Archive | December, 2013

Update:

21 Dec

Dear Readers!

I am leaving tomorrow for Lyon, France to kick off my vacation. I will then spend Christmas in Montbeliard, France with my lovely friend Apolline & her family. Then my girl Meaghan & I will head up to PARIS to stay in my wonderful host brother, Simon’s, apartment for 5 glorious days. I turn 23 on December 27th as well! Expect some awesome posts ahead!

Love you,

Merry Christmas!

Jessi ūüôā¬†

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Life Lessons From Grampy & Grammy

17 Dec

Dear Grampy & Grammy,

Thank you for always being the two coolest people that I have ever known. Since coming out of the womb I have been your little princess & now, 23 years later, I still am. I cannot describe how thankful that I am to have you two. You are both such wise & kind souls. You were like a second set of parents. Ones who would let me sleepover & read me books then make me the best pancakes in the morning. I am forever grateful. So let me explain some of the life lesson wisdom you have taught your oldest (& only) granddaughter. Using your own words.

Image(Above: Me & my Grandparents, Thanksgiving 2008)

1. Grampyism: “100 years from now we won’t know the difference”¬†

Translation:¬†Don’t sweat the small stuff; don’t place high importance on things that don’t matter

Life is stressful. School, work, money, family, the list goes on & on. But Grampy, is somehow immune to this. Not because he’s never experienced trying times, but because¬†he’s learned how to overcome them.¬†By being positive & hopeful¬†that life will go on.¬†& It always does. I can remember crying about friends in middle school, crying about boys in college & crying about money a few months ago in Prague. & Grampy’s words of wisdom was always this line. It’s very hard to think of overcoming obstacles when they seem¬†so massive.¬†When they dominate your every thought. But I have lived 23 years with seeing my Grampy whistle while he shovels out in blizzards & laugh in traffic jams…although he does get¬†a little riled up¬†during a Red Sox or Patriots game…he always faces stressful situations with a smile.¬†Because you’re going to get through it.¬†That is, if you only keep moving forward.¬†

Image(Above: Grampy wasn’t really understanding our instructions at the Louvre Pyramids hahaha)

2. Grammyism: “Sometimes you have to suffer to be beautiful”

Translation:¬†Fashion can be painful, it’s not easy to be beautiful but it’s worth it

My Grammy is one of the most stylish people I know. Even today. I can remember endless matching pant suits all throughout the ’90s, all gold jewelry & a ton of her favorite gem: emeralds.¬†Grammy is fierce.¬†She always has been. When I was growing up, while Mama G was fun to shop with, she was no shopaholic. She goes into one store & constantly asks:¬†Will you reallyyyy wear that?¬†Not my Grammy. Grammy & I are the same.¬†We shut the mall down.¬†Literally believing in the phrase ‘shop until you drop’. But now Grammy’s in a wheelchair so she can go even longer. She taught me the importance of¬†good quality.¬†This is important both with clothing & life. If you invest in something of good quality then you will always¬†get your money’s worth.¬†While studying abroad I learned this is the core of Parisian fashion. Nowadays if my grandparents aren’t at Barnes & Noble, Longhorn Steakhouse or the movies then they are most definitely at Macy’s because Grammy is stocking up on her Chanel makeup & Origins face cream while Grampy yells it’s $200 for a tiny little sample. Grammy will never let herself go¬†no matter how old she gets & this is the epitome of style.

Image(Above: That shiny thing covered in tinsel, jingle bells & holly is Grammy’s cane)

3. Grampyism: “If someone else can do it, so can I!”

Translation:¬†You are just as capable as anyone else; or a Mama G quote: “Life’s for living!”

When Grampy says this phrase he is not talking about something semi-challenging like driving a stick shift or learning to salsa. He is talking about jumping off 30 foot cliffs into the ocean, eating ghost peppers or water skiing.¬†He’s fearless.¬†Nicknaming himself ‘a recycled teenager’ Grampy has always loved a good adrenaline rush, which in exchange gives my always-worrisome Grammy & Mom a heart-attack. This bit of Grampy wisdom, although could be taken to extremes, has also been a personal mantra for me during my time in Prague. I am out of my comfort zone¬†so many times¬†here, but I always think to myself that others have been in my shoes before & they turned out just fine.¬†

It just isn’t summer until my Grampy does this:¬†http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW2mzYNt-yU

Image(Above: My ‘recycled teenager’ eating his dinner of choice)

4. Grammyism: “Men need to be trained”

Translation: Males do not understand female games, be direct & blunt

My grandparents have been married for 54 years. They got married when Grammy was about 23 & Grampy was about 22. Their marriage has faced wars, peace protests, freedom movements & a whole lot of bad ’80s hair.¬†& They are still more in love than ever.¬†However, they did not always start that way. Grammy told me that her & Grampy were fixed up by mutual friends. They went on a double date & she wasn’t really into him. Later he tried to kiss her & she refused. He drew a square on the car windshield, signaling that she was being a prude. To this my Grammy stood up, go out of the car & said “You’re lucky you even met me!”¬†& slammed the door.

