The Dream Life of Diana Antholis

I liked Diana the moment I met her. She possesses strength in her manner, her eyes sparkle with optimism, and her deep voice exudes confidence. We first met at the women’s group we belong to, and soon after we shared thoughts about leaving New York and starting life in Paris, as well as the trials and thrills of running a business. I have yet to join Diana on a Paris workout (but I certainly will) and am a big fan of her book, filled with wise advice on how to live a more healthy, balanced, and yes, sexy life. Her story (and her book) is certain to inspire!

IMG_4750ppDecember 20, 2013 was a day of YES. I said yes to the marriage proposal and my new fiancé accepted the contract for a new job in Paris. Two months later, we arrived at Charles de Gaulle on a rainy morning, hardly believing what we had just done. 
 
Rewind a few months and if you told us we would be living in Paris now, we would have laughed (even though my now-husband is French.) We had a beautiful life in New Jersey and New York City. My husband had a solid job and absolutely adored the USA (and still does), but he was looking for a greater challenge. I had most of my business connections, my best friends, and family, but wasn’t ready to “settle” in the suburbs of New Jersey. Actually, our eyes were focused on California. My time living in San Diego was wonderful and we both knew the California lifestyle would fit us perfectly. But then, in what felt like a blink of an eye, my husband was recruited rapidly by a company he used to work for in Paris. Questions arose: Could we live in Paris? Is this good for my business? Is now the right time? Would we love our lives there?
 

I was scared. Even though I had dreams of living abroad during my lifetime and felt a strong pull towards Paris, I truly never planned any kind of move. I figured marrying a Frenchman would fulfill my French dream, as we would be traveling there at least once a year to visit his family in Normandy.

Diana Upward Dog la SeineWe ultimately decided that it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass on. My business is online, so I could easily continue my work as an Author and Healthy Lifestyle Coach. Helping women live the balanced, centered, and sexy lives they deserve worldwide didn’t limit me to a particular timezone. I had big plans for my business, and I could easily continue in Paris. 
 
I was actually reading my own book to get through my nerves about moving abroad. Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly excited, but all of the what ifs creeped into my brain, especially knowing that I had to re-learn French. I had moved across the country before (NYC to San Diego, San Diego to Washington D.C., then back to NYC) but I never had to learn a new language to live in those cities. But, in true Diana fashion, I pushed forward because I knew I was going to make it. I had no other choice. This is what I help women deal with on a daily basis: following their intuitions, pushing through the what ifs, and creating lives they love.

Diana Luxembourg Stretch

I’ve been called the fastest expat transition in Paris. On my second day here, I went to a women’s networking group meeting, the Paris Women of Success. Freshly jet lagged, the group gave me a round of applause for putting myself out there when I hadn’t even been living in my new city for 24 hours.

Ten months have flown by already. I have expanded my online business to an in-person element in Paris doing workouts in the parks and have big plans for an Unleash Your Sexy Experience launch in 2015, online and in-person. Plus, many of the women of Paris (francaise et expatriee!) have been using my book “Unleashed” as their lifestyle bibles. I have made new friends from all over the world. I know my way around the city and actually can get certain places without the Maps app on my phone (big success for me). I have travelled so much of France and was able to take weekend trips to London and Rome. I have a wonderful life in Paris. 

Diana 1My husband works 12-hour days (sometimes more) so I’ve been on my own for most of this. We enjoy weekends together, though he jokes that he knows Paris through my Instagram feed. He’s been incredibly supportive and happy with my transition and luckily shares the same experiences from when he moved to the USA. I took French courses for the first nine weeks I was in Paris and practice with my local boulanger and new family when I see them. I’m proud of myself that I feel comfortable enough with the language to have conversations and get what I want! It’s not always easy living in Paris. I’ve had my fair share of rudeness and bureaucracy. Even being married didn’t make the visa and immigration process facile. But I made a very important decision when I arrived: I always have a choice, and I choose happiness.

Diana 2What have you overcome because you chose happiness? Or what can you overcome now to find happiness?  Leave a comment and like the Unleash Your Sexy Facebook Page to be entered to win a copy of Diana’s best-selling book “Unleashed: Live the Balanced, Centered, and Sexy Life You Deserve.” And follow Diana on Twitter & Instagram!

