some cousins and my grandma. It was a wonderful, memory-filled weekend, visiting places I hadn’t seen in 12 years and that were a huge part of my childhood. We reminisced about all the mischief we managed growing up, and I got to show my husband some places that are very special to me. It reminded me yet again how lucky I am to have this amazing and close-knit family, despite the distances that separate us…

… And then there was the extra-special trip of the year: our honeymoon in St. Croix. We had much to celebrate – 10 years of being together, 2 years of marriage, and the honeymoon itself – and we made sure to enjoy every minute! From the warm Caribbean Sea, to sunset shows; from a day out on the catamaran to snorkel in the most pristine water, seeing rays, turtles and barracudas (not to mention all the other amazing sealife!), to dancing on the terrace after dinner… It was simply amazing and we made memories to last us a lifetime…

Until next year summer…

Downhill Adventures: Present

These first two months of the year have passed by in a whirlwind. We’re almost in March and I haven’t even realized that February had time to come and go. I’m 2 weeks away from turning 28 and I can’t believe I’ve already spent a year at 27. I hadn’t been skiing in at least 6 years, my husband had never skied in his life, and suddenly, on a whim, we went skiing in January. And since then, he’s been itching to go again – unfortunately weather and other factors have made that impossible so far, but hopefully we’ll go again soon!

In the meantime, here are a few words and photos about our first time skiing together (and just overall first time on the slopes for my husband!).

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As I mentioned in my earlier post about skiing, I ski, I don’t snowboard. I went from normal skis to snow blades, but it is still skiing. I have never tried snowboarding. Maybe someday I will, but I’m not so sure. There’s just something about having both of my feet stuck on one board that just worries me. Oddly enough, however, what scares me about snowboarding is what reassured my husband: he preferred the idea of having his 2 feet on one board and thought it was disconcerting to have them on 2 separate ones. I was very amused by our complete opposite views on that and also impressed that he was brave enough to try it out. He just threw himself right into his snowboarding lesson, and thank goodness he did. He loved every second of it. He even surprised his instructor by picking everything up so quickly, really being at ease on the snowboard and hardly falling throughout our hours of snow fun.

While he continued his lesson, I took a lesson of my own. Sure, I had skied nearly every year for most of my life, but it had been at least 6 years since the last time I was on the slopes, and this was a totally new place for me. Having an instructor for the first hour turned out to be really great as it let me find my ski groove again, get some helpful tips on my form and relax my nerves too. I was definitely nervous after so many years without skiing, but it was a wonderful feeling to ski again. It was freeing and invigorating. It was so much fun to go down a few slopes with my husband and to share those feelings with him. It was great to watch him snowboard and see him be so natural at it. Watching the exhilarating joy he felt coming down the slopes reminded me of what I loved about skiing, and what I had missed these past years.

What I love most about skiing is the feeling of freedom when you’re gliding down the slopes. It’s that peacefulness of forgetting everyone around you, just hearing the sounds of the snow crunching under your blades, the sun warming your face and sparkling on the snow crystals. It’s also the sense of accomplishment at the end of a day of skiing; the gratifying feel of tired muscles after a hard day of play. The accompanying serenity of a day of fresh air and the peaceful happiness it provides. It’s an indescribable feeling, and it’s beautiful.

And I know my husband felt it too that day.

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The Little Clownfish That Wreaked Havoc

Well, this post was originally going to be about my latest skiing adventures, but nature decided to throw a few snowflakes our way this past weekend, so the skiing entry will have to wait just a little longer.

So, with the help of my lovely new camera, let me introduce you to today’s topic:

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About a week ago, the weather channel turned on to high alert as it warned us about the winter wrath making its way through the states, heading towards the unsuspecting Northeast. Ok, unsuspecting may not be the right word, since we heard about this storm every second for at least a week before it hit, but I figure I’m allowed some poetic license here. So while state officials scrambled to get enough snow plows, salt and crews ready to prevent disaster, and the power companies attempted to avoid a riot by fanning out their crews to potential outage zones, I remained baffled by the name choice for this storm: Nemo. When I hear the name Nemo, I think of a little clownfish who was the star of a Disney/Pixar film. A clownfish. Not a shark, not a whale, not even a barracuda. Doesn’t quite seem like the most appropriate name for a seemingly apocalyptic snow storm, but maybe that’s just me.

So there you have it. The build up to the storm of the century (again, poetic license), the blizzard of the decade (this is almost accurate)…They got this one right. We definitely got some snow. Actually, that’s a gruesome understatement – we got A LOT of snow. So much snow that our apartment parking lot looks like the bottom of a ski slope. It’s been a workout so far. No need to go to the gym this week!

Enough words for now, let me leave you with some photos. I thought I would begin with a type of time lapse of the blizzard, and then I’ll post some of my favorite photos.

