Getting thrown a medical curveball while living the dream in Paris, France

When living the dream throws you a curveball... All rights reserved -Bellanda

When living the dream throws you a curveball…
All rights reserved -Bellanda

As some of you know, I haven’t been as active as I was when I first began this blog about life in Paris. It’s not that I ran out of ideas, nor that I got bored with this amazing city. Unfortunately, I have been suffering from an illness that showed its first signs back in 2006. The symptoms have increased to such an extent over the last three years that my days of running around have been limited. Gone, for now, is my pink super cape that I wore figuratively to juggle my activities & different roles throughout the day. Here, is a new day… one that exposes me to things I never would have imagined… one that challenges me to rise above and to truly see what is important. Here is the day, when I will share something far more personal than my latest visit to some glorious place in Paris.

So, what’s it like being ill in Paris? Well, I guess it’s safe to say that being ill sucks no matter where you are… but I’d rather focus my attention on the positive, because I am lucky… lucky for each day that I get to spend with my dear man & supportive family. I’m lucky for each precious moment that I get to be with and watch my little ones grow up in this gorgeous city.

There are far worse places to be ill than Paris. Walking the streets of this beautiful city, while soaking in its history, always lifts my spirits. Yes, I wish I had more energy to run around and take part in all it has to offer, but knowing I’m near, gives me hope and inspiration to be able to fight this thing.

Looking at Paris from the medical standpoint… there again, I am lucky. I don’t know where I would be without the incredible medical system in France as well as the medical facilities here in Paris. Actually, I do know… I probably wouldn’t be here.

In 2009, unrelated to my present illness, my doctor ran a test based on a hunch… I can’t even imagine trying to explain that to an insurance company back home. It turned out that he was onto something. They found and removed a cancerous polyp, informing me that if they hadn’t removed it, I would have had no more than 5 years before it was too late. To this day, I am still too young for this kind of test to be approved randomly in the USA. As proof, even though my brother’s insurance company knew about my cancer scare, they wouldn’t allow him to have the same test performed until he was what they considered the right age, 50.

Since then, doctors have found and removed two other tumors in two other locations… and have been working hard to put my best medical interests at heart. My kids joke that I’ve been in just about every hospital in Paris, and upon seeing one I haven’t been to ask, “When do you get to go there?”

So, yes, I am thankful that if I had to have an illness, that it is being taken care of at one of the best facilities for rare diseases. I’m with one of the finest doctors in the field & can see him or any other doctor of my choice when I need to and not when the insurance company decides I do. I have access to medications that can hopefully slow down the progression of the illness with next to no out-of-pocket money, and doctors who will run tests to make sure that my well-being is priority. I’m not rich, nor do I have connections who hooked me up with these doctors. This is something available to all residents. All of these things make having a long-term illness easier, because let’s face it, it’s hard enough knowing that you’ll have to tackle health problems for the rest of your days.

I will continue to try to convert the not so great into something positive & humorous… as I did in my article: “Leave it to the French to Make Medical Stockings Sexy!” https://bellandainparis.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/leave-it-to-the-french-to-make-medical-stockings-sexy/  It’s a daily battle that isn’t always easy, but considering the alternative, I’m one of the lucky ones.

So, why so many illnesses? Do I blame it on bad genes? Probably not… my genetic line on both sides of the family live well into their late 90s. Bad luck? Perhaps, but it most likely didn’t help growing up in a small town in the USA that was poisoned by a local factory. They illegally dumped chemical toxins that severely polluted the ground, air & water to dangerous levels for almost 100 years before it ever became public.

Sadly, my story is far more common than one might expect. Remember the film, Erin Brockovich? I was not from this particular town, but their story is a familiar one. Today, people are fighting to get towns like these cleaned up. I recently read a fabulous book on this subject entitled, The Brook, by John Sinsimer. It was inspired by a true story. Having grown up in a place exactly like the one in this book, I want to thank Mr. John Sinsimer for all he has done to bring this kind of a subject to the forefront. It is both well-written and captivating.