Seven Letters from Paris

Samantha Verant is a woman after her own heart, one that she left at a train station in Paris in 1989. His name was Jean-Luc. They met randomly at a Paris bistro during her European adventures, and the seeds of love were planted. Like most travel romances, after their 24 hour affair, they continued to journey solo. But not without Jean-Luc writing Samantha seven heartfelt love letters, filled with passion and depth. Years went by and Samantha found herself living an unfulfilled, passionless life, dreaming of this handsome Frenchman from the past. What happens when Samantha uncovers these letters 20 years later and searches for her long lost love, Jean-Luc? In a word: magic. But not without hardship. Samantha’s memoir Seven Love Letters from Paris is proof of the power of love and how overcoming fear can help dreams come true.

Even though I haven’t yet met Samantha, (but plan to soon as I’m certain she and I and our passion driven husbands will get along splendidly), I feel like I know her. We became friends via our blogs, and when I heard about her romantic tale, I couldn’t wait for her to share it with the world. Once the book was published just days ago, I could not put it down, as Samantha recounts her love story with her amorous rocket scientist, from the very first meeting. Fiction could not have told a better tale! How happy I am for this couple in love, who were certainly destined for one another. In Samantha’s words, as in my own, “L’amour! Encore l’amour! Toujours l’amour!”

SEVEN LETTERS FROM PARIS: A MEMOIR:

Twenty years, seven letters, and one long-lost love of a lifetime 

Watch the book trailer:


Thank you Samantha, for living and documenting your love story with such a generous heart!

Connect with Samantha via: Web, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter

 

L’Amour (or less)

One of the great joys of living as an expat in Paris is that it has exposed me to other like-minded Americans, who equally find their creative voice and pursue their dreams, on French soil. Whether it be in the form of American-style cupcakes, sweet stories, designer pillows, or even treasure hunts in the Louvre, each of these women is following her passion. I am proud to be among them.

Most recently another friend and fellow expat has spoken, this time through film. An actress and film-maker from NYC, Jennifer Geraghty arrived to Paris no more than 2 year ago, and now, she has a few stories to tell. Namely, all about the romantic tales between expats and the French. All true stories, not all her own. Certainly enough to entice any  mademoiselle or monsieur out there who wonders about dating in the French capital! Have a look, listen, and share the love! Jennifer and her collaborator Alexis are in the midst of raising funds via kickstarter to turn these tales into a series of short stories, 12 of which are already written. To learn more, here’s their website.

To add a little incentive in the form of Kasia Dietz handbags, I’ve designed a custom hand-painted tote for those able to donate a generous sum. More info on their kickstarter page

L'Amour (or less) tote by Kasia Dietz

May these tales of LAmour (or less) come to life!

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.

The Dream Life of Suzanne Flenard

Moving to a foreign country, as challenging as it is, can afford us the privilege of redefining ourselves by asking the question ‘Who am I and what do I really want to do?’, versus following a path that might not lead to fulfillment, which to us New Yorkers, often means climbing the corporate ladder.

Suzanne Flenard is one such savvy ex-New York gal I met along the expat way. She and her partner Jeremy decided to take a ‘break’ from the grind of life in NYC, having both lived there for over 15 years. Six months of a break has now turned into 3 years and they have never looked back. Paris very quickly became home. Might I add that home to them looks much like a boutique hotel in the Marais, très chic!

As a seasoned professional in the world of interiors, working with furniture companies such as Design Within Reach (one of my personal favorites), Suzanne always had the desire to create something of her own. It was over lunch one day with a mutual friend that we brainstormed ideas for her vision. Over the course of several months, Suzanne set her designing mind into motion. While her foodie partner was busy exploring the gourmet markets of Paris, Suzanne spent many an afternoon carousing Montmartre and the Sentier in search of just the right fabrics (an exercise I know well), not to mention the virtual world… I introduced her to my trusted manufacturer… she impressively designed her own website… et voilà! Square Modern came to life.

What exactly is Square Modern and why is it so unique and eco-friendly? In the words of Suzanne…

Square modern is a limited edition collection of pillows/cushions using reclaimed designer fabric remnants. The idea came about as an interest to introduce the European Community to “Mid-Century Modern” textile designs, in addition to other beautiful modern classics, popular in the United States. These designer fabrics are selected from some of the most exclusive textile manufacturers that exist today: Maharam, Kvadrat, Knoll and Kravet. Square Modern uses primarily reclaimed fabric remnants, often found in limited supply. Therefore, the collection is produced in limited quantity and will continuously change as interesting textiles become available. All cushions are produced in Paris.