This story is hilarious. Because somehow they still got married & it was¬†just meant to be.¬†Grampy is now one of the best husbands & fathers I know, but Grammy maintains that she had a lot to do with this. No one is born the perfect partner,¬†they need to be shaped & molded.¬†While I do believe Grampy was born a very kind soul, I also believe it was Grammy’s strict parenting & tough love that made my Mom & Uncle Ronny into the two equally kind & loving adults that they are today.¬†

My Grandparents were always in love, but their love has grown deeper since 2001. Since this year my Grammy has almost died of a brain aneurysm, fallen & broken her hip & had a stroke. & Grampy never left her side.¬†As a result of all these medical mishaps, Grammy now either needs a wheelchair or cane to get around since she’s paralyzed on the left side. Grampy is now with her almost 24 hours or, as he ends every e-mail “Gotta go, Grammy’s calling, back to servitude”. But all jokes aside, since almost losing each other, my Grandparents’ love is stronger than ever.¬†They still hold hands, sneak kisses & constantly tell each other how much they care. They are the real life Noah & Allie ūüôā They never gave up & always worked through the things life threw at them. That is true love.

Image(Above: My Grandparents, two of the most patriotic people I know, at this year’s 4th of July Parade)

5. Grampyism: “Your money is no good here”

Translation: Put that wallet away, I got this!

Living only 10 minutes away, it was a rarity to go a single day without seeing or talking to either of my Grandparents.¬†Mostly because Grammy calls us on average 8 times a day ūüôā But even when I got older, every single time I looked down at my phone & saw they were calling¬†I smiled.¬†They were calling to see what I was up to & if I wanted to meet them up at the movies/restaurants/mall to take me out. Sometimes I was with friends. So without missing a beat¬†they would invite them too. Plus I¬†cannot even tell you how many how many of the ex-boys in my life enjoyed a hearty meal thanks to my Grampy’s kindness.

They took us on some of the best vacations. Disney, Bermuda & Mom had the best birthday gift last year in a trip to Paris to come visit me studying abroad.¬†My Grandparent‚Äôs generosity is overwhelming & never-ending.¬†Even in hard financial times–that was actually when¬†they gave more.¬†Grampy gives to every charity, tips every service worker, organizes all the food drives at the church & helps anyone in need. He mows lawns, rakes & shovels for elderly neighbors & is my Dad’s handyman sidekick. He would give the shirt off his back for someone if they asked. Or even if they didn‚Äôt¬†Grampy probably still would.¬†

Growing up we were not a rich family, & we still certainly aren’t. But it was nice to be taught that money doesn’t matter–it‚Äôs the memories that do. Because money is materialistic, it will come & it will go, but memories with good friends & family are priceless. They always last forever.

Image(Above: Grammy & I before my senior prom)

6. Both Grandparents: “Education is the most important thing, it is something no one can ever take away from you.”

All my life I have been so fortunate to go to some of the best schools. A huge part of this was Grampy & Grammy. They grew up in a time when not many went to college, but Grampy still did. He went to Clark University & studied Psychology & tells me crazy stories of his time working with patients in mental institutions.¬†He is such an intelligent person.¬†I can remember playing games like Mahjong & Memory when I was younger & always watching Jeopardy together.¬†Education was always important.¬†So much that I would not get praised for B’s & would be terrified to bring home a C, because they knew I was¬†capable of A’s.¬†

School soon became my strong suit & my work became that of a perfectionist. I would come home, sit right down & start homework. Without even taking off my school uniform or eating dinner. Until it was done. Then when it was, Grampy would check it. & I can remember crying out of frustration¬†when answers were incorrect & he would¬†make me do it again.¬†Although this was circa 2nd-4th grade, I still credit this to all future study habits.¬†I have never procrastinated.¬†I complete the assignment right away &¬†never wait until the last minute.¬†& That’s all thanks to Grampy.