Nemo Time Lapse:

This is towards the beginning of the snowfall - probably a couple of hours in. Just barely a dusting, considering what followed.
This is towards the beginning of the snowfall – probably a couple of hours in. Just barely a dusting, considering what followed.
This is late at night - the blizzard was in full swing at this point, but would get even worse shortly after!
This is late at night – the blizzard was in full swing at this point, but would get even worse shortly after!
The following morning: the skies still seem to be threatening to dump more snow...
The following morning: the skies still seem to be threatening to dump more snow…
...But instead this happened a few hours later. The beauty of it was breathtaking.
…But instead this happened a few hours later. The beauty of it was breathtaking.
And a final one for the time lapse, as the sun slowly moved along...
And a final one for the time lapse, as the sun slowly moved along…

And now for some of my favorites:

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This photo deserves a little background story: this storm was the perfect opportunity for me to really play around with my new camera. I tried all sorts of settings (special setting for snow photos, for dusk photos…), and it was a huge learning experience for my manual focus. This is one of my favorites using the manual focus…And there were a lot, believe me. That’s what happens when you give me a DSLR with a pretty big memory card. I was having a blast!
Cars? What Cars?
Oh yes. This is our parking lot. This is why I said no need for the gym this week. The past 3 days we have worked out so much with hours of shoveling. Yes, shoveling – not snowblowing, not plowing, manual shoveling. I would say it took about 2.5 hours just to clear our car. And we didn’t stop after our car.  But truth be told, it’s been awesome!

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DSC_0190DSC_0199And a few evening shots to finish the day…

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Until next time...
Until next time…

I hope you enjoyed, and that all of you affected by the blizzard stayed safe and warm! Also, any feedback or comments on the photos are always welcome as I’ve just started using my DSLR and would definitely love to learn more!

Downhill Adventures: Past

When I was a kid, we went skiing as often as we could and we were all taught to ski as soon as possible. For a long time I wasn’t really a big fan of skiing. I felt awkward and stiff on my skis, I hated going to lessons (I liked it better when dad taught us), and my fingers and toes were always cold. Besides, where we often skied those first years there was more ice than snow, and I had some bad experiences. Even to this day whenever I hit a patch of ice I feel irrational panic and fear. I’m always afraid I’ll lose control and end up tumbling down the rest of the slope.

Over the years, my relationship with skiing changed and I found moments of pleasure. There were several things that played a role in that. First of all, we actually skied on real slopes of snow, not hills of ice – it’s amazing the difference proper powdery snow can make. Secondly, we moved to Europe – skiing in the Alps takes the experience to a whole new level. It’s breathtaking in a way too amazing to put in words. Third, and extremely important, the way skis were made changed. Skis used to be long and skinny, and were meant to be your height or taller. That’s a lot of ski to try controlling and maneuvering. When they modified them over time, they were curved, rounded – and meant to be shorter than you – and so much easier to maneuver. They were made to carve the snow, to make those turns in the snow. Ok, it doesn’t mean I was suddenly amazing or in love with skiing, but it certainly helped improve my opinion and experience of skiing.

But then something happened. I experienced a joy and a freedom I had never felt before when skiing. This changed my outlook on skiing forever. I tried snow blades. For those who don’t know what they are, they are simply shorter skis. As in, half the size of regular skis. And to me, they were pure bliss. My dad let my try his, and after one slope I was hooked. There was no going back. Less length to be hassled with, no poles (I hate ski poles – no idea why, I just do); pure freedom on the slopes like I had never felt before. I had so much more control and I was tearing down those slopes. I was confident, something I rarely was when skiing. More importantly and surprisingly, I was blissfully and completely happy.

Here’s the ironic part. We normally went skiing every year for a week, during the ski break in France. I used the snow blades for 1 or 2 years, and then my university schedule didn’t match up with my brother’s school vacation, and I haven’t been skiing in probably 6-7 years. I had finally found the joy in skiing and I hardly got to bask in it. I used to be the least excited about going skiing, and I didn’t really miss it in-between trips, but these past years I’ve definitely had moments when I missed that feeling of pure freedom as you fly down the slopes.

Although that now leads me to finish this post, it also allows me to introduce my next post, where I’ll share my most recent downhill adventure: first time skiing with my husband. Sure, I didn’t have my snow blades and it wasn’t the Alps, but it was a beautiful, fun and invigorating day. We definitely made a lot of wonderful memories – but more on that next time…

2013 is definitely off to a good start.

New Year, New Adventures

Before I start my ramblings for 2013, I want to wish everyone a very happy new year! I know I’m a little late, but better late than never, as they say! I hope that all of you had a wonderful holiday season, a beautiful christmas and a fantastic start to 2013.

