The Dream Life of Nichole Robertson

Nichole Robertson is one of those women I look at and wonder, how does she do it all? (And so well!) Excel at a career in New York’s high-paced advertising world, manage a continual state of wedded bliss, raise two young sons… all the while living the dream of Paris, photographing this city by capturing it’s essence unlike anyone else. Recently she was featured on Martha Stewart, but there was more I wanted to know. And so I asked her how Paris became a reality.

My husband and I decided to move to Paris on a whim one night after a few glasses of wine. By all measures it seemed crazy – we had two toddler boys, wonderful friends, a network of business contacts – but something nagged us. Was this the life we were supposed to be living?

We hadn’t yet bought a house (we were living in the NYC suburbs) and we both were self-employed with flexible work arrangements. Nothing was holding us down, and our desire to shake up our lives outweighed any practical considerations.

So we stored or sold most of our things, and did it. I didn’t really overthink it, and looking back, I’m humored by the cavalier manner in which we did it. It was exhilarating and scary and wonderful.

As we adjusted to our new neighborhood, everything was a challenge in the best possible way. While I could sleepwalk my way through a workday with a client in NYC or at Whole Foods or Target, simply buying milk or navigating the post office presented challenges. I had about as much French as an 18 month old and the same wide eyes.

Being out of my comfort zone was good for me. It allowed me to slow down and notice things I may have otherwise overlooked. Even though I’m a writer, I had little interest in writing about my experiences in Paris, it was all visual. I carried my camera with me everywhere. I snapped photos of everything that caught my eye (I even have photos of trash cans!), simply because it was new. New to me, and that’s all that mattered.

That was three years ago, and what started out as simple snapshots of my life in Paris turned into a three-year project, a side business and a book. I’m still floored by that, and wonder why my life took this turn. I guess good things happen when you follow your bliss.

To experience more of Nichole’s bliss, step into the world of Little Brown Pen where she often captures Paris in Color, her book releasing on April 18th! My favorites being red and gray, or perhaps the elegance of white… You can also follow her visions of Paris via Facebook and Twitter.

soul of New York

Anyone who knows me, is well aware that New York City resides deeply within my heart. Much like a first love that will forever be revered. Several months ago, via my blogging journey, I met a fellow New Yorker with a similar sentiment towards the city that doesn’t sleep. Phil Vasquez is a writer and filmmaker from Canada, inspired by classic and foreign films and American and French popular music songbooks, everything from Cole Porter to Charles Aznavour. He has resided for many years in NYC and soon… Paris. I quickly discovered that Phil possesses a unique sensitivity and depth that was revealed in his short film, Song of Relations, a beautiful tribute to the soul of old New York City.

Nested in nests of water bays. Superb, rich.
Hemm’d thick all round with sail ships and steam ships.
An island, 16 miles long, solid founded.
Numberless crowded streets. High growths of iron. Slender, strong, light.
Splendidly uprising toward clear skies.
The countless masts. The white shore steamers. The lighters. The ferry-boats.
The downtown streets. The houses of business of the ship merchants and money brokers.
The river streets.
City of hurried and sparkling waters, city of spires and masts.
City nested in bays. My city.
– Walt Whitman

I look forward to following Phil’s journey from New York to Paris, a city he and his wife plan to call home, where he will absorb the culture and no doubt make authentic French films with an American independent production style. And where his unique vision will continue.

To view his film and learn more about this writer & filmmaker in the making:

Also be sure to join Phil Vasquez on facebook and connect on twitter.


The Dream Life of Anne Ditmeyer

Very often expats living in Paris ask ‘how can I live here legally?’. Not always an easy answer. I am lucky to hold an EU passport, but those who aren’t as fortunate need to obtain a study or work visa, marry a Frenchman, or avoid the system and keep a very low profile. I don’t recommend the latter. There’s one such girl I have come to know who has been tested to the limit. And won. I praise Anne’s ability to live her dream life in Paris, pursue her passion for graphic design and communications and rise far above the slew of French bureaucracy attempting to block her path.

I’m not sure that living in 12m2 (that’s 129 sf) and on an extreme budget – at the age of 30 – are what one would typically consider the dream life, but I really can’t complain. My love affair with Paris has gone on for 10 years now. Although an on-and-off relationship, it has involved a semester as a study abroad student (arriving 2 days before 9/11), an academic year working as an English teaching assistant in a French high school, and most recently a Masters in Global Communications from the American University of Paris.