Grampy & Grammy have since supported all future courses of study. Every time I wanted to learn something new, try a new experience they have always supported me 100%. They know that knowledge truly is powerful. I just hope I continue to make them proud.

Image(Above: My quest for education lead me to studying abroad in the City of Lights, mostly thanks to Grampy)

Yesterday I was lucky enough to Skype call Grammy & Grampy. It was only for like 5 minutes because I didn’t want to eat through Gillian’s credit, but it was just enough. Grampy answered & couldn’t believe it was me, immediately in the background I hear Grammy yelling & wheeling herself over to the other phone.¬†I miss you both so much.¬†I cannot wait to hug you again. Know that I think about you all the time & talk about you to everyone I meet. Grampy, our e-mails are the¬†best part¬†of my whole day. Thank you for all that you have done for me & continue to do for me. I am forever grateful.¬†

I know that you both religiously read this blog. So I wanted to write this post just for you. I know that you will have tears in your eyes, but a smile on your face. I am safe, I am happy. But I am still your little princess, no matter where I go or how old I get.

I am so lucky to have a Grampy & Grammy like you¬†ūüôā

I love you,

Jessi

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Dear America…

7 Dec

First let me start by saying that I really do love you. You are my home & always will be. You have given me so many freedoms I know I could not enjoy anywhere else. But ever since I graduated from college & moved to Europe, I have opened my eyes a little wider. I have seen just how many flaws you truly have, America, & we have a little problem. Mostly, I want to ask you…

Why do you not want me to be happy?

Why did you bankrupt myself & my family for your prestigious education, an education I could have gotten anywhere. But stupid me, I wanted to live on waterfront property in a safe neighborhood. I wanted nice things. & Yeah, you gave them to me¬†for a price.¬†A price I will be paying off until 2048. Do you know how¬†old¬†I will be in 2048? I will have already added on my future children’s debt to my own.¬†

Speaking of the future generation, I don’t think you really seem to care all that much about them these days. Our education system, below the bank-breaking colleges is¬†awful.¬†Elementary, middle & high schools are disgraceful. No supplies, no resources & you have cut out art, music & sports.¬†To save money.¬†But that’s where your heart truly is, right? Because we have a future generation who learned to settle for mediocre, & if you wanted anything more, you have to pay up. Pay for an impressive name & extracurriculars. But tell me, why is it that no one can point out any countries on a map? Even a map of the United States of America. Talk about embarrassing.¬†

It’s because they’re all so preoccupied. I mean, why wouldn’t they be?¬†You target a future consumer right out of the womb.¬†You bombard them with images of perfection & a world without flaws. Because that’s who we are. We’re #1. I mean #1 in teenage pregnancy, divorce rates, incarcerations & obesity. But this still counts for something, right?

It’s all about status, power & your favorite thing– money. A land of ‘The Haves’ who can afford gym memberships, healthy food & medicine & ‘The Have Nots’ who feast on McDonalds daily. Because last time I checked,¬†Trader Joe’s doesn’t have a dollar menu.

I love you, America, I really do. But since living over here in Europe, it’s getting harder & harder¬†to defend you.¬†To explain that our love for violence, Big Macs & plastic surgery are all just cultural gems. To justify that paying $48,000 a year for school is totally worth it because you have a¬†whole six months¬†before you start paying off those loans…especially when you have all those non-existent entry level jobs waiting for you once you graduate.¬†

Do you know how much they pay for college here in Prague.¬†Nothing.¬†I guess that’s just because they want everyone to be educated enough to get a good job afterwards. It’s called a cultural priority.

We are the ones who made the Kardashians one of the richest families in the world off of a sex tape & bobbed our head to a #1 song of topless girls frolicking around the Blurred Lines of sexual consent. So guess those are our priorities these days!

Oh & speaking of jobs? What are those? Because last time I checked if you had one in the magnificent USA, you were begging & pleading to keep it. If you even wanted to work at all. Or ever had to your whole life.¬†But I don’t blame you,¬†if the government & my parents are paying for your lifestyle, why even get off the couch at all?¬†What kind of society is that?¬†An upper class full of heartless greedy puppeteers who pull the strings of the massive lower class. There’s no middle ground anymore.¬†

Because even if we are the norm, you tell us we’re not.¬†We need glasses, braces & every medication imaginable to control our emotions. We need expensive clothing, cars & a flashy outer shell.¬†A shell perfectly polished to disguise all the empty inside.¬†Empty that will get picked & prodded by everyone until a gun is brought to school or a 14-year-old is hanging from a shower rod.¬†America, is this any way to treat your people?!