The Brook by John Sinsimer

The tragedy that surrounds such environmental events is mind-boggling. When you have witnessed friends and loved ones die at a young age… and others who are battling disease just to get through the day, you realize what is most important. My energy is too precious to focus on being angry, and hating the world is not my style. I prefer to be a lover of people, places & cultures. I decided long ago that I could either get angry, or I could take whatever energy and time that I have on this earth and live the dream as best I can. There are things we can control and other things we cannot. How we decide to handle the things we cannot control, makes all of the difference in the world.

In this Social Network age, that links complete strangers from across the globe, we often don’t truly know what someone is living unless they decide to open up. Until now, to so many of you, I was just another gal living it up in Paris. I’m still that gal, I’m just a little more real.

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Returning to the Source: Starting Anew

Returning to the Source: Starting Anew...  Bellanda ®

Returning to the Source:
Starting Anew…
Bellanda ®

There is something about starting a new year that makes many evaluate the year that has just gone by. Over the last few weeks, I have heard and read an overwhelming amount of information about starting anew, broken promises, hopes, dreams, and about updating last year’s resolutions. Our eight year old, who happens to live a rather blessed life filled with love and activities of his choosing, cried on New Year’s Eve as he said, “I haven’t profited enough from 2013.”

I realize that a reflection like this is unusual for a boy his age, but he has touched upon something that many adults feel and express at the end of each new year and around birthdays. I’ve never quite understood this. Are these kind of reflections due to fear of the unknown? Regrets of the past? Hopes for a better future? Or is it something more… something more profound about man’s inability to feel truly happy? Could it be that man is driven by a desire for better and for more? If this is the case, what would happen if man was given all of time they desired? Would they finally be happy?

It is wonderful to take time at the start of a new year to evaluate the lives presently being lived, but I can’t help but wonder why so many people wait until this time of the year to awaken only to get lost again so quickly. We are given the gift of life, and with each breath the capacity to make things happen. If you are one of the lucky ones, born into a place where choice is an option and your gender, skin color or political and cultural affiliation don’t limit you to a stand still, then you are indeed blessed. You are the master of your future, if you choose to be so.

Perhaps if we stopped running around, trying to do everything, and started enjoying the simple moments we would realize how lucky we are. I know that this is more of a lifetime resolution than a New Year’s resolution, but it is also one that will help us feel more fulfilled in life. Finding something in each day that makes you smile, like a child’s laughter or taking the time to sip your favorite coffee instead of gulping it down while doing a million things at the same time takes no more than a couple of minutes, but the benefits are endless.

We are the masters of own little universe, whether we believe it or not, so we don’t have to wait for these precious moments to happen. We can make them happen by simply smiling at a stranger, or holding the door for them and wishing them a nice day. Naive? Maybe, but it is enough to bring someone else a gift and in doing so we are often rewarded by this exchange. 

I’ve been told on many occasions that I am lucky to live here in Paris, and that I should be happy. I agree that this is indeed a wonderful city, but being happy is more than just living in a particular place. It is about taking time for those you love and care about and about making choices that best meet your needs and passions intelligently. It is about taking the time to enjoy precious moments in between the rest of the things that need to get done. Most importantly, it is about finding positives in the midst of the roller coaster life so many of us live.

As some of you already know, I have been ill for almost two years. From my many activities, you might also know that I haven’t let this make me bitter or stop me completely. I’m often asked how I remain so positive in the midst of hospitals, doctors, treatments and the unknown, as I await what has been a very long and complicated final diagnosis. My answer is always, “never giving up on hope.” There comes a time when one must accept their limitations and then find a way to adapt so that you can do what you would like to do regardless of them. Accepting one’s imperfections while learning from our mistakes and the things we cannot control also helps. It is important to realize that by wasting energy on negativity and anger we only hurt ourselves, wasting precious time that could be used for something good.

