Travel Series: Wanderlust takes France

“Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.” ―Asian Proverb

Whenever I think of France, I think of the city of Paris. Paris was the goal, initially. But you cannot want what you do not know, and all I knew of was Paris. Of course, I would love to see the Eiffel Tower, shimmering in the night sky. However, when a company you work for offers to send you to France to present a topic on one of the articles you’ve written, all expenses paid, you jump on that opportunity! So that’s exactly what I did. I had no idea what to expect, or what part of France we would be. Honestly, I didn’t care. All I knew is that I was grateful to have this opportunity. As a matter of fact, this trip taught me the art of gratitude and the beauty of disconnection. I will admit that this trip was far different than any of the other places I’ve traveled. A pleasant surprise. But more importantly, this trip taught me what it really means to step out of your comfort zone. Ironic- that was the topic I was presenting while in France. I had no idea that I would be pushed even more outside of my comfort zone than I already had prepared myself to do.

Our flight was on a Monday night at 7:45 PM. I was traveling with my manager and her husband. While waiting to board the plane, I overanalyzed my presentation and wondered if it was up to par to present in front of other people, let alone to my colleagues. I wondered if I would remain poise during the presentation. This particular topic meant the world to me because I was currently living it. My life had changed so drastically over the past year, that I am barely recognizable to myself- and it’s great! But still, I wondered if I would be considered ‘good’ enough. I am one of the youngest in the company, so it can be a bit intimidating. Finally, we boarded the plane and I prepared to settle into my seat. After 10 hours, 2 movies, and in and out of the worst sleep I’ve ever endured, we landed in Frankfurt, Germany for our layover. What seemed like a short wait, we then proceeded to board the plane to head to Toulouse, France. So I thought Toulouse would be our final destination, but it was not…in hindsight, now I know why we rented a car. We drove two hours to the small, quaint town of La Salvetat-Peyrales. Way high in the mountains, where civilization is questionable, stores are borderline non existent, with dirt roads lining miles of land, and not one sign of a street light lol. Turns out that one of the big bosses in the company bought a house in France with her husband about 5 years ago after finding it during their honeymoon. Honestly, the house is stunning and very much reminded me of my favorite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast. When Belle sung about ‘this poor, provincial town’ she was talking about here. But I do not mean one ounce of disrespect. It is a very simple lifestyle filled with beauty.

The house came with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, an outdoor sitting area overlooking a pool, an upstairs lounge area placed outside of the house, and a family room. Some of us were able to stay here, while the rest of us stayed in a cottage about 15 min. walking distance down the road. I was one of the guests who did not get to stay here, but day in and day out for the next 6 days, we spent the majority of our days here presenting, strategizing, and taking trainings in an attempt to better the company and keep it growing- very cozy and family style. Which speaking of the cottage, I know the country life is not for me for the simple fact that it is way too dark and quiet for my liking. Every night while I was in France, I barely slept because I felt the place was either haunted or there would be some crazed killer out there to get me!

We arrived to the house around 5:00 PM where I met the gracious host for the first time. Between the 6 hour time difference, the long flights, and the long drive over here, I could have used some perking up. And that is when we were greeted with glasses of champagne and wine lol. One thing this trip allowed all of us to do is BOND. And I’m not talking that fake kind of bonding where you try to impress one another and hide all evidence of any flaws. Throughout the trip, we got REAL. And I realized in these moments that I DO NOT work for a conventional company- I loved every minute of it! France has a tradition called apéro which means cocktail hour, served with drinks and small appetizers. We celebrated apéro each day we were there so I ate and drank A LOT. The first night there, while enjoying the cocktail hour outside in their hosting area, I couldn’t believe my surroundings. Candles lit everywhere, a cozy fire burning, and GREAT red wine (I don’t even drink red wine like that unless it’s sweet). Total vineyard vibes.

