Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What is Love? And Why So Many of Us Misunderstand It.

Of course I know what love is, you may be thinking.  Puh-lease!  I love loads of people in my life.  My parents, siblings, close friends, girlfriend or boyfriend, I imagine there is a lengthy list of people each of us believes we love in our lives.  "Obviously I know what love is and what it feels like.  I dont misunderstand it at all," you might be thinking.
Am I mirroring anyones thoughts here?

I have interesting news for you though.  Many of you, even in feeling confident that you know what love means, what it feels and looks like, might actually be wrong.  More often then we like to think, feelings or actions that we frequently mistake for love, are in fact, not.

Let me explain.  First I will offer the definition of love, then go on to describe both what love is/looks like, and what love most certainly is not (though a LOT of us think that in fact, this very unloving way of thinking/acting that I am going to describe actually is love).

Love Defined

People have been attempting to define, quantify and describe love for hundreds of years.  To some degree, this is something we will never be able to do.  Love, ultimately, is a mysterious thing.  Its one of the most captivating and awesome aspects of the human experience.  However in attempting to pinpoint its definition, love can be defined in this way:

The will to extend ones self for the purpose of nurturing ones own, or anothers, spiritual growth.

Lets explore that wording for a minute.  Extend oneself.  What does that mean exactly?  It means to go out of your way.  To sacrifice.  To inconvenience yourself.  Sometimes even, to make oneself uncomfortable.  Does that sometimes entail confronting or being honest with someone you love, even though it makes you feel uneasy?  Even though you worry about hurting them?  Yes.  It does.  This is a loving act, believe it or not.  Its extending oneself for the purpose of the others growth.  In fact, the opposite is unloving.  Avoiding being honest with someone you love out of fear.  To love means to do the scarier but right thing. 
Does "extending oneself" sometimes mean going out of your way to spend time with someone, when it might not be ideal for you?  Yes.  Can it mean spending time doing things that don't always please you, but that are immensely joyful for the person you love?  Yup.

To be clear and to differentiate though, not to be confused with allowing oneself to be used or taken advantage of (because that is not love).  Does love ever mean enduring toxic, abusive or unhealthy situations for yourself because you feel guilty or "bad" or too scared to do otherwise?  And simply because you "love the person" so you tolerate their bad behavior?  No.  It does not.  What I am describing in the paragraph above with regard to "extending oneself" is of course different from this.

Many people are actually quite confused as to what love looks like.  What does that truly mean?  Extending oneself for anothers (or your own) inner growth?  I will tell you.

To provide a concrete example: someone might say, "my mother loved me so much that as a child, she wouldnt let me take the bus to school until my Senior year in High School.  Even then, I had to beg her to let me go.  I guess she was afraid I would get hurt, so she drove me each day, which was very hard on her.  She really loved me."

This is not actually loving.  His mother might have been motivated by something other than love.  The action certainly wasnt fostering her sons growth.  In fact, the action was serving to purposefully stunt his growth.  Often, what seems to be love is actually not love at all. 

In pushing on someone a nurturing they don't need and which actually causes a retardation in their growth, that which clearly prevents rather than furthers someones spiritual growth, this is not love.  Some other examples include: mothers who push food on their already overweight children, fathers who buy their sons whole roomfuls of toys and their daughters whole closetfuls of clothes, parents who set no limits and deny no desires.

Love is not simply giving.  It is judicious giving, as well as judicious withholdingJudicious meaning, to require judgement (and judgement often requires thought, instinct and sometimes even painful decision making and honesty).  Love is judicious praising and judicious criticizing.  (Again, judicious meaning with careful thought, consideration and judgement of when is the right time).  It is judicious arguing, struggling, confronting, urging, pushing and pulling, in addition to judicious comforting.  That, is real love.  Having the courage to set limits.  To set boundaries.  To tell the person you love when they might be wrong.  When they are hurting themselves or others. 
Real love requires a lot of effort, intent, careful thought, and yes, sometimes pain.

What Love is Not

One of the most common misconceptions about love is that dependency is love.

Dependency being defined as: the inability to experience wholeness or to function adequately without the certainly that one is being actively cared for by another.

All of us have desires to be babied, to be nurtured and cared for by someone who has our best interests at heart.  No matter how strong, responsible or adult you are, everyone has some of this yearning within them.  This is part of being human.  But for those that are psychologically healthy, these desires do not rule our lives.

When these emotions dictate the quality of our existance, then we have a real problem.