At times I have had to slow down, but I’ve always searched to find a positive in each situation… even if I’ve had to dig a little deeper. Everything is about choice. Being forced to take time to slow down for health reasons, can mean cuddling on the couch with my little ones as they tell me about their day. When we think about it, as long as we are alive, there is hope and a chance to find a positive. Yes, death is something we all struggle with, but once the immediate shock and pain of the loss of a loved one has passed, it is possible to turn and focus your energy on feeling blessed to have had that person in your life, even if only for a short time during their passage here on earth. In doing so, they will live on in us and in our memories forever as you take that person with you.

All of this will help us deal with our own inevitable death. Living life’s precious moments, telling those you love how you feel so in the end our regrets are limited. The feeling that we have indeed profited from life and our loved ones is primordial.

As each new year comes around, I smile. I know that I am among the fortunate and I am thankful. I have lived another day, let alone another year. I am not sad, nor afraid of each year that passes. Yes, I am another year older, and wrinkles do come with age, but oh how lucky I am to have the chance that so many don’t get. Age is not a curse but a gift, and I’d rather avoid the alternative as long as possible. Once you get the hang of finding something positive in your everyday life and in negative situations that come your way, you’d be amazed how easy it is to do.

So, if I must make a resolution, it will be to continue doing what I am doing… mistakes and all. They are what make us learn and grow. I will continue sharing this positive attitude with those I love in hopes that they might pick up this trait. When my time does eventually come, as it will with us all, I will have no regrets. I will have lived my life as best I could, making sure that those I love know how very precious they are to me.

Paris under a blanket of snow… wishes do come true!

It all began on Friday afternoon, when my dear man sent a photo of where he would be filming for the weekend.

Méribel, France - Photo Credit by my Man, Photo Editing by Bellanda. All rights reserved.

Méribel, France – Photo Credit by my Man, Photo Editing by Bellanda. All rights reserved.

My immediate response was total and utter awe.  The little ones, on the other hand, had different thoughts.

“Woooow!  How come we didn’t get to go with Daddy?”

“How come it never snows here?”

When my little guy looked up at me with wide eyes and said, “I wish we had snow…” there was such sadness in his voice that it broke my heart.  That very same night, the snow began to fall and I prayed that it would last until morning.  Thank goodness, some wishes do indeed come true!

Finally…  Paris is covered in a blanket of snow!  This is something that I, as well as my little ones, have been dreaming about for years.  I’m not talking about a few fluttering flakes that disappear an hour later or by morning’s light.  What I am talking about is the kind of snow that actually lasts, turning an already magical city into something truly breathtaking.

Paris snow signed

In the early morning, one couldn’t help but notice that everything was at a standstill.  The roads had not been cleared, causing the cars to move at a snail’s pace.  My daughter’s harp lesson was cancelled, of which we only learned upon arrival.  As we walked into the conservatory, the secretary saw us and said, “Didn’t you get the message?”

“What message?”

“I left you a message on your mobile around 11:10.  Your daughter’s teacher can’t make it in today.”

“Ummmmm… no, I didn’t get the message.  You do realize that the class starts at 11:30 and it takes over 30 minutes to get here… we were already in the metro by then.”

“Oh, sorry,” she said nonchalantly.

Efficiency, at it’s finest!   The New Yorker in me wanted to say so much more about how we dragged ourselves over there when of course my health is not 100%, paid the metro tickets, etc. but I decided shake it off and be cool.  I’ve actually become quite good at that since I moved here.  Besides, even if I did say something, I’ve learned it wouldn’t have changed anything and I don’t think she would have cared either way.

The kids were actually glad to hear that class was cancelled.  I’m sure they were imagining a day in the snow.  There was indeed snow a nice covering, however, I kept thinking of all of those incredible snow storms from New York where the snow had reached thigh high levels.  Now that was something!  I couldn’t help but give a little chuckle thinking about how all of my New York friends would be laughing if they could see how everything stopped after just a few inches of snow.  Then, I thought about it some more and smiled.  I actually liked the fact that everything had slowed down.  It was almost like something out of an old film… I loved the calmness of a usually busy place.