I have been quite absent from my blog these past months, due in part to being busy with other things, but mostly due to lack of inspiration. There are moments like that – sometimes I have writing overflowing out of me, other times the inspiration well dries up a little. It can be frustrating because I miss writing when I’m not doing so much of it, but it feels so good when I finally get into it again. So hopefully 2013 will wake me up a little! I am definitely planning on feeding my creativity in this new year (not just figuratively: one of my goals is to try at least one new recipe a month) and I hope to do more writing! I definitely wrote more in 2012 than 2011, so if I can keep up that trend in 2013 I would be very happy!

Another way I intend to play around with my creativity and hopefully learn a lot in the process is with photography. After months of looking at cameras, reading reviews, asking suggestions and advice from many bloggers, a very generous (and loving) Santa delivered my first ever DSLR (a nikon d5100). To say that I am excited would be an understatement. I am like a kid with an awesome new toy. To all the bloggers who gave me such detailed and great advice: thank you! Your suggestions and thoughts were so helpful throughout this process. To my much loved Santa: thank you, thank you, thank you. It was a beautiful surprise.

And now, the fun part…pictures, pictures, pictures! I have a lot to learn and I’m looking forward to every minute of it! Oh, and any thoughts, suggestions, comments, advice – they’re always welcome. 🙂

I’m hoping that 2013 will be a year filled with adventures of all sorts. On the creative side, I want to learn as much as I can about photography and how to really use my dslr properly. I want to write more – and I need to admit that as much as inspiration plays a role, so does having some kind of discipline to sit down and write. I’ll definitely be trying to stick with the one new recipe a month (I’ve already done 2 this month!); maybe I’ll write about some of them here. I also hope 2013 will be a year of exploring more, seeing new places and having travel adventures. Whether those places are near or far, just a little day trip or a longer getaway, I always love them. One of my favorite things is to go someplace completely new with my husband and explore together. Sharing that sense of adventure and discovering an unknown place together is an amazing experience. We’ve already driven to 2 new states this year, and enjoyed beautiful snow-covered landscapes and amazing views. It was a wonderful day for so many reasons and I look forward to many more like it.

Here’s to 2013: may this new year be filled with love, laughter, and many new adventures.

Scents and Sensibility

The smell of lavender. The smell of freshly fallen pine needles. The crisp smell of a cold winter’s day. The smell of mountain air. The smell of the sea. The smell of certain foods and spices. The smell of a fine wine.

I could go on mentioning other smells that are special to me and trigger memories that I love. Memories of places, of people, of foods that make me happy and are part of who I am.

Lavender will always make me think of Provence, in the south of France. Breathtakingly vibrant fields of purple; a dash of brilliant color amidst the green and gold. The smell of summer, of sunshine and of happy, lazy days surrounded by loved ones. Lavender also reminds me of the suburbs we lived in just outside of Paris – across the road from us were a few rows of lavender, the sweet smell floating in the air and attracting the bees. Their blooming signaled the arrival of summer days, as we walked past them on the way home from the train after classes or from the boulangerie with a warm baguette in hand. Lavender reminds me of our beautiful wedding day – summer in Provence and dried lavender was thrown on us instead of confetti or rice. Oh, it was everywhere and I was still finding it in my hair the next morning, but it looked and smelled beautiful. It smelled of summer, of Provence and of love.

Provence, France. Words cannot convey the love I have for this region.
Photo credit: my family (provided by my brother).

The smell of pine needles brings back many memories, but I’ve noticed that different varieties of pine trees each correspond to its own set of memories. I only realized this recently and I find it fascinating how one seemingly simple sense is actually infinitely complex. The smell of pine trees here in New England reminds me of being a little girl in Wisconsin. We had several huge pine trees in our yard and my sister and I spent hours playing in the shade of those majestic trees, inventing stories and making pine needle crowns. When I moved back to the U.S. with my husband two years ago, memories I hadn’t thought of in years suddenly flooded back when I smelled the pine trees, especially in the cool autumn air.

Pine tree in the crisp autumn air of New England.

Pine trees near the Mediterranean, however, have a different smell and another set of memories. The first time I was near the Mediterranean (well, the first time I can remember – being born in Cyprus doesn’t count!), was when we finally visited Lebanon as a family. The smells from Lebanon are deeply engrained in my senses, even though it has been 10 years since the last time I was there. Certain areas of Provence have a smell that conjures up images of Lebanon in my mind. And most recently, it was in Italy that I smelled those pine trees. The smell of them in the mountains is what most closely resembles their scent in Lebanon. In the middle of the hot, humid summer, the mountains provide respite from the heat and a haven of forests for walks and games. The cooler mountain air mixed with pine trees is both invigorating and relaxing, energizing yet soothing. I find that the silence of the forests in the mountains is so peaceful, so restful after all the noises in our everyday lives. And the smell of the pine needles completes the feeling of perfect serenity, bringing back many happy memories.