The next few days we dived straight into work. There was not much sight seeing throughout the week, but in our off hours, we gathered together drinking more wine and champagne, and eating more food lol. This was definitely a social trip, for sure. I was worried I would be pre-judged and stereotyped (which was very possible, since I decided it was perfectly ok to wear my Poetic Justice hoodie with an enlarged picture of Tupac on the front lmao one time for the culture though!) After my experience with my last job, you could say I’m scarred but it was the complete opposite. Everyone was so authentic and encouraged one another to do so. So many jokes and laughs. But anyways, back to the food and drinks!

This is common drink in South France. It smells of black licorice and is definitely an acquired taste. Usually served with one ice cube and diluted with water because it is STRONG. But by all means, if you feeling froggy…

A lot of pork is eaten in France from various hams to salamis to bruschetta. The French also consume a lot of bread, olives, and various vegetables such as tomatoes and lentils. However, all produce has to be in season. Nothing is imported to France, so all produce is locally grown. If it is not in season, it does not exist to eat or sell.

A fig picked from a tree in the host’s backyard

We did venture out to a few restaurants where we ate authentic French food. It was definitely an adventure trying to decipher the menu and then order the items in French lol. Google was my best friend throughout this trip!

We went to a restaurant called L’oustal del Barry. As you can see the portions are much smaller than we are accustomed to in the U.S. However, these are three course meals- appetizer, main entrée, and dessert. Add that with wine and bread and trust me, you’re good and full! I ordered the ravioli, lamb, and a Nutella mousse cake.

When we weren’t going to restaurants, the host was cooking at the house. One of my favorite meals while there was the duck confit. If you’ve never tried duck, you’re doing yourself an injustice. Although I have eaten duck in the U.S before, I never tasted duck so amazing than I did in France.

Duck confit with spinach salad, lentils, and bread…of course!

Another item I tried was unpasteurized cheese…and this is not sold in the U.S. because it is considered unsafe to consume raw milk cheeses. But it is the best tasting cheese you will ever taste in your life!

In France, dessert IS THE LAW. Don’t ever turn down a dessert in a restaurant. I did that once and they looked at me as if I committed a crime. An honorable dessert mention was banoffee, which is basically banana foster pie. SO DELICIOUS…

As the week wrapped up, work slowed down. It was Friday and my presentation was pushed to Saturday due to all of us running behind schedule. In addition, we had to drive two hours to the small village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, where we would tour the Roquefort Caves. Legend has it, that after the Combalou Mountain collapsed and parts of the mountain disintegrated into a giant, chaotic heap of rocks riddled with natural faults and caves. These caves were ingeniously adapted for the purpose of cheese-making. Yes, I said cheese making. Fleurines, which are small tunnels that run throughout the caves makes it the perfect temperature and humidity to develop Roquefort cheese, with the help of microorganisms such as penicillium roqueforti. These caves have been transformed to a cellar that now holds as many as 300,000 loaves of cheese at a time. They had samples of the cheese, in which I tried, but it was a bit too strong tasting for my preference. This cheese is for the brave.

Saturday approached and it was the big day for my presentation. I wish someone could have recorded me or taken pictures. Everyone was so wrapped up in my topic and I had their undivided attention, which is great! My presentation included thought provoking questions that helped others realize the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone. I got amazing feedback and was not mentally prepared AT ALL for how emotional my presentation made everyone. It was a room full of 10 people and not one person was dry eyed. I had stirred something in them emotionally and one by one, they started confessing things they felt they have held themselves back due to staying in their own comfort zones. It became a roundtable discussion with raw and honest answers of circumstances they struggled with. Each one would start crying as they openly became vulnerable and in return, provoked me to cry as well. But it was not until one of my colleagues opened up about her desire to be married with kids. That she felt she held herself back from finding someone to share her life with. That she feels she will spend her life alone. As she approaches her 30th birthday, she feels she has failed in this area of life. And I thought to myself, “maybe she has valid points, or maybe it’s just simply not her time yet.” And in that moment, I felt the need to share a painful truth of my own- the loss of a child. I didn’t share to be pitied. Honestly, it’s been one hell of a journey and I owe it all to my baby in heaven. If it wasn’t for me going through that situation, I would have never had the courage to write again. I would have never had the courage to leave my job and fall into a better one. I would not have the courage to submit my work to a local magazine and score a guest column. I owe everything to my angel. Sometimes, it is just the timing. Sometimes, we need the time and certain situations to happen to force us to learn and grow through. So that’s exactly what I told her. That her time will come, just like it will for me when the timing is right. And then we cried some more lol. I was so raw and vulnerable and yet, somehow poised. I was authentic and I caused others to take a deep look within themselves. Everyone raved so much about my presentation that I caught the attention of the CEO, so that’s an amazing feeling! I don’t want to overkill on this particular highlight of my trip but it was the main purpose of me going to France in the first place. I am just so relieved that not only did I execute it, I connected with my colleagues in ways I could not have imagined having the power to do so. A major accomplishment in my book.