I looked at the little ones, one with sneakers the other in rain boots.  Us so called ‘Parisians’ aren’t used to getting snow… thus we’ve left all of our snow equipment at the in-laws who live in the mountains.  Rather than move things back and forth for no reason, it seemed more than reasonable to leave everything there. Result?

“Let’s go buy some snow boots so you can play in the snow!”  Their screams of joy could probably be heard throughout the city. We walked to the closest shop to buy boots for the little ones.

As we walked, I kept telling the little ones to be careful where they were stepping so as not to get their sneakers too wet or snow in their boots.  Have you ever tried saying something like that to little ones who’ve rarely seen snow?  Don’t bother; it’s pointless and you can’t really blame them.  Even I wanted to run and jump in the snow.

When we arrived at the shoe store, it was packed!  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one buying boots for their little ones.   A sales woman asked what size the children were, so I told her the size we had purchased just a few months earlier.  She tried that size on their feet, and couldn’t get their foot into the shoe.  She tried the next size up and made a huge frustrated sigh.  Then, she looked at me as if I was crazy.  She picked up their old shoes to verify that I had indeed told her the right size and sighed again.  Oh my, aren’t we in a good mood?  You’d think she would be happy with all of the business they were getting, but apparently she was not the happy camper, so to speak.

As the sales girl kept trying on bigger and bigger sizes she said, “Well, it’s normal they can’t get their feet into the shoes! Their socks are soaking wet!”

I kind of chuckled, thinking that I was no longer up for that Mother of the Year award.  At the same time, if I had snow boots I wouldn’t be there.  What did she think would happen when kids walk in sneakers in the snow?  I looked at the owner and asked if she sold socks.  She was a lot nicer and said, ” We don’t sell socks. I do, however, have a box of new socks in the back for such occasions.  I’ll give them to you, free of charge.”  Perhaps this was a peace-offering after witnessing her obnoxious sales woman?  I thanked her for her kindness.

When my son handed me his wet socks, I had another little giggle.  Oh yeah, definitely out of the running for Mother of the Year!  They were indeed soaking wet… had I squeezed water would have gone pouring down!

After a little more time, both children finally found boots they liked.  Actually, they took the first pair that fit them.  Personally, I think they would have loved just about any boot in any color, size, shape and form since it meant going out to play in the snow.  They walked out of the store with huge smiles.

Boots Princess   little guy boots

We headed straight to the park, for some fun in the snow, followed by hot chocolate and crêpes.  Then, we played a few more hours in the snow before heading back home.

What a truly lovely Saturday in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it’s even more beautiful when covered in a blanket of snow.

Holidays Are Approaching: Instacanv.as is here with Original Gift Ideas!

Feature photo Instacanvas for blog

All photos by Bellanda ®

Instacanvas LOGO

What happened to my blog post last week?  Well truth be told, even my very special ‘Pink Super Cape’ that some of you may have heard of, and my espresso filled late nights are not enough to do all that needs to be done… especially when one works at home and has a family.

In the creative world, holiday time means getting your products ready for sale on time, as well as creating promotional advertising.  What comes after is actually my least favorite… the promoting of your products, while trying not to be pushy.  Is that even possible?  Sometimes I feel like one of those infomercials… Oh, the horror!   That said, I do it anyway, encouraged by the, “Mommy, I can’t wait till ‘Santa’ brings me LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of presents!”  We all know what that means!

With the holidays pressing, between my other work and family needs, I had to make a little choice as to best manage the time. I decided to put some extra energy into my new Instacanv.as Gallery Promos, as opposed to say, folding clothes and actually putting them away (Yes, the pile is mounting… but at least they are clean. Right?)

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Instacanv.as is a marketplace that allows users, like me and perhaps you, to buy and sell Instagram photos as beautiful physical art pieces.  This is one of the fastest growing startups in Southern California and I am glad to be on board!   They have been featured in such places as Forbes Magazine, TechCrunch, Los Angeles Times, Fast Company, Mashable, and The Oprah Magazine.