I am very proud and excited for Suzanne, living her dream in Paris, a life she could not have foreseen in New York. I for one, possessing a passion for interior design, particularly mid-century modern, already have my eye on a few coussins…

Square Modern is based in Paris and available internationally. Join on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with the latest limited edition pillows!

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!

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 Blurb.com

The Dream Life of Amy Thomas

I liked Amy Thomas the moment I met her. Not simply because she arrived to Paris from NY (though us New Yorker’s do tend to stick together). Perhaps we bonded due to our careers in advertising or passion for writing. No. Amy is a dreamer. A romantic. A thinker. Above all, a lover of all things sweet, as she has so appropriately coined herself Sweet Freak. In her blog God, I love Paris Amy shares her nearly two-year long love affair with Paris, where she has always dreamed to live. But some romances are not meant to last. I will allow Amy to explain, in the name of love.

Can one question change your life?

I’m willing to bet a 25-piece box of Jean-Paul Hevin bonbons on it.

In 2008, I was sitting in my office, living what I considered to be a pretty dreamy life. I was single, owned my own place in the East Village, and was braving New York’s dating world. I had a great group of friends, and I liked my job as an advertising copywriter. But I loved my moonlighting dalliances even more: exploring and writing about sweets. Life was good: easy, fun, comfortable. Then my ad agency’s in-house recruiter walked into my office and nonchalantly asked:

What do you think about Paris?

Let me just pause and say—I am obsessed with Paris. Almost as obsessed as I am with sweets. So when the recruiter revealed that the Paris office of my international agency was looking for an English-speaking writer to work on the Louis Vuitton account, my first question was how soon could I leave? Of course I wanted to go live in Paris and work with one of the best fashion houses in the world. What Louboutin loving, Coco worshipping, macaron addict wouldn’t?

The only thing holding me back from the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) was several months of bureaucracy. Five long months of waiting, the papers were finally in place (a little preview to the pace of life in Paris). I packed my laptop, clothes and black tabby cat, and then gulped, vigorously nodding my head as my doorman reminded me on the way out, “It’s like business and pleasure. You’re getting paid to do what you love.” Indeed, I was off to live my dream.

And a dream it’s been. Especially the first six months. Having arrived in early March, each new day was a little bit longer and brighter. Spring turned into summer—a beautiful and balmy season when the sun didn’t set until 10 p.m. I became an instant Velib addict, to say nothing of the sweets. I cruised from Les Petits Mitrons in the 18eme to Du Pain et des Idées in the 10eme. From Blé Sucré in the 12eme to Pain du Sucré in the 4eme. From Michel Chaudun to Michel Cluizel; from Ladurée to Pierre Hermé; Les Deux Abeilles, Stohrer, Le Patisserie de Reves… there was to be no viennoiserie, gateau or bonbon unsampled by me. After all, I told myself, biking from sweet spot to sweet spot, this was a great way to get to know my new hometown. Which was true. But as familiar as I became with each arrondissement’s best patisseries and chocolatiers, and their closest Velib stations, many of the city’s customs, codes of conduct and unspoken rules were still foreign to me.

And then the inevitable happened. After a prolonged honeymoon phase, I crashed. Hard. Summer had turned into fall, which turned into a long, dark winter. My beautiful city was suddenly cold and alienating. Not being able to communicate with the postmaster or dry cleaner was no longer a challenge that I approached as sort of fun and charming, but, rather, left me feeling totally defeated. Which just made me miss my friends, family and comfortable, easy life back in New York.

But I plodded on. With work (pulling longer hours than I ever did in New York). With French lessons (often swallowing cries of frustration when I couldn’t wrap my tongue around those R’s). With making friends (though this—gasp!—entailed befriending almost exclusively other expats as I couldn’t get a proper Parisian to give me the time of day). I willed myself to be tough. To stay strong. To smile, even if it made me look like an American dork. But mostly I lamented my lost love. I just wanted to feel moved by Paris the way I once had.

In hindsight, I know it was a perfectly natural cycle. Even the best affairs cool down at some point. After that initial head-over-heels infatuation, the ho-hum reality sets in and the daily grind is no longer sexy or romantic. Even in Paris. So after a season of sulking and consoling myself with a ridiculous amount of bonbons, I reset my expectations for a more “real” relationship with the city.