After the presentation (and after we pulled ourselves together lol), we headed into the city of Albi, France for some more sight seeing. Albi was a charming city with streets lined with boutiques and restaurants. It was a nice change to see some civilization lol. We stumbled upon the Sainte-Cecile, a gothic cathedral dating back to 1280. It is considered the largest red-brick cathedral in the world. Every inch of the interior is decorated with extravagant tiles, gold leaf, and frescoes. You can visit the church and attend an audio tour for just 5 euros. It was definitely money well spent. Make sure you click on the slideshow to see inside 🙂

We had a late lunch in the city and continued to browse around in the small shops that paved the cobblestone streets. I was able to snag a cute shot glass that resembled a miniature wine glass, which seemed so perfect coming from France. The trip into the city was short lived and we headed back to the countryside to prepare for our last dinner spent together. We would all leave in the early morning. (Side note: in France, the majority of cars are manual aka stick shift. In order to get your license, you must be able to pass driving a manual before you can even think to be able to drive an automatic).

In the city square of Albi. I couldn’t help but capture this photo of these beautiful flowers splashed with the background of charming architecture.

France was not a typical wanderlust trip for me. I spent more time eating and drinking socially, connecting with my colleagues, and re discovering the importance of being present in the moment and putting my phone down. And in the nights that I spent alone in the cottage, I re discovered the art of solitude. I discovered that I am a force to be reckoned with. That I can stand powerfully in my truth and connect with others through shared pains. I learned that I have a voice. I learned that I never have to doubt myself again. This trip was for the soul. I opened up in ways that I have never allowed myself to before, especially when it comes to coworkers. I always felt I had to keep a certain level of professionalism. To prove that I am competent enough as a minority woman in what tends to be a white privileged corporate America. But the moment I displayed that authenticity, I was applauded. And I will forever carry that beautiful feeling in my heart. You see, often we think the action of traveling is meant to learn about the places we see and yes, to a certain extent that is true. But what about the things you learn about yourself being placed in an unfamiliar environment? I think this realization was my favorite part of this trip, after all ❤

I’ve Resigned from my job…now what?!

Anything that costs you your peace is too expensive. – Anonymous

A resignation from a job could be compared to a break up in a relationship. Most times, it is because you have found something ‘better.’ Other times, it cannot be worked out and you call it quits. I am the latter. And no, I don’t have another job lined up. And yes, I am freaking out. Don’t try this at home, kids. I’m pretty sure a lot of you will think of this as irresponsible. You are probably thinking that it could not have been that bad. Oh, but it was…is. When a situation is so toxic to the point that it begins to affect your mental health and well-being, guess what? It HAS gotten that bad.