It’s not enough to financially maul them, drown them in debt, brainwash them with sex & violent imagery, slut shame & self shame, bombard them with nightly black-on-white murder new stories, hype them up on sugary sodas & fatten them with pink-slime filled food…no, you want to take it all.¬†

I tell my European friends about how much I need to pay back in college loans. I talk to them about all the school shootings & violence. I tell them about the unemployment & awful health care system. I explain to them all the controversy surrounding religion & gay rights.¬†And they are shocked.¬†But for me, it’s all too casual. It is my future. It’s my destiny.¬†

Because we’re the¬†home of the free. Free to cyber-bully, pay woman employees less & feed our infants all the high fructose corn syrup imaginable.Because of the brave.¬†Also known as the faceless soldiers dying every day overseas for a war that lost it’s purpose long ago. But why should we care about any of that?¬†American Idol¬†is on!

Sincerely,

Hiding in Europe until you make me feel welcome home again

ps: want to read even more head-shaking statistics? All the ones in this post are based off this

http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/usa-1-40-embarrassing-things-that-america-is-the-best-in-the-world-at

The #1 Question

5 Dec

Since I have been living in Prague, I have a lot of times where I do not actually grasp that I am in fact, living in Prague. And since I have been here, no matter who I meet, whether it be local Czechs, vacationers on the pub crawl or other expats who have also chosen to reside here, I always seem to get asked the most important question of all:

What made you choose Prague?

Well in order to ever answer this question, we need to take a little trip down memory lane…

When I first arrived here in July, I was all ready for my TEFL course. Only being less than two months after my own college graduation, I was still in full-blown student mode. I knew the best notebooks, pens & study methods. I had mastered the routine of mixed drink/stage dancing/missing the last shuttle Gill’s Thursdays, followed by¬†“Oh he doesn’t even take attendance”¬†Friday 9ams fast-forward to 2am Lower Commons pizza Friday nights to¬†“Oh my God, my school is so pretty…I want to actually explore today!”¬†Saturdays, to all-day Sunday library residency.¬†Welcome to college life!

Graduating wasn’t as emotional for me as I expected. I expected to sob & take millions of pictures with friends & thank my professors for teaching me all their knowledgeable ways. Instead I was getting texts from my brothers mid-processional march to hurry up because they were starving & bored after sitting for 2hrs.¬†Thanks, guys!¬†So instead of taking one last appreciative trip down memory lane, I packed up my dorm room in less than 15 minutes & we sped out of there to avoid traffic. Welcome to the Graves family!Image(Above: The beautiful Mount Hope Bridge, which is part of Roger Williams University’s amazing campus)¬†

I still miss Rog.¬†Every single day.¬†I miss the perfect campus that men on giant lawn mowers insist on mowing at 6am, I miss the amazing food that is so¬†abundant¬†with selection (healthy or not),¬†& I really miss living right near all my bestest friends ‚̧ I knew these were going to be the hardest things for me to leave behind after graduation, but it makes it even harder that I’m so dang¬†far away.¬†I can’t just pop by to pet the campus cats or say “Hi” to Jesse the Janitor if I want to. Nope, I live in Europe now. Talk about a major first world problem, huh?

Leaving Rog was hard, but I knew I would be okay. Because I have left beautiful places before. At the age of 14, unlike most 8th graders I was given a choice:¬†what high school do you want to go to?¬†Coming from my small Catholic, uniform-wearing, nun residing, same 10 boys for 7 years school Assumption (discussed in the¬†Boys, Boys, Boys¬†post), I was ready for a change. I expanded my class of 22 to 65, a much more lax dress code (but don’t you DARE wear rivets/no collard shirt!) & a whole other state. I chose the amazing Marianapolis Preparatory School in the scenic Thompson, Connecticut.

I would like to say that Rog set the bar for me always seeming to demand to live in beautiful places, but it was allll MPS. My memories at this wonderful school include running through the picturesque CT countryside with my XC team, acting in the awesome school plays & meeting people from all around the world. Unlike most private religious schools, MPS had 5 dormitories which housed international students from like, 18 different countries. So much that we would celebrate Chinese New Year & the Korean holiday of Chuseok. My favorite day was International Day, where everyone was encouraged to dress in their traditional clothing & cook traditional food. This made me want to see the world.