I decided to write a post about Instacanv.as because not only do I believe in their products… but it is perfect if you are someone like me, where time is limited.  With Instacanv.as, we get to concentrate on what is most important, the creation process.  The work is printed on canvas, framed photos, prisms, greeting cards and iPhone cases with prices ranging from $3.95-$79.95.  This is something I could never offer until now, as my ‘one of a kind photographic work’ prices don’t even come close to those of Instagram.

As I mentioned, Instacanv.as has recently begun printing Gallery Photos on iPhone Cases and as a result, I think this is the first time I have EVER wanted an iPhone!  Apparently I am not the only one attracted to these Cases.  Our little six-year-old fashionista daughter told me last night, “Mommy, I really NEED an iPhone so can I have a collection of YOUR Cases to match what I wear!”  Well, I thought with a smile, at least I have one fan out there.  Then it hit me! Hmmmm… a collection of cases, not a bad idea!  Must say, she is one very smart little girl.

When I explained to her that her Daddy and I have Samsung phones, she looked at me and said, “Well, just buy an iPhone. You can’t even buy your own iPhone Cases!”  She looked at me those big eyes of hers, followed by that look which screamed, why didn’t you think of that, stupid?

Although I won’t admit it to her, she does have a point!  Sad but true!  So, if anyone from Instacanv.as is actually reading my blog… please think about adding Android phones (like Samsung Galaxy 2 & 3) soon.  There is indeed a market for them, as I have been approached by quite a few people about this very subject.

Below are just a few of my Instacanv.as iPhone Cases… Okay, maybe it’s more than a few.  I got a little carried away.  As you will see, it is actually quite addicting to play around with the photos! The best part of these Cases is that YOU get to pick which photo from the gallery pleases you, and then decide which part of the photo you want to use by clicking right, left or center.  Thus, making your iPhone Case to your very own liking!  I know I said this before… but I want one… or maybe two… or maybe three depending on my mood for the day!

Holiday Publicity iPhone Cases Paris Theme

Holiday Publicity iPhone Cases Promo3 Flower Theme

Holiday Publicity iPhone Cases

A great big thank you to the [en]frame photography blog for doing a great Instacanv.as product review… http://enframephotoblog.com/2012/06/25/instacanvas-review/  As you will see, the company has evolved incredibly fast since her blog post was written, but this link will show you the actual packaging and photo canvas quality via photos taken when this blogger purchased her first canvas from Instacanv.as.  After reading her blog, I was convinced to start my gallery!

Although I was nervous about the whole thing, I have been pleasantly surprised by what I have seen so far concerning Instacanv.as, and thought that all of you budding photographers or art lovers out there might also be.  This company is young in spirit and open-minded enough to take suggestions from their artists/photographers.  It is quite nice to have such interactivity, knowing your suggestions are taken seriously and that Instacanv.as is continuing to move forward with new products as time goes on.

Please check out my Instacanv.as gallery OR start your own and you will see what I mean.  http://instacanv.as/bellandainparis

Remember… you have until, Monday, December 10th to get your orders in if you want them before Christmas.  😉

UPDATE: Just received a message from Instacanv.as… “We do have plans for this in the new year.” (Referring to Android Cases) Thank you, once again for listening!  🙂

UPDATE  TWO: Just received word that all of the customers to my gallery will receive 20% off of their entire purchase as a thank you for this blog post!  Told you these guys are awesome!  Please contact me for details & codes.  🙂

Once again, thank you to all of you for being here… and thank you to Instagram!

Capture Canvas Yellow Flower CaptureLive the Dream Greeting Card

Pardoning ‘Tom the Turkey’ in Paris for Thanksgiving This Year

All photos by Bellanda ®

 

Taking time to appreciate nature this Thanksgiving…
Bois de Vincennes – Paris, France

Well, today is the day… the day when most Americans will sit down to a delicious meal with a great big turkey as their main course.  Even my expat friends from all over the world will be celebrating Thanksgiving either today or this weekend.  However, this year we have decided to pardon ‘Tom the Turkey.’