Just three days ago, after much thought, I put in my three weeks’ notice. My official last day will be August 9th. It is possibly the scariest decision I have ever made in my life but I stand firmly in my decision. I am sure I will receive a lot of backlash because of it, especially from my family. But if there is anything I have learned in this incredibly difficult year, it is that my peace of mind and happiness comes first. Never again will I allow myself to lose sleep, shed tears, or increase my anxiety over something as temporary as a job. Because let’s face it, at the end of the day, no one is ever really secure. You can be fired the next day, without reason or explanation, especially in FL which is an at-will state. This decision has been weighing heavy on my heart for the past few months. It has been a constant internal struggle, deciding to go with my heart and what has been conditioned in my brain as the ‘right’ thing to do. The past couple of weeks have gotten progressively worse. Some nights with only 2 hours of sleep and waking up with a heavy sense of dread and anxiety for the work day that lies ahead. Walking on eggshells, anticipating my next failure because I cannot seem to do anything right. My lack of confidence after so much negative feedback. Last week was a deciding factor, where I left my job feeling completely defeated and frustrated; crying hysterically in the car on the way home. In that moment, I decided I had enough. I took the next day off to clear my head. I took some time over the weekend to pray on it. Each time the voice screamed louder, my intuition led me- it’s time to pull the plug. And so I did.

Although I do not get along with my superiors, I still showed them the courtesy of respect. I requested a meeting. I decided I would give a three week notice because of how high priority my position is, that way they have time to find a proper replacement to take over the workload. I explained to them that I have not been happy here and my mental health takes precedence. I thanked them for the opportunity of growth and all of the opportunities to become more skilled. This felt important for me to do. I wanted to leave with dignity. But most importantly, I do not believe in burning bridges. I am one of those people that actually feel guilty for leaving a position, even though I am sure I’m disposable to them. My conscience is clear. During my last weeks, I will still work my hardest to ensure all loose ends are tied. Again, with dignity.

Now you’re wondering how the hell am I going to afford my bills and such? Luckily, I made this decision knowing that I have savings to cover at least a few months of my expenses. I strongly suggest for anyone in a situation similar to mine, to make sure you have gone over your finances before you make a final decision. I will be cutting off certain ‘luxuries’ in this transition. Job hunting is still in full effect. Will do side gigs to keep some kind of income coming in. The rest I place my faith in God and myself. Something will come along in my benefit. God has always come through for me and this time is no different. But in the meantime, I will focus on a much needed break. EVERYTHING happens for a reason.

I have no idea what I am going to do with all of this free time lol. I’m used to being busy and never having time to myself, so this will be a nice change. I can finally work on the loft area and finish turning it into a creative space. I will have more time to dive into my writing. More time to cook, exercise, paint, swim…clean lol. I also have my trip to Hawaii coming up, which thankfully, I have saved money separately from my savings for that. More importantly, I will be able to give myself the time, love, and attention I deserve. I have gone through a lot this year that I have not fully processed or healed from yet. In the end, I’ll be just fine. My gut tells me so.

To anyone who is miserable at a job, you owe it to yourself to find better. Don’t sacrifice your happiness for that, or for any toxic situation for that matter. Life is WAY too short, trust me. Stand in your power and know that you deserve better. I would suggest finding a job first, of course. But if you feel like you can’t hold on anymore, then make sure you come up with a plan like I have. Know that everything is going to be okay and it is temporary. Know that there is a rainbow after the end of a storm. To me, this is just another door opening to my path of happiness and self discovery. I am so grateful for the lessons I have learned up to this point, for the growth. The strength. The bravery. Never would I have imagined that I would make a decision like this in my life. Fear usually paralyzes me. But after everything I have gone through this year alone, I have nothing to fear. AT ALL. I’m proud of myself for taking the necessary steps for my well being, despite the opinions of others. I am prepared to take on this next challenge. I got this. Whatever it may be, we all got this! Stay easy friends and say a prayer or two for me, please ❤

Curly Girl in Corporate World.

I am not my hair. -India Arie

I didn’t always embrace my natural curls. My hair has been through extreme colors that damaged my hair. It has been fried and manipulated against its will. It has been chopped all off, AND has been left to grow its own wilderness. I never worried about the kinds of products I used on it. I never cared to condition it or do hot oil treatments. Although my hair was curly, it was never the kind of curls I wanted. My hair is fine and thin. It lacks volume and bounce. My curls are big and loose. I envy those that had massive amount of hair; curls that seemed to shrink and coil up. Those curls were beautiful, not mine. Once I discovered a flat iron, it was a wrap! I thought to myself, this is how my hair is supposed to be. This hair is beautiful. This warped perception began my unhealthy obsession with straight, “beautiful” hair, that went on for many years.