And now, the love affair continues. I cram my days with observing and writing, eating and drinking, Velib’ing and, toujours, ogling and sampling the sweets. And I have wonderful friends to share the meals, wine, stories and moments with. I’m a happy, lucky girl and I love every day that I’m here.

Because… all good things must come to a close. As mad as I am for Paris, I’m returning to my first love. New York is calling my name. It’s not been an easy decision, but I know it’s time to go home. And instead of looking at Paris or New York as an “either/or” option, I see it as “both”. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.

Paris will dearly miss Amy and her ‘joie de vivre‘, even the vélibs will feel the loss. Not to mention the pâtisseries! But her sweet life continues in New York. And lucky us to be able to read all about it in her upcoming book to be released in March 2012, a merging of God, I love Paris and Sweet Freak. Sounds like an ideal union to me!

The Dream Life of Cat Beurnier

Cat Beurnier has a sweet life in Paris, quite literally! She is the founder and owner of Sugar Daze, a leading American-style cake and cupcake business in Paris. Well known and savored by both expats and locals since it’s inception in 2008. When I met her and found out she was also an ex-ad girl from New York, with an equally entrepreneurial spirit, I took a liking to her immediately and began to inquire about the hardships of settling into life in Paris. Cat’s story not only inspired me but it filled me with hope that it does get easier and it is possible to create a new path, with great resolve, hard work and dedication to your dreams. 

My story begins with a coup de foudre which happened approximately 29 years ago when I first visited Paris with my mother and grandmother.  Though I had lived in New York City all my life (a city millions dream of running away to), the charm, the beauty, the history of Paris won me over almost the second our taxi turned off the Peripherique.  Paris was a place I would return to time and again — on vacation, for a summer study abroad, for my junior year in university… I never tired of it and each trip left me wanting more.  When I graduated from university, I spent a few months looking for work in various French corporations but my leads never panned out – unemployment was high and no one was willing to sponsor me, a recent grad with no real experience to get my work papers. I contemplated moving to France and working as an undeclared server at one of the many bars or restaurants that cater to the Anglo-Saxon crowd (something I had done the summer after my junior year). But in the end, I wasn’t brave enough to make the leap of faith and head down this unknown, unchartered course.

I found a job in a well-known ad agency in New York and fell into daily life as a young, single gal in the Big Apple.  I loved my dynamic, fast-paced job. I very slowly started to work my way up the corporate ladder. I even got to travel to Paris a few times to assist on some new business projects.  Fortunately, I had an endless supply of friends, and even some boyfriends, who happily agreed to accompany me on the frequent vacation to Paris so I could get my fix!

Fast-forward about 10 years, when I experienced love at first site for the second time in my life.  I was at a party with an ex-boyfriend (who yes, I had at some point dragged to Paris!) when I saw this tall, handsome stranger standing with a group of people at the side of the room.  I casually walked over, joined in their conversation and fell under the spell of his charm.  As the evening went on, I found myself alone with him chatting and sharing stories as if we had known each other for years.  At some point talk turned to how we knew the hostess and he told me she dated a friend of his before they both moved to New York.  Curious to hear more, I asked where he was from.  When he said Paris, my jaw dropped open.  I hadn’t detected a hint of an accent in his voice, and yet when I looked closer, I saw that yes indeed, his choice of clothing, his mannerisms, his features, etc. gave away his distinct un-American-ness.

Long story short, over the course of the next five years we dated, moved in together, and married.  The funny thing about my husband is that he was just as much a romantic about NYC as I was about Paris!  Moving to France was never a consideration for us; I was content with the once a year or so trips we made to visit his family.  And then our son was born and it was a total game changer.  Cramped into our one-bedroom apartment with our son in a crib at our feet, we started fantasizing about the type of apartment we could have in France, and what neighborhood we would live in.  On a whim, we listed our apartment in the Sunday NY Times and I don’t think either of us could really believe it when just a month later, we found ourselves signing it away.  Those last few months in NY were surreal — we were new parents and about to set off on a whole new adventure on the other side of the Atlantic!  My husband hadn’t lived in France for 10 years and I think he felt the culture shock coming back just as much as I did.