This is called being dependent.  Dependent people are so busy seeking to be loved that they have no energy left to actually love.  Like starving people, scrounging wherever they can for food, and with no food of their own to give to others.  It is as if within them, they have an inner emptiness.  A bottomless pit crying out to be filled but which can never be totally filled.  They never actually feel "full-filled" or have a sense of completeness.  They always feel like "a part of me is missing."  They tolerate loneliness very poorly.  Because of their lack of wholeness, they have no real sense of identity, and they define themselves solely by their relationships.

It doesnt really matter whom they are dependent upon, as long as there is someone.  Consequently, their relationships, although seemingly dramatic in their intensity, are actually quite shallow.  Because of the strength of their sense of inner emptiness and the hunger to fill it.  Dependent peoples motives for doing things for others is to cement the attachment of others to them, so as to assure their own feelings of being cared for. 

When the possibilty of garnering care from another isnt directly involved, dependent people have great difficulty in "doing things."  They find it agonizingly difficult to do things such as buy a house, locate a job, leave a totally unsatisfactory old job, or even invest themselves in a hobby.  Often aimless and feeling lost. 

Dependent people are unwilling or unable to delay gratification of their hunger for attention.  Meaning, in their desperation to form and preserve attachments, they throw true self honesty to the winds, instead often lying to themselves and failing to truly examine their actions or relationship choices with any real depth.  They cling to expired or ill-fitting relationships when actually, they should give them up.  They lack a sense of responsability for themselves.  Passively looking to others as the source of their happiness and "full fillment" and therefore when they are not happy or fulfilled, they basically feel that others are responsible.

In summary, dependence can appear to be loving because it is a force that causes people to fiercely attach themselves to others.  But in actuality, it is not love.  It is a form of anti-love.  It seeks to receive rather than to give.  It nourishes and encourages lack of growth and infantilism rather than independence and true growth.  It works to trap and constrict rather than to liberate.  Ultimately, it destroys relationships instead of building them.  And it destroys, rather than builds people.

Hobbies and Self Love

Another interesting point.  Hobbies are self-nurturing activities.  In loving ourselves, that is, nurturing ourselves for the purpose of emotional growth and health, we need to provide ourselves with all kinds of things that are not directly spiritual.  To nourish the spirit, the body must also be nourished.  We need food and shelter.  No matter how dedicated we are to spiritual and emotional development, we also need rest and relaxation, exercise and distraction.  To sleep and to play.  Thus, hobbies can be and are a means through which we love ourselves.

But.  If a hobby becomes an end in itself, then it becomes a substitute for rather than a means to self development.  (Some examples: People with exercise addictions.  Those who use playing golf, or any other sport, in every moment of their spare time which serves in avoiding self growth, cultivation of close relationships, learning more and from further self introspection.  People who shut themselves in their rooms painting/writing/drawing/reading every day, all day to avoid addressing life outside of that room).  When hobbies are taken to the extreme and used this way, instead of aiding your emotional growth, it becomes a hindrance.  A distraction.  Stunting your inner development and taking away from the fullness of your life instead of adding to it.

When people love themselves more, they do not allow themselves to passionately settle for such shallow, short reaching goals and engulfing time fillers.  There is a line that can be crossed when it comes to hobbies, moving from nourishing the spirit and being used for self growth into the other territory of taking away from and stunting it.

In Conclusion

Real, genuine, mature love is not based out of need.  Real love is not grabbing the nearest anyone, a quick fix, much like passing into the drive through at McDonalds and stuffing some food in your mouth because you are starving (but which is unlikely to provide any real nourishment or growth).  Real love is not confining.  Its not needy or desperate.  Real love is not holding onto ill-fitting relationships.  Love is not grasping.  Its not pushing false nourishment on others when they dont need it but instead, fostering real growth where someone needs it (even when it might be hurtful or difficult for you). 

Real love is not ignoring a real, significant problem you see in someone you care for and hoping it will just go away.  Its having the bravery to tell them.  Loving someone means risking the relationship because you care more about that persons actual wellbeing and their spiritual growth, being willing to show them in what way they are harming themselves. 

Real love is allowing, its trusting, its flexible and open. 

When one is able to not only learn this but to begin living their life in such a way (which for many, will take a LOT of practice and active effort at thought changing and self improvement), your life will improve dramatically.  You yourself will feel far lighter, more joyful and healthier.