The first time I ever flat ironed my hair was at the age of 15. My Conair flat iron did me no justice when I think back on it, but I loved how long and shiny my hair was when it was straight. I was ashamed of my thin hair and my thinness seemed to magnify when it was curly. The sense of panic I feel, even to this very day, of seeing my hair fall out is ridiculous. I mean, I’m trying to keep what I have still on my head! In high school, I would wake up every morning at 5:30 am just to perfect my hair. There were days that I cried, due to its lack of volume, but excessive amounts of frizz. I decided that straight hair seemed to suit me. In my early 20’s, I began using the flat iron on my hair every single day. I would use a curling iron on the days I wanted to add a little pizzazz. My hair became my prized possession. It was long, dark, and full of shine. It made me look exotic and put together. It made me feel attractive, which is something I still struggle with. Straight hair during that time was my ultimate solution and I was sticking with it.

After many years of using the flat, my hair became very damaged. It became dry and brittle. My hair was constantly breaking off, leaving it filled with split ends. At this point, my curls were non existent. Anytime I tried to leave my hair in its natural state, this is what it turned out to…

I got tired of using my flat iron day in and day out. With curly hair becoming trendy again, I decided I would nurse my hair back to health at the age of 28. I got my first Deva cut in April of 2018 and chopped off over 4 inches of my hair. As I watched my crispy ends fall off the smock, I felt immediate relief. It was a fresh start. However, I was not prepared for the less than favorable reactions of returning to my curly hair.

When I started my corporate job last year, I stuck true to my roots. I started using products that were silicone and sulfate free. I began using masques and conditioners to promote growth and shine. I eased up on the hairspray and started using curl creams and vegan friendly gels. After a few months of consistent care, my curls came back healthier than ever…and it has been a struggle, especially at the workplace. I am one of the ONLY people there with naturally curly hair. It also doesn’t help that I am the only Hispanic as well. The few times I have straightened my hair, you should see the positive reactions I get- “Omg, your hair looks so soft and shiny.” “I had no idea your hair was this long!” “How long did it take you to straighten it?” “It looks so good, you should always wear it like this!” Or my personal favorite, “May I touch it?” Whoa. No the fuck you may not. It’s really offensive to hear these reactions because what they tell me is that you think less of me with my natural hair. One time, I read an article by Elle that stated that women with straight hair are perceived more seriously than girls with curly hair. It is considered more “professional.” Disheartening.

I shouldn’t feel inadequate because of my hair. I shouldn’t feel less put together than the average woman in the workplace. It is these negative perceptions that are causing little girls everywhere to look at themselves in the mirror and feel they must change in order to fit in. Because of these messed up societal ideas, mothers are making their little girls get damaging procedures done such as relaxers and hot combs are being put to their precious heads of hair. Going natural has been a difficult process for me. So many times, I want to pull out my beloved flat iron just to get that sleek look back. To be able to ‘fit in’ with my work peers. Comparison really is the thief of joy. I often remind myself why I did this in the first place. Yes, I wanted to get my natural curls back, but it was more than that. I wanted to learn how to love myself for who I really am,without all of the manipulation and facades. I wanted to learn to be comfortable in my own skin, to accept my unique beauty. Everyday is a struggle paired with a daily reminder. My hair is not what makes me beautiful. It is merely an accessory. I’m hoping one day I will look in the mirror and feel proud of what I see looking back at me. Until then, I’ll keep reminding myself. If anyone else has struggled with this, I would love to hear from you. What are some of the ways you have learned to love your hair? Do you still struggle? Do you ever feel overshadowed and intimidated by the women with straight hair in the workplace? Do you ever feel like you are perceived differently? Leave a comment and let’s have a conversation 🙂