Another thing most people would not consider part of the “dream life” is paperwork. I’ve been lucky enough to have a flexible schedule here, because quite frankly I don’t know how I’d do it otherwise, as more often than not paperwork feels like a full-time job. It’s all part of the love-hate dynamic present in any relationship, I suppose. I go into every transaction with very low expectations – and a sense of humor – and this tactic has worked wonders for me. In fact, it is the most mundane moments of living in Paris that I love most.

During the month of August, while nearly all of France is on holiday, I found my limits for France being tested. After 2 years of being a student, my time was coming to get real. I was hoping trip home to the US earlier in the summer would give me answers, and it did – that I wasn’t ready to give up France just yet. Had I know what lied ahead of me, I probably would have had a different answer.

It took three trips to the Préfecture de Police for me to figure out even how to go about getting a visa to stay in France. This is a country that likes to categorize people, and unfortunately, I – by the nature of my work and being a foreigner – don’t fit into any of their boxes. At one location alone the woman had to ask three different people where to send me for my visa, as I kept perplexing them. Finally I found the place, was given the proper forms and an appointment to return 4 weeks later.

What lay ahead is something I’ve now tried to erase from my memory. Basically, it involved writing a 20-50 page busines plan in French (mine was 50) and collecting a boatload of rather obscure documents (many of which did not yet exist for me as I’m so new in their “auto-entrepreneur” system). To put this in perspective, as new to my freelance business I was working nearly full-time and picked up new clients during the month. So doing this paperwork was like a full-time job on top of an already full load. I had finished my Master’s thesis in March and this experience was far more painful than that. And believe it or not, writing a business plan from scratch, in French, was easier than collecting all the documents. (The documents involved such fun things as finding and paying 50 Euros to have my birth certificate translated into French, and spending 2 hours at the Tax Center – no, there was no line in August – as two women racked their brains as to how to give me a document that would work).

On the fateful morning of August 23rd, I went to the Préfecture. I recognized the woman helping me from a previous visit, and figured I was screwed and hopeless as I recalled our prior interaction. But there was a guardian angel sitting on my shoulder that day, as I was able to submit my complete dossier and successfully left with a temporary extension and the official visa in the works. After the stress of the month, I don’t think even now I have fully realized what I have accomplished. It really felt like “mission impossible” but I did it, I survived, and I didn’t even have to marry a Frenchman to live the dream life…

Congratulations Anne! You have certainly earned your key to the city. As for a Frenchman, who knows what the city of love has in store for you.

After successfully receiving her visa to stay in France, Anne spends her days working as a freelance graphic designer and communications consultant. Check out her impressive site! Anne is also a contributing editor for the popular blog, Design*Sponge, and Anne’s former 10m2 apartment is inside the pages of Grace Bonney’s new book “Design*Sponge at Home.” Anne’s blog, Prêt à Voyager, looks at the intersection of travel and design. Her “Unglamorous Paris” series explores the less than perfect sides of living in Paris. Keep an eye out for this design aficionado!


I am a Francophile. An expat. A dreamer. A traveler. A seeker of that and those which inspire me. Above all else, I am grateful. In just under two years I have not simply found, but created a life in Paris. Not a city that easily embraces outsiders. And so us outsiders found a way in. By sharing our stories and thoughts via the world of blogging. A passion for some, therapeutic for others. I am equally excited to share stories that inspire me via my own blog, as in The Dream Life series, as well as to share my life via others.

Today I am honored to be featured on fellow Francophile and friend Lindsey’s fabulous Paris blog, Lost in Cheeseland. A series very aptly titled Franco File Friday. This gal never ceases to amaze. (Fellow Frenchies, have you tried her cookies yet?)

Other recent and honorary features include design savvy Anne from Prêt à Voyager. She shared my travels on her ingenius Boarding Pass series and my neighborhood of the Marais in her Tour de France. Doubly honored! I’ve also appeared on the lovely (and romantic might I add) Susan’s blog Fleurishing, in her Proust Q&A series.

I cannot neglect to mention my HiP Paris dining adventures as of late, with fellow Paris bloggers at the haute Petrelle. Many more foodie explorations to come!

As I have done in the past and will continue to do, I share the love as year two approaches, life in Paris evolves, I feel even more gratitude, and the language of blogging continues to unite.

The Dream Life of Chloe Lodge

When I first met Chloe Lodge, I sensed a curiosity in her gaze, and a warmth in her demeanor. When I found out she was studying to become a photographer, my interest grew. (Having worked as a Print Producer in the advertising world for over a decade, I grew to know and admire many visual thinkers, and have developed a love for photography.) With undeniable fervor, Chloe told me about the Masters Programme she was completing in Paris, and her final project, documenting ‘Expat Women in a Foreign Land’: Paris. (And would I want to participate? Bien Sur!) So, how did Chloe arrive to pursue her dreams, in Paris? Her path is a unique and well-traveled one.