(Note: Many of my passages for this article come from the record breaking, international bestseller "The Road Less Traveled" by Scott Peck.  This book has broken several records, remaining on the NY Times bestseller list for over a decade, having been translated into over 23 languages, and sold over 7 million in just the US and Cananda alone.  MORE than worth the read.  The insights in here absolutely have the power to change your life, big time, for the far better.  A small book.  Easily readable in a week.  More than worth what you stand to gain from it.  Really, it would be silly not to invest the time considering the payoff thats offered within.  If you have any remote interest in self growth, learning, and in living your best, most fulfilled life possible while here on earth?  Read this book).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Glass Castle

Ready for a book that will change the way you look at both life and people?  Well worth a few hours of your life (and really, what isn't awesome about curling up under a cozy blanket with a huge mug of steaming tea or coffee and a gripping story).  Jeannette Walls delivers the retelling of a childhood, her own, packing a wallop you wont soon forget.  Her father, an alcoholic, impulsive, rebellious and overflowing with big ideas.  Her mother, flakey, imaginative, romantic, lazy and creative.  Together, these two taking their children on the wildest of rides which you, the reader, get to be a part of.  This book will grip you from the start, not letting go until the very end when you put it down, breathless.

Jeanneatte and her siblings grow up within a tumultous, impoverished childhood.  Living in squalor at times while at others, nearly homeless.  The odd blip in between of residing in a mansion of sorts left to their mother in her own mothers passing away.  Their experiences running the gamet from high to low.  Bullies abound, drunken extended family members causing trouble, ramshackle homes, scrounging for food, jaw dropping injuries that are brushed off and covered with merely a Band-Aid.  Just when you think it cannot get any more shocking or earth shattering, it does. 

There are moments that, while reading, you despise her parents.  Awe struck and angered by the consequences following on the heels of fatal flaws in their judgement, leading to being horrible happenings for their children.  But then, they surprise you.  Within this story, there are also moments of such wonder, magic and love between the parents, the author and her siblings.  Your heart softening and even aching with empathy for not only the kids but her parents too.

That's what I love about this memoir.  Showcasing the fact that people, just like life, are rarely black and white.  That instead, humans and life are wrought with varying shades of gray.  People can do messed up things, making grave errors in judgement, while still being genuinely good at heart.  Just like someone can do good things, all the while being a terrible person deep inside.  The key in figuring out who is which is found in pulling back and observing the big picture over a wide range of time and moments. 

While her parents do bad, even terrible things throughout their parenting, the reader also realizes that neither of them are awful people.  That in fact, these two seem to love their children rather deeply.  The issues are more along the lines of them both not being suited to being parents, instead of their being bad people. 

Told in no frills language, straight forward and simple, this makes for a quick, easy, yet no less engaging read.  Flourish isnt required for this story.  Its powerful enough, packing a major emotional punch, as is.  This book will change the way you look at others.  Hopefully lightening judgement laden first impressions, instead realizing that you never really know from what background someone might be coming.  Those quiet, less clean, guarded children who arent so readily accepted into the fold?  They just might be the ones going home to something that would make you jaw hit the floor. 

This story also teaches the reader about the power of resiliance, motivation and inner strength.  Your background does not define you.  Yes, you are a part of where you come from.  But it does not determine where you can and will go from there on.  To all of those wallowing or blaming their current day problems and challenges on either childhood or their parents, this book will be a refreshing and awe inducing wake up call.  If anything, a challenging background story just provides you with more ammo and strength for the future to come.  Difficult roads often leading (if you make it so) to the most awesome of destinations.

The Glass Castle teaches us of forgiveness.  No parent is perfect (though hers are especially far from it).  Yet it doesnt necessarily mean the love they have for their children is any less.  And the lesson extends further than with regards to just our parents.  No, I am not advocating forgiving continuously horrible behavior or people who repeatedly harm us emotionally and/or phsyically.  What I am pointing out is that wonderful people can make major mistakes.  The key is in watching closely.  Are they good, loving people overall?  Is their inner character and soul a genuine and quality one?  This book helps in drawing attention to these difficult life questions. 

Lastly, this story makes for an entertaining, engaging, captivating read.  One which you will come away from looking at things differently.  I have read this book several times now and each time, finding myself turning the pages just as quickly.  Loving it just as much with each subsequent read.  An emotional whirlwind, a fascinating life to peer into, a relevant experience to witness and read about.  The shoes of this author are more than worth taking a walk in.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

How Smartphones are Making Us Unhappy

Somehow, it still never fails to shock me when, out and about, in allowing my eyes to scan the given cafĂ© or restaurant I am in, I see almost everyone on their smartphones.  Sure, some people are chatting with their companion.  But the cell phones are either laying in the table in plain sight, or even more shockingly, one of the people is picking up their cell phone regularly to look at its screen and type.