We arrived in Paris at the end of November seven years ago this month.  For those of you who know Paris, you’ll probably agree this is one of the worst times to have started our new life here.  Months of cold, damp and grey weather as a new mother unaccustomed to life outside the office left me feeling depressed and sullen.  My husband’s friends, who had always been so warm and welcoming when we visited, many of them new parents too, were too busy with their day-to-day lives to hold my hand as we settled in.  And to complicate matters, our fly by the seat of our pants “planning” meant living at my in-laws until we could find a place of our own.  Which actually didn’t take too long as I was totally motivated!  It took me a loooonnnngggg time to adjust to my new life in France, but little by little, I started making friends and got the hang of life as a stay-at-home mom.

France is a country where families are king.  And the benefits families receive to ensure their kids are looked after as they return to work are nothing short of amazing. Because I had never worked legitimately in France, many of those benefits were not available to me, and my husband encouraged me to return to work before we thought about expanding our family. I had become very involved in an English-speaking parents group called MESSAGE, and took on the role of VP, Public Relations but it was pro-bono work and so no benefits to speak of. As I started to think about a return to corporate life, I realized that the long hours, the stress, the travel – it just wasn’t worth trading my time with my son. I found myself at the age of 35 taking a long hard look at my life as I tried to figure out what I “wanted to be when I grew up.” I decided on a radical change and began investigating the possibility of my own business.

One of my childhood dreams was to be a pastry chef. In fact, my closest elementary school friend, Suzanne, and I used to “host” a cooking show called “Snacks Delight” where every weekend we would whip up a different dessert in front of our “live studio audience” (usually comprised of her little sister or our Barbie dolls). As an adult, I studied pastry at a culinary school during a period of unemployment and worked for several restaurants and a caterer in the US. It’s physically hard work but something I enjoy enormously. I’ve never considered myself overly creative but when I bake, I have the sense of accomplishing something made with my own hands. Our last apartment in New York was just around the corner from the famous Magnolia Bakery and since I love cupcakes, I was inspired to import this traditional American dessert to my new adopted “hometown.” But just as this idea was taking shape, I found out I was pregnant again. I had to put my project on the back burner and there it stayed until late 2008. I had kind of given up hope on ever having my own store as I was just so busy with 2 children and dealing with everyday family life, which in a foreign country can sometimes be complicated. But I always found time to bake on the weekends, for friends, etc. and one day I found myself agreeing to make cupcakes for a friend of a friend for a party she was having. And thus my company, Sugar Daze (formerly Little Miss Cupcake), was born.

Around that time, I read an article in an entrepreneur’s magazine that advised that if you have a dream, and you don’t have the money or the support or the time to realize it, you don’t have to scrap your dream entirely. Instead, take a step back and figure out how to make this dream a reality on a smaller scale. And that is exactly what I have done by creating a small, custom order cupcake business. Things just took off after that first order; I started a blog to document my baking adventures which got my name out there, and through the grapevine, people came to hear about me and my cupcakes. Baking and making cupcakes is one of my greatest passions and knowing how happy they make people is a reward in and of itself. But it isn’t always a cakewalk. Most mornings, I am up and at my kitchen by 5 to bake the day’s orders fresh from scratch. I am back home by 8 to get my kids up, dressed and out the door for school. My daughter is only 3 and spends her afternoons with me. And so after a full day of shuttling my kids around and taking care of household chores (and my husband!), I often find myself working late into the night once everyone has gone to sleep to catch up on paperwork or to hand-craft the decorations that top my cupcakes. I am the sole employee of Sugar Daze and so this means that my responsibilities include answering all inquiries, shopping for supplies, baking and decorating all the cupcakes, doing my own accounting, creating marketing materials, making deliveries, etc. (and most of this is done in a language that is not my mother tongue!). I feel like a lot of my days are some wild juggling act where at any minute the whole thing is going to come crashing down but I’m doing something I absolutely love and that makes the difference.

I believe that many times in life, your destiny is shaped by being in the right place at the right time. Some may say this happened on the night I met my husband, and looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to start up my business just as the cupcake craze took hold in Paris. It’s taken a lot of work to get where I am today and without a storefront, it’s sometimes hard to compete with the growing number of cupcake stores. But I believe in my products and am constantly experimenting and improving my offerings to ensure they are the best American-style cupcakes you’ll find in Paris! Life continues to be a challenge but I am living proof that you can have your cake and eat it too!