It still surprises me, how quickly life can change. If a year ago, someone said to me that I would be at the beginning of a new career in photography, having studied in Paris and been exhibited at the Rencontres dʼArles I would never have believed them. I am delighted to say this is exactly what has happened.

Photography has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. When asked as a child ʻwhat do you want to become?ʼ for me, aged 7, my answer was always ʻI want to be a National Geographic Photographer.ʼ At fifteen I showed my photographs to my art teacher who said ʻthese are nice pictures but they are holiday snaps. To be a photographer you have to make the everyday appear extra-ordinary and more interesting than its perception.ʼ I had little, or no idea what she meant and felt discouraged.

After a brief spell at Art College studying sculpture, I achieved a BA Honours degree in Art History. Not having a clue what to do with a qualification such as this I fell into the city life of London, initially working in Event Management, then momentarily for the big boys at Goldman Sachs on Fleet Street. However, the creative Chloe gasped for breath inside everyday, so when a slightly unusual opportunity presented itself to me, I grabbed it with both hands. Working alongside Bear Grylls was a fascinating and all-encompassing job. Regardless, my role was one I could tweak and mould how I wanted. It was about organisation, PR, event management and with a little design thrown in. During a particularly intense period manning the 24-hour UK base of Bearʼs 2003 Trans-Atlantic Arctic Expedition I realised that it was about time I stopped sitting behind a desk organising adventures for others and see the world for myself.

My London flat went on the market, and I booked myself a round-the-world ticket. I planned on three months away but ended up being away almost three years. In that time I travelled across Russia, Mongolia and China on the Trans-Siberian, I spent four months backpacking in South-East Asia and finally ʻsettledʼ in New Zealand for almost two and a half years.

The back streets of Valletta, Malta. May 2011

The age of digital photography was upon us and, small compact in hand, I rediscovered my love of photography – capturing the beauty in the everyday. The landscape, culture and texture of life in the ʻLand of the Long White Cloudʼ awoke the softly doozing hunger for the photographic image from inside me. Whilst down-under, I not only fell in love with my photography again, I fell in love with the very wonderful James.

This was almost five years ago, and for reasons unknown to us, we then ended up in England. The dream of any little girl came true and James proposed. It was a double whammy because he also agreed to my fantasy of a small, intimate wedding on an Italian hillside, then the intense organisation began. It was all going to plan, until devastation hit. It was a Saturday afternoon, exactly three months to the day before our wedding, that I received the phone call. My dear and much-loved Mum, had died overnight in her sleep. Aged just 58, it was sudden, unexpected and shattered my world from the core.

Unwillingly but essentially I had to shift the wedding plans to funeral plans, desperately trying to ingest the utter shock of what had happened. We had to decide quickly whether to go ahead with our Italian wedding plans, or not. We decided whenever we were to get married after that she wouldnʼt physically be there: getting ready on the day, smiling at me with pride as I said my vows, laughing with me every step of the way. But she had been part of the planning THIS day, so we had to move forward.

Springtime in Paris, the Eiffel Tower. March 2011

Is it possible for light come from the darkness of utter tragedy? Sitting in the shade of a palm tree on our honeymoon, a realisation slowly dawned on me that I might now have the opportunity to follow that childhood dream of mine. I could go back to school to study photography. After much research and a swift application, I received a confirmation from a school in Paris to study Professional Photography starting September 2010.

Still fragile and in shock from the previous six months, I wondered if it was the right timing for me. Being in my mid-thirties, it felt like it was ʻnow or neverʼ. I had visited Paris as an art student, spending many happy hours in the Louvre and Musee DʼOrsay, and knew Iʼd always loved it as a city and so, swallowed hard and took the plunge.

As I began my studies I felt that the studio was where I wanted to be, ʻmakingʼ pictures and not ʻtakingʼ them. However, as my first semester journey of personal and creative exploration ventured on I began feeling more and more that the outside world is where I wanted to be. My interest has always been in people, within the context of their lives. Understanding how things change and evolve for them over time. I consider myself a social observer and a story teller, and it’s for this reason documentary and portrait photography is the area in which I love to work. Photography is not purely the creative action of taking a picture, it’s about people and their stories, their lives.