Pine tree in Tuscany, Italy on a warm summer’s day; they remind me so much of Lebanon.

The smell of a crisp winter’s day or of a snow covered mountain makes me think of snowy winters as a kid and sparkling ski slopes under a dazzling blue sky. It makes me think of hours of playing in the snow with my cousins, of building snowmen and throwing snowballs. It reminds me of family ski trips and finally finding real pleasure in skiing when I tried snow blades, after years of mixed feelings about skiing. I can almost hear the swish of the skis on the slopes and see the sparkling snow when I smell a cold winter’s day. It reminds me of happily eating a snickers bar on the ski lift, deliciously frozen after hours in our pockets. I can recall the glorious, exhilarating yet peaceful sensation when the skis carve the snow just right, when it’s a perfect fluffy powder that sprays up, glistening like diamonds in the sun. You can block out everyone around you and just enjoy the gliding motion, the smell of the pine trees, the crisp mountain air, and the musical rhythm in your head. I haven’t been skiing in many years and I was surprised to find how much I miss it. The cold New England winters awoke a longing I didn’t even know I had. I long to see the wide open views from the mountain tops; the clear blue sky defining the peaks lined with pine trees and the snow glittering like millions of diamonds. I long to once again feel the swish of my skis and to eat a frozen snickers bar while hanging in the air. I long for the invigorating rush of the cold air on my cheeks while I glide downhill and the golden warmth of the sun when I pause along the way. But most of all, I long for that fleeting moment of pure, blissful freedom.

The French Alps – a hard view to beat.
Photo courtesy of Rawi Fayad

Although the mountain and sea are infinitely different from each other, they both give me that feeling of freedom. They both invigorate me and renew me. The sea has a special hold over me. So many memories are linked to the sea that it is difficult to go through them all, but they are among my happiest. The smell of the sea soothes me in a way no other smell can. The sound of the waves crashing, the sand under your feet, the horizon that goes on forever… The smell of the sea means summer days, family, cousins, grandiose sandcastles, picnics on the sand; it means reading a good book under the warm sun with the ebb and flow of the waves as music. I am not a Pisces without reason – I’ve always felt a pull towards water: rivers, lakes, waterfalls, oceans and seas… They all have such beauty, but the sea has the strongest pull of all, and I will return to it, always. Being in the water in what I love most about the sea. It soothes and cleanses me; it gives me renewed energy and a serenity I cannot explain. The smell of the sea calms me and reaches the deepest core of my being.

The eternally enchanting Mediterranean Sea.

I won’t delve into detail on the smells of food, spices and wine, because there is much to say but it’s hard to explain. I’m sure we all have certain smells that remind us of something. The smell of a certain dish that conjures up an image of grandma’s kitchen, or baking cakes with mom as a kid, or popcorn nights with dad… Spices that remind us of an exotic vacation or of home, snuggled in on a cold winter’s night. Each smell and each thought stirred more memories in me. Memories that are sometimes hidden so deep that only my nose seems to remember them.

The sense of smell is such a powerful one and can stir such deep memories, yet we often overlook it. It’s one of the first senses to develop and one of the last to go… Imagine how many memories it can hold for each of us?

Published!

Writing this blog and sharing my experiences is something I love to do and it’s helped my writing improve and evolve over the past months. I have always loved to write and it is a deeply cherished hope of mine to one day be published – both in freelance writing and eventually maybe even a book. I recently got my first chance at being published, and an article I wrote is included in a truly fantastic magazine. My elation at this opportunity is even greater because Global Living Magazine is dedicated to the lifestyle of global nomads, TCKs, expats and travelers of the world. An even bigger bonus is that the founder and editor-in-chief is all of those things as well; she really knows this life, understands it and embraces it.

Issue 2 has a lot of interesting articles, that touch upon all facets of the global lifestyle. For expats raising TCKs who may be off to university soon, there’s a great article on the transition they may face. For those interested in writing a book about their expat experiences, you’ll find an excellent article with very helpful tips (I particularly enjoyed that article!). For anyone who loves traveling, seeing new places and trying new things, this magazine is for you. This second issue will take you on an Alaskan cruise, to a wine festival in Provence, France (courtesy of yours truly!), show you breathtaking photos and so much more.

Of course I’m excited that my article is included in this issue, but I really appreciate this magazine as a whole. It caters to people who have lived a global lifestyle and that speaks to me so much. Even if you haven’t been an expat or TCK but just love traveling, you’ll find great ideas and articles in Global Living Magazine.

Make sure to visit the webpage and browse through to get a better idea of the magazine. Stop by magcloud to check out a preview of the magazine and order your own copy of Issue 2 or the premier issue; it will be well worth it.

I hope some of you head over to the website and maybe even purchase your own copy of the first issues. If you do, let me know what you think, of both my article and the magazine as a whole!

Thanks, and happy reading!