To indulge in Cat’s dream life of cupcakes, take a look at all the sweet possibilities on her menu. I recommend  La Vie en Rose or perhaps a Black Coffee in Bed? And let’s not forget the NYC classic Empire State of Mind. I could go on… Thank you Cat, for making life in Paris a little sweeter!

Update: In June 2012, Cat opened her Sugar Daze Bake Shop in the dynamic South Pigalle area of Paris.  Sugar Daze serves an array of cupcakes – sweet and savory – cheesecakes, brownies and other American baked goods with a rotating daily menu, available for eat-in or take-out.  Custom orders and cupcake classes are also available.  The Bake Shop is open Wednesday-Sunday (see www.sugardazecupcakes.com for more details).  20 rue Henry Monnier, 75009, 09.83.04.41.77

The Dream Life of Forest Collins

How exactly does one end up living ‘the dream life’ in Paris? By following your dreams, fearlessly. Forest Collins, fellow expat, drink connoisseur and creator of blog 52 Martinis, did just that. And little does anyone know (until now) just what an insightful and inspiring journey she took, with just the right amount of spare change, a little luck, a lot of strength, and always the will to dream.


photo credit: Melanie Vaz

Nearly ten years ago….it was a warm Parisian night and I was riding home on the Metro thinking to myself, “How did I get here?” Lost in my thoughts, I reached into my pocket and jangled my entire net worth of €1.57. Just at that moment, a busker strolled by and in a Pavlovian reaction held out his hat to the sound of my jingling coins. I didn’t look him directly in the eye, but shook my head lamely and muttered a barely audible “désolée”. I knew what he was thinking: I don’t look very sorry and I do look like I could spare a bit of change.  I wanted to tell him that, judging by the contents of his cap, he was financially better off than me and considered asking him for some job advice.  But, instead I silently pondered my situation. It’s then that I had a very important realization: In life, sometimes, you’ve got to eat some Top Ramen. Let’s face it.  No one wants to eat Top Ramen, the main sustenance of poor, struggling, American college students. They eat it so they can afford to pay for their education…or beer.  Either way, they believe it’s a payoff in the long run that’s worth the deprivation in the immediate moment.  They can try and dress it up with some fresh garlic or Tabasco, but, in the end, it’s still just limp watery noodles with a bit of MSG.  But, you know what? It’s not. It’s the sacrifices you make in the present to achieve something better in the future.

My first major “Top Ramen” experience was many years ago now. Having arrived in France, flush with cash and ready for Euro-adventure, the last thing on my mind was my finances.  But, as the date on my return ticket drew nearer, I played with the idea of staying beyond my originally planned six months. The only obstacle was my lack of funds.  Would I let that stop me? Since I was a little girl, I had dreamt of the challenges of living, working and learning the language in France. I decided I was ready to eat Top Ramen or do whatever else it took to reach this goal.  Being American, without specific marketable skills in France, not being fluent in the language and not having working papers ensured that this would be a challenge. I had to continually remind myself that my goal was not to climb a corporate ladder, but to stay in Europe.  With this in mind I began the search for work. I sat at the Internet café, plucking away at the keyboard, sending resume after resume for any job that seemed remotely feasible. For all of my persistence and eagerness I was having no luck and getting discouraged.  One evening, over drinks with friends, I was lamenting my desperate situation. Just then, someone leaned over towards our table.

“Excuse me”, he says. “Would you be interested in working in an Irish pub?” Several things went through my mind. First of all, I’m skilled and educated. I should be a secretary or the President. But, a bartender? Then again, I had always had a romantic notion of what it would be like. I’d have my regulars who would sit around the bar telling me about their day. I’d mix fancy drinks and deliver them to tables with witty repartees. But for all of my “skills” and cocktail experience, I realized I hadn’t a clue as to what it took to tend bar. So, of course, my response was “I’d be delighted!”