Image(Above: Marianapolis Preparatory School. Did your high school have a front gate like this..?)

It was also during my time at MPS that I¬†begged¬†Mama G to let me go on the yearly student trip (every year at MPS teachers would chaperon a different spring break trip to different countries around the world) to…drumroll…PARIS. This school gave me the courage to move to another state for college at Roger Williams, & this trip to Paris gave me the desire to study abroad there some day.¬†Everything happens for a reason.¬†

So back to the question of: what made you choose Prague?

Response #1: I love to live in beautiful places & will never stop demanding to do so.

I went from Sutton, Mass., to Thompson, Conn., to Bristol, R.I., to Paris…you don’t just go home after residencies like that. There’s a lot more to it though. It’s the architecture & passionate way of life that is evident through the surroundings.¬†A sense of pride.¬†While living in Paris made me feel like I was living in a romance novel, & Bristol made me feel like I was living in nautical heaven, Prague makes me legit feel like¬†I live in Disney World.¬†That’s the only way to describe it. Old Town is just sooo awesome. Even my neighborhood has so many interesting buildings, buildings I have never seen before¬†in my life.¬†

If you really have power to chose where you want to live, why make it somewhere ugly? Somewhere that has no artistic inspiration. Choose somewhere that makes you walk around in awe. Choose a place where you discover some new tiny detail every single day.

Image(Above: my neighborhood church in Jiriho z Podebrad. Prague architecture is so random, yet beautiful)

Response #2: $$$

If I’m talking to a Czech person about their city, I maybe leave this one out. But if I am talking to anyone else, it’s a¬†very important¬†factor. Prague is cheap! I just came from broke college life to even broker European life. As of right now, I pay rent, cell phone, groceries & now to get added to the mix thanks to the ever-gracious¬†financial gods,¬†student loan payments & Czech social security bills. You wonder why I work two jobs?¬†Because I have to.¬†There are times where I have no money at all & have been actually very scared. But if I knew that if I had chosen to live in a country that used the EURO I would have¬†much bigger money problems.¬†Now that I’ve been here 4 months I feel like I’ve gotten the hang of things¬†I mean just a little bit.¬†Of course things could change drastically month to month, but I am okay. It’s always nice to live in a city where, when you have no money for food, can get a rholik (long piece of bread roll) for 1.70czk (about 0.08th of a cent!)¬†& that is a suitable snack/lunch. Also a half liter of beer is like 25czk ($1.20). Eating & drinking will never truly be a problem for me over here, thanks Praha!

 

Response #3: Prague had no expectations to live up to

Or, let me rephrase that,¬†no one else’s¬†expectations to live up to. Like most Americans, before I studied abroad, I knew¬†virtually nothing¬†about Prague. Then when I was in Paris, I saw photo albums of friends who had traveled there & just thought it looked so pretty. I only heard¬†positive feedback about Prague.¬†Sometimes you watch the news, or listen to a friend/relative/acquaintance talk about their travels to certain places & you began to get some pre-conceived notions. Notions that will either slightly taint this place, or even worse, completely build it up. I have traveled to certain cities with pre-conceived notions. I went there expecting to love it based on¬†everyone else’s experiences¬†but upon leaving, I realized that¬†this place just wasn’t for me.

I went to Paris hearing “Oh you have to go…” “You have to eat…” & I did all those things. I moved there & lived in a city that had¬†such a public opinion¬†whether it was positive or not. Before moving to Prague all I heard was “Where?” “Why are you going there?” & I guess this is the true reason that I moved to a small 1million resident city in Bohemia..

Because it’s an open book.

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It hasn’t been tainted by stereotypes & tales of caution. It hasn’t been built up by tourist traps or cheesy attractions.¬†I get to blaze my own trail.¬†I get to figure out on my own the customs & how people work over here.¬†I get to decide through reality, not glamorized fantasy, if I actually like living here or not.¬†It’s the best way to move to a country–jumping in head first. Although Prague & I definitely had our rough patch, back when I constantly resented it for not being Paris, I realized this city is growing on me more & more everyday.

This past week I went back to Vienna to pick up my visa. I liked the Christmas markets & pretty buildings but just thought to myself: Pshh this is better in Prague. & During my 4-hr bus ride back, as soon as I crossed the border & my indestructible little Czech phone allowed me to send text messages again, I typed two words instictively, without even thinking:

Almost home.”¬†

-JG ūüôā¬†