Kasia Dietz, from the portrait series 'Modern Women at Home in a Foreign Land' April, 2011

Ten challenging, soul-searching but fantastic months later, I have achieved a National Diploma with Honours, and finished the Masters Programme. Following our final diploma show in May, two out of 68 students were selected to be part of the 26 year celebration exhibition of our school at the Rencontres dʼArles… and my work was one of them. It was a complete surprise, but a fantastic honour so soon after graduating. The same exhibition will be shown in November, during Paris Photo Month, at the Speos Gallery, Paris. A city at the nucleus of the photography world. It feels like the beginning of something very wonderful… itʼs not the start of a new chapter, itʼs the start of a whole new book. A book I have always dreamt of starting, and now I am.

The Residence of the US Ambassador to France, Paris. April 2011 (selected for Rencontres d'Arles)

Congratulations and best of luck to you Chloe, as your ‘dream life’ of visual story telling continues!

Chloe Lodge Photography, will be exhibited at the Speos Gallery, 75011 Paris from November 8th – December 31st 2011. You can also follow Chloe Lodge on facebook as her life soon takes her from Paris to Asia. (Once the traveler always the traveler!)

ʻModern Women at Home in a Foreign Landʼ captures todayʼs Anglophone women making lives for themselves in a country where the culture, language and tradition is often very different to their own. Each following their own dream, in so many different ways. Her self- published book is available for viewing via

Blogging with Andi: The How

Being well aware of why‘ to blog, here is Andi Fisher’s take on ‘how’ to blog. Rarely a day goes by without an interesting and often insightful blog post on Misadventures with Andi. How to remain inspired to write every day? (Or once to twice a week in my case). Other than simply living your life and keeping yourself interested and interesting, it’s a good dose of exercise, discipline, focus…

Blogging with Andi: Part 2: The How

When I met Kasia and several other bloggers in Paris this past October, one common question that everyone asked me was: “How do you write everyday? How do you manage to read so many blogs?”

With the exception of a handful of days over the past few years, Misadventures with Andi has had a post every single day. It’s the whole notion of Blogging with Discipline. This is a concept that I came across in a post in my early blogging days. What it basically comes down to is: I write more good stuff by writing daily than I would by writing less frequently.

One part is exercise.

Many people exercise on a daily basis, they don’t feel as well if they miss a day. Blogging is the same way. I may only write for 30 minutes, but I write everyday. It keeps me loose and keeps the words flowing.

The other part is discipline.

Coming from an internet marketing background, I am quite comfortable with maintaining an editorial calendar. I believe this tool to be essential to mapping and organizing my posts, as well as keeping on task on what I want to accomplish.

Every weekend I plan out my posts for the following week. At times, I plan out further. I currently use Google Calendar which works very well, but I am also considering a new WordPress plug-in that functions in a similar manner.

There is a constant presence of either a spiral notebook or moleskin in my possession and I have about 20-30 drafts of posts in my WordPress panel at any given time. I travel a lot and write notes (either in a notebook or on a laptop) during my trips so that I can just edit and add photos when I return.

I spend about 3-4 hours writing, usually on Sundays covering various topics. I have three weekly recurring posts: (Not quite) Wordless Wednesday; French Friday and Saturday Six. In addition, I have other series that run less frequently: Travel Tip (or Gear) Tuesday; J’adore and Monthly Top Five. The rest of the time I am free to write about whatever travel related content I want.

Which brings to the third and final part of my process: focus.

My blogging pal and guru, Julie Roads of Writing Roads taught me a very key tenet “find your tree.” She wrote about this quite a long time ago. I remember liking the post, but I don’t think I took it all in. Then when Julie and I were speaking on the phone earlier this year, she asked, “what’s your tree?”

The base of your tree is the thing you are most passionate about, it is the topic that all your posts should tie back to. Every post should a be branch that “stems” from the trunk. This will allow you to “root” your blog to a place where people gather and know what to expect when they do.

Since defining my branch [travel] and sticking to it, writing had become even easier for me.

On a final note, content breeds content. On a weekly basis I read about 400 blog posts. The reason is twofold. First, I find great posts that inspire me to write my own posts. Secondly, as a member of the blogging community I am keenly aware of the need to support each other via traffic and comments.

Comments are the currency that makes the blogosphere run and I feel it is important to read and support not only the bloggers that read and support me, but also others who aren’t necessarily part of my own community but who I feel are writing really great content.

That may be more that Kasia was looking for, but I am passionate about sharing and passionate about blogging, so it’s hard to be brief!

Just what I was looking for Andi! I must add that I’m a big fan of Andi’s weekly features, particularly Saturday Six, on which she highlights 6 of 400+ blog posts she reads weekly. I can proudly say my blog has been featured many a time, always an honor!

Fellow bloggers, have you found your tree? Mine too, is travel. And the branches are many.

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