To me, this is akin to picking up a book while in the middle of a conversation with someone, opening it and beginning to read.  No doubt, their jaws would drop from the utter rudeness of such a gesture.  Yet, this is exactly what we are doing with our cell phones.  And we do it all the time, to such a degree that its become utterly normal. 

Take a look the next time you are out.  You will see couples sitting across from one another, yet instead of interacting with each other, they are scrolling or typing away, their gazes fixed on the screen inches from their faces. 

Or, groups of friends clustered together and instead of chatting and laughing with one another, each of them is typing away on their cell phone.  No one is actually interacting or connecting with the live people in front of them.  Instead, they are focused on a pseudo connection via their cell phones, ignoring the potential for real connection right there in front of their face.

This takes away from our relationships, big time.

It interrupts, chips away at and diminishes our connections with the people right in front of us.  At best, its disruptive and rude.  At worst, it drives wedges between people, offends others and ruins closeness.  People have grown terrible at focusing their attention on the human being in front of them.  We love the false sense of reward that comes from a text, not realizing that actually, the far greater and joy inducing reward is having deep, real life relationships.

So many people nowadays complain of having less close connections in their life than they would like. 

So many people speak sadly about lack of romance in their lives.

So many lament missing quality time with others.

Yet, when presented with opportunities for it, they chose to dismiss it, missing the chance right in front of their eyes and instead, constantly check their phones.  Texting.  Tweeting.  Spending twenty minutes crafting the perfect Instagram caption, equal parts witty and profound.  Oy.  People, this is not what makes for a truly happy social life.  This is what leaves us wanting, with regard to close social connection and friendships.

I realize some people might debate the points I am making here. 

Some of the arguments against my points that I can imagine hearing might be....

"Technology allows me to stay connected with people whom I might not otherwise be able, because of long distances between us." 
To this, I can generally agree.  However there is a difference between staying in touch generally speaking and allowing your texting/cell phone activity to come between you and the real relationships in front of you.  I fear that with many, its veered into this territory. 

"Talking with people face to face makes me nervous/anxious/(insert the word you like here), so I prefer texting or talking on Skype/facebook chat."
My response to this.  Uhhhh, what were you doing before the internet came along then?  How did people manage interacting for the last hundreds of years before things like texting, cell phones and Skype came along?  My impression is that they managed just fine, and likely even better.  Relationships were likely more emotionally close knit before cell phones.  In fact, I know they were.  Its estimated that 1 in 5 people are incredible lonely.  Science connects our misuse of technology as being one of the reasons for this.  Before all this overuse of texting and tweeting, people actually gathered and talked, truly focusing on each other (because there weren't cell phones in every hand, yanking them out of the interaction ;-))

"I just set my phone on the table, but I am not looking at it.  It doesn't distract me.  I am still paying attention to my friend in front of me.  I just need it there in case." 
I am going to call BS on this one, and not just once but twice.  First, unless you are a surgeon or police officer, you aren't "on call" and thus, do not actually need your phone lying in wait.  Whomever calls can leave a message and you will get back to them when you are free.  Like people did ten years ago and got along with just fine. 
Second, it actually does distract you.  Having a phone on the table does take away from the interaction.  When spotting a message pop up on the screen out of the corner of your eye, or feeling it vibrate against the table, this actually does pull you out of the social interaction in front of you.  It does distract you.  It does shatter the sense of connection and your ability to be fully present with the person in front of you.

I stumbled upon an excellent video, with a humorous take on this all-too-real issue called "I Forgot My Phone" on YouTube.  Two minutes long, it will make you smile, maybe even chuckle, all the while nodding your head sadly when you see how true it rings to life nowadays. 
Take a look.  Its a fun and thought-provoking watch, a popular video at the moment.

Don't get me wrong.  Technology is not an evil thing which I am disparaging and touting as all bad.  Far from it.  Apps like Viber have enabled me at keeping in touch with friends back in the US while living in Germany.  I can say with comfidence, joy and awe that I am still just as emotionally close to the friends I have put in the efforts to be, despite there being an ocean between us. Technological tools like Skype, Viber and WhatsApp have signifigantly aided in helping us stay as connected and close to one another.  So technology has a lot to offer and has many benefits.