No, I don’t go around naming all of the animals or vegetables I eat, nor am I crazy (Yes, I agree, that last part might be up for discussion).  My point being, there was indeed a real ‘Tom the Turkey’ and he changed my life forever.

When I was five, my parents had an absolutely brilliant idea (at least they thought it was a brilliant idea at first).  They decided that it was healthier to buy a fresh turkey as opposed to one of the frozen ones that they usually bought in the supermarket.  What better way to get a healthy turkey than to go to a turkey farm?  So, my parents, two brothers and one sister and I all jumped into the car rather excited to actually visit a farm.

We lived about 35 minutes from Manhattan and to be quite honest had never been to any kind of farm whatsoever.  I was filled with excitement, but truly had no idea of the meaning behind all of this.  All I knew was that we would see animals on the farm and for a five-year old with no pets, that’s rather cool, or so I thought.

When we arrived I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Turkeys were walking around everywhere!  My parents told us to check out the turkeys and pick one out while they talked to the people who worked on the farm.  We of course did as we were told with huge smiles on our faces.  We found the most beautiful one of all and gave him a name.  This was the first time in our lives the four of us agreed on anything so quickly. Tom…it had to be Tom! (Sorry for all of you out there with the same name, but Tom the Turkey just kind of has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?)

Our parents headed in our direction, “Did you pick out a turkey?”

“Yes, isn’t he gorgeous? We named him Tom.  Can we take him home now?”  I was so proud!

This is the moment when I saw a strange look in the eyes of my parents, as they realized that perhaps they weren’t quite clear as to what we were actually doing there. Thus followed a ‘big’ discussion as to where our food comes from.

“You mean you’re going to kill him?” Tears rolled down my cheeks.

My brother asked, “You want us to EAT Tom?”

All four of us began to cry as each proclaimed never to eat Tom.  He was our new pet, not our dinner!  As our Mom tried to explain where all meat comes from, my mind began spin and my smile had long faded.  I had never really thought about it before.  How could I not have known this before?  In an attempt to try to appease, us our parents bought a different turkey from that farm.

On Thanksgiving Day my Mom cooked the turkey, placed it on the table, and all four of us children looked at it unlike any other turkey before.   I just sat there looking at this poor cooked turkey thinking that I would have been happy just to eat the mashed potatoes.  Once again, tears rolled down my face.  I couldn’t eat a thing.  This was perhaps the quietest Thanksgiving dinner in the history of our family.  None of us children would eat the turkey, let alone allow our Mom to put it in our dishes. We watched our parents eat as if it were a criminal offense.  My poor well-meaning parents felt terrible.  It was the first and last farm bought turkey they ever purchased. Once again, our parents tried to explain the food chain, and where all the meat we have eaten for years comes from and that this was no different.

However, for me, this couldn’t have been furthest from the truth. In fact, everything was different, and nothing would ever be the same.  Something changed in me. Traumatized from this moment forward, I didn’t eat turkey or any other meat willingly until my early thirties. Yes, it took me that long to get over it!

As I said, I am indeed over the whole meat trauma and even enjoy eating meat today.  So, why pardon ‘Tom the Turkey’ this year?  I’d love to say that it was because I was traumatized as a child, because that would make for a good excuse.  However, that wouldn’t even be close to the truth.  The truth is actually embarrassingly pathetic.  Although it is indeed possible to find all the fixings and a turkey, I just don’t have all of the extra energy it takes to put all of this together in Paris this year.

Even though we are pardoning Tom this year, my family and I will take this day, as we do each day, to be thankful for all we have.  Life is a gift and each breath we take a blessing.  We are indeed thankful to have each other, and I am thankful to be sharing this Thanksgiving with you via Internet.  May your Thanksgivings be filled with happiness, love and wonderful stories around the table reminiscing.

Next year, I promise to make a delicious turkey… Although, there is one thing I am sure of – he won’t be named Tom.

Happy Thanksgiving!