The following day, I went for my official interview with the gentleman from the bar and his business partner. In my broken French I managed to convey my enthusiasm and, apparently, impressed them enough to get the job.  They told me they’d help me get my papers, pay me a decent wage and set me up in an apartment.  The only thing I had to do was cover a shift in their restaurant for a couple of weeks while the bar was being finished.  Slightly daunted by the fact that I had never worked as a waitress, much less in a fancy French restaurant, I agreed. On my first day of work, I was initially thrilled with my good fortune – my Top Ramen days were over. It took all of twenty minutes to realize that I was completely unprepared for what was going to unfold over the next six days. I consider myself an intelligent person who learns new skills quickly, but the waitressing life was a mystery to me. It didn’t help that I understood nothing anyone said. On the second afternoon, someone was giving me instructions and the only two words I understood were “touch” and “plate”. So, of course I touched the plate. Immediately, I realized they must have said “Don’t touch the plate. It’s hot.” as I screamed and waved my scalded finger in the air. My inability to understand was demoralizing.  I would become ecstatic when I took a complete order correctly and return to the kitchen to place it only to have the cook respond with an excitement-quelling look that implied “any idiot can take an order.” Certainly, if they speak the language. It wasn’t just the language barrier, it was the work. I did ten to twelve hour days for six straight days. It was hot and hectic and stressful. The customers were unforgiving of my lack of linguistic skill.  After what I considered a relatively successful week of work, on the sixth day I was given an envelope with my wages. I was told that they had found another Anglophone to work in the bar that already had papers. So, instead of helping me get mine, they were letting me go. Feeling hopeless, I walked home and collapsed on the couch. While doing so I opened the envelope to count the money and found I had been paid the equivalent of $2 an hour for my hard work.

I surprised myself by finding the events more funny than infuriating and tried to take it as a life lesson. Fortunately, a few days later  I got a call from a U.N. agency in Geneva to which I had applied earlier and they wanted me to come for an interview. I danced around the room with renewed hope. Then I looked at my calendar. Coincidentally, the date of the interview was the exact date of my return flight home. My return flight home on a non-changeable, non-refundable, non-transferable ticket. If I went to the interview and didn’t get the job, I’d be stuck here with no money and no way to leave. But, if I didn’t go to the interview, I knew I’d regret it. It’s not hard to guess what I did. A week later I was on the train to Geneva, which was not far from the tiny French town of Annecy where I was staying. After the interview, on the train ride back, I fantasized about the possibility of actually living and working in Europe. Arriving at the station in Annecy, I dug around in my pockets for change for the bus ride home, but found them empty. I stopped by the cash machine and the inevitable finally happened. There was no more money in my account. I stood there absorbing the realization that I was now completely broke, in a foreign country with no guarantee of a job. I walked for an hour to get back to the tiny apartment I was renting. I sat in my room uncertain and scared. Not knowing what to do, I waited. A few days later, the phone finally rang. It was Geneva. I had the job.

Finally, the payoff! I spent the next year and a half working in Geneva. I was well paid and lived a very comfortable life. Instead of soggy noodles, I ate in fancy restaurants and spent nearly as much time traveling as working. But after sometime, the annoying little voice of adventure started nagging at me. It kept saying “This is pretty good.  This was sort of your goal.  After all, you’re in Europe.  But, didn’t you really want to be in Paris?”  Its counterpart, the boring little voice of realism, tried to explain that although Paris was my first choice, prior experience had taught me it would next to impossible to work in France. And, I wasn’t sure I was ready to give up the good life just yet. The little voice of adventure was too strong of an opponent to defeat.  At the end of my contract, I was in a rental car on my way to Paris.

Paris, France. I had finally arrived. But, there was a sense of déjà vu. Here I was again, flush with cash from my Geneva stint, ready for more European adventure. I enjoyed myself and got settled into the apartment, the neighborhood and the city. Once again, my money dwindled. Once again, I realized it was time to find work. Once again, I tried everything I could think of. Searching the classifieds, I applied to any job I thought I could do – and even some that I knew I couldn’t. I networked.  I searched notice boards and the Internet. After a few months of this, I had nothing to show for my efforts except an empty bank account. During this time, I was offered a few positions back in Geneva. It wasn’t easy to not give up on Paris and return to a comfortable, stable and well-paid life. But, here I was stubbornly staying put without even enough money to buy a cup of coffee. Fortunately, what I didn’t know at that time was that I was about to be offered a job in a translation office. Would it be more Top Ramen or just what I wanted? There would be no way to find out but to try.

I still remember that metro ride, which was so many years ago now. I think about all my friends that tell me how “lucky” I am to live in Europe and follow my dreams. But, I know it’s not luck. I’ve eaten a lot of Top Ramen to get to where I am today.

If you’d like to know what Forest is eating (and drinking) these days, follow her on twitter and be sure to check out her blog.

Thanks Forest, and cheers to you! Keep on living your dreams…