The issue is when technology is abused.  When used in place of engaging within the real connections right in front of us.  When we substitute it for genuine life connection.  When we allow technology to become a stand-in for true interaction and connection.  When we allow it to interrupt, pull us away from and distract from the connections right in front of us.  That is when technology becomes a problem.  That is when it takes away from relationships and adds loneliness, coming between us and other people.  When we allow it to take priority over real connection and relationships.

Technology should be set aside when interacting with real people.  I know this is shocking, but in the days prior to cell phones, it worked out just fine.  In fact, I would venture to say that it worked out better since nowadays is supposedly leaving us lonelier than ever before.  Years ago, friends would call us on our home phones and if we were out at that time, they left a voicemail.  Whenever we got home, sometimes hours later, we got the message and called them back.  It was completely ok.  Nothing crumbled or changed because we weren't there to answer it that very second.  We don't need to be immediately responsive and constantly available through our cell phones.  In fact, I would argue that this makes you less interesting. 

People who have a lot going on in their lives do not drop everything to answer every single text the moment it comes in anyway.  People with full, interesting lives, who have lots of friends, hobbies and things going on?  Sometimes they might take a few hours before responding to you.  That's because they have a life and are actually engaged in living it.

Take a cue from them.  Put the cell phone aside.  Be fully present in your daily life and interactions with others.  The cell phone should be a side thing.  Not the main event.

Here is an article from Forbes magazine about how texting and technology often adds to loneliness rather than taking away from it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Weekly Wanderings in Frankfurt

Hi all,

Happy springtime in Frankfurt!  I decided it was time for another weekly wanderings of Frankfurt.  The photos from the top of my cell phones recently snapped shots...

Spring in Frankfurt! <3

Food at Vevay in Frankfurt.  YUM!

GREAT book.  Loved this.  The writing was excellent and the stories, unique, mind opening, captivating.

Quinoa with sweet pepper, pomegranate, spinach and salmon.  Mmmmm.

Plus, some delicious, delectable food for your viewing and eating pleasure, all courtesy of Sweet. Raw. Free. blog!!  Recipes (and more food porn) available on the site.  All recipes are grain free, lactose free, sugar free and/or raw!  Easy to make with as few ingredients as possible.  Enjoy!

Four ingredient chocolate muffins.

Matcha French Toast.  The. Bomb.

Seven ingredient banana bread.

Greek yogurt chocolate mousse pie.

These Pumpkin pancakes.  Grain free, lactose free and sugar free.  My new favorite.  Like eating pumpkin pie.  Mmmmm.

Devilish eggs.

Mango crumble.

Look at these beauties.  DELISH.

Mock mushroom risotto.

Brunching heaven.

The most chocolatey, rich, moist, delicious zucchini cake.  Mmmmmm.

Raspberry Chia Jam.  Sugar free and YUM.

Annnnnnd, coming up in the next couple months...!!

Dresden, Germany with Judith

Bamberg, Germany with Bhakti

Florence and Sienna, Italy with Judith

Stay tuned for these upcoming blog entries with loads of photos, recommendations and travel stories!! :-D coming soon.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Top Five and Why

To all you fellow travelers and adventurers,

Top five favorite cities in the world.  Go!  That's a tough one isnt it?  Narrowing the choice to just five.  Especially if you are an avid/well traveled individual.  This really forces one to consider several aspects of each destination, including but not limited to: the enegry of different cities, the apperance, the traditional foods in that particular culture, the inhabitants characteristics/stereotypical temperaments, etc.  Choosing a top five is tricky business, but loads of fun food for thought.

This question is also more or less tough depending on to how many places to where you have ventured.  If, for example, you have only been to 7 or 8 places in your life thus far, this will be an easier list to organize.  As opposed to if you have been to 15+ places, then choosing a top five will be a bit tougher.

I would love to hear what your top five cities are!

In the meantime, here are mine....
(and all the photos in this blog entry are my own, of course).

(This list of my own top fives has been chosen from a collective whole that includes: cities all over the US, the island of Barbados, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Scotland, Holland, Hungary, France, Switzerland and loads of cities throughout Germany).

(Note: these are not in any particular order.  They are equally loved in different ways and for varying reasons).

1.  Edinburgh, Scotland.  Why?  The atmosphere.  Like having stepped into a Celtic/Gothic, darkly glittering fairy tale.  All of the buildings are gray or sand stone.  The city appears as though covered in a thin dusting of chimney soot.  As though aged, from days gone by.  Feeling within the setting of a Tim Burton film or some gray, haunting Dickensian tale.  Upon setting foot in Edinburgh, I totally understand how J.K. Rowling spun the series out of inspiration from this city.  It fits.  I loved everything about Edinburgh.  Endlessly charming, romantic, picturesque, just totally awesome.  I cannot wait to go back.

2.  Florence, Italy.  The city that got the ball rolling.  The first European place I visited.  Where I studied abroad for seven weeks in college at the age of 22.  I was never the same afterwards.  A longing and romance sparking in my heart for Europe from then onward.  I imagine that set in motion my eventual move overseas (aka leading up to where I am now), this totally life changing period of my life.  Not only that, but Florence is gorgeous.  Rolling blue-purple mountains, the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the sun casting paintstrokes of gold and dusty gray acorss the sky.  Heaping plates of pasta and colorful swirling towers of gelato.  They dont call the guys over there Italian Stallions for nothin ;-)  I was captured by Italy from the moment I stepped foot into this country.  Totally smitten.  The beginning of my (and still continuing) love affair with Europe.

3.  Paris, France.  To me, Paris is oft revered for the most fitting of reasons.  It isnt cliched in the least, instead earning all the romantic lamenting it receives.  Paris has it all.  Both modern and old.  Gorgeous, ornate, eye catching architecture.  Delicious food (eclairs, baguettes, all manner of cream pastries....).  Notre Dame.  The Eiffel Tower sparkling after dark.  Croque Monsieurs.  The city gardens, works of art to behold.  The city is chock full of history and ancient wonders.  Saint Chapelle, a life sized jewelry box.  Museums galore.  The list goes on.  Paris is mind blowing.  I have been here several times now and would never grow bored of this city.

4.  Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Despite its subtly seedy reputation (prostitutes and pot being the main two that come to mind for tourists), this is actually such a small subset of the city culture that one can easily avoid it entirely if they wish.  And it certainly doesnt make up the city vibe or atmosphere.  Instead, picture storybook charm to the max.  Something of a serene, peaceful, wildflowery feeling romance.  Winding army fatigue green colored canals.  Bicycles weaving past, their bells tinkling in the air.  Cafes lining the lazily snaking canals.  A up and coming food scene.  Townhouses like upright gingerbread cookie cutouts.  Fields of colorful tulips, and explosions of vivid shades as far as the eye can see.  This city is magical, totally romantic, charming, and majorly atmospheric.  I wish I had spent more time in the city.  I potentially would have even lived here if the opportunity presented!

5.  Zermatt, Switzerland.  The epitome of winter wonderland magic.  Zermatt is what one would picture as the perfect alpine village setting.  Quaint, the total picture of loveliness.  Dusted in snow, its like someplace out of a storybook.  The imposing Matterhorn dominating the background in glowing splendor.  The Swiss specialty of cheese fondue available in most restaurants.  A rustic pot set atop an open flame, the cheese bubbling inside.  Dipping cubes of bread into the pot and bringing them out, cheese dripping off their surfaces.  Mmmmmm.  Food fantasy right there.  Getting to Zermatt also included quite possibly the most scenic, breathtaking, awe inspiring train ride of my life.  Skiing the Swiss Alps is hands down the most mind blowing thing visually that I have ever experienced.

This was one of our ski trails.  Check out that view directly in front of us.  Crappy, eh? :-p !!!!!!!!!!!

Very close runners up: Prague, Lisbon, Rothenberg (Germany), Budapest and the Cinque Terre, Italy.

Prague.  Living here for a few months was like residing in the setting of a medieval fairy tale.

What I imagine Christmas would taste like, if it were edible.  Like these gingerbread stars.  Mmmmm.

Rothenberg, Germany.  Like someplace straight out of a Disney storybook.  Picture perfect charm.  Absolutely beautiful.

Lisbon, Portugal.  Electric.  Artsy.  DELICIOUS food.  Subtly sexy atmosphere.  Gorgeous city.

This dessert was a life changer.  No joke.  One of the best sweets I have ever sampled.

Budapest.  The creepy, slightly funkier, darker version of Paris.  Also some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life, and for the cheapest.

The Cinque Terre.  The physical embodiment of paradise.  Here, time slows.  The air smelling of salt and fish.  Pastel colors dominate alongside the impossible aquamarine blues of the Liguarian sea.  Untouched by time.  Romantic.  Laid back.  Naturally arresting scenery.