Happy New Year! Godt Nytår! Bonne Année!

All the best to you and yours for 2018!

I’ve had a wonderful Christmas in Scotland and Ireland. Chris and I wanted to start our own traditions this year and with Christmas Eve being the main event in Denmark over the festive season, and Christmas Day being the big day in Ireland, we dined on duck and danish trimmings for Chris’ dinner on the 24th and honey roast ham and Irish trimmings for mine on the 25th. We decided to be kind to the turkeys this year!

Coming from a large Irish family, I’m used to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day being the most hectic days ever, so it was very nice to try a new pace and to absorb all the special moments of the two days in our own way. Our engagement included! That’s definitely one way to start our new traditions together!

I had returned to Scotland for a weekend in early December so we could pick our Christmas Tree at Aberdeen’s Tyrebagger Forest and to decorate our home. Chris’ Mum runs Ideas By Pia and while the idea behind her website, youtube and instagram is to give inspiration and show you how to make your own decorations, we have the joy of receiving regular packages from Pia of the beautiful and unique pieces that she has created for us. So the house was suitably decked out for my return on December 22nd, just in time for all the dinners and celebrations we could manage!

I travelled to Ireland on the 26th and had a busy few days travelling through counties Kilkenny, Tipperary, Leitrim, Roscommon and Dublin, visiting as many friends and family as possible! The feature photo above is from The White House bar and restaurant in Roscrea which my friend Ciara and I drove an hour each to meet in, for a quick dinner and a catch up. She lives in the US so we grab the chance to see each other when we can, and a photo to prove it! We asked the owner to take a photo and he said: “of course, no problem, get in behind the bar the two of ye and I’ll take it.” Then he put us under the US flag holding a giant guinness prop and a French flag. It’s moments like that when you appreciate being at home!

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I’m looking forward to getting back to Ireland in the summer when it’s at it’s very best and the beer gardens are in full flow. I always feel homesick around the May and June bank holidays weekends, the Galway Horse Races and of course St Patrick’s Day, so I’ll see what I can manage to attend during the coming year while I tie in all the French festivals too!

Then it was back to Aberdeen for New Year (Hogmanay as it’s called in Scotland) and a guest from France – my new friend Leeza who’s doing her MSc at Clermont also. We had a lovely time battling the weather to see the castles and sights of the city and shire like the beautiful pink Crathes Castle and the eerily striking Dunottar Castle.

Since then we’ve continued to toast our engagement and I’ve been getting stuck into the books for my upcoming exams. Once these exams are done and dusted we can start semester two, our final semester of the MSc programme. I can’t wait to see everyone back in Clermont next week! Until then I’ll continue to study and to hopefully plan a few trips for these next 12 months. I want to make the very most of my year, and hope you can too. Carpe Diem!

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Fancy Paper Collection

Does anyone remember Fancy Paper? Did you have your own collection as a child?

Well, if so, my friend Aoife has brought back your old favourite with Swapums – the Fancy Paper Collection! The company is based in Ireland but selling worldwide through the Shopify web store.

Aoife and the team at Swapums want to make sure that you can get your hands on your very own fancy paper collection, for you or your loved ones, in the easiest way possible for you. We’d really appreciate it if you could take two minutes to answer ten simple questions in our brief survey.

Just click on the link to get started: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/7ZVD2C7

She has kindly let me do some work for her to help me with one of my masters projects so you’d be really helping me out by completing the survey. I guess if you haven’t bought Swapums yet, but would like to, you could reply to the questions to let us know how and where you would like to find it?

Thanks so much and Happy New Year!

Clermont Ferrand is beautiful

Despite the feedback from several friends, I still chose to study in Clermont Ferrand. It fitted the bill for me in many ways and I am so happy I followed my own instinct.

I was told that it would be very industrial, that I probably wouldn’t like it, that it’s not so pretty, that it’s cold and dark, that there’s not much to do; that most of the buildings are black from the volcanic stone and that it is remote.

What I wasn’t told was that it is not just pretty, it’s beautiful, and that the people are the friendliest and most welcoming and inclusive people I have ever met in France, maybe anywhere. The locals are actually so nice that my new friends and I are sometimes suspicious of them; has it been that long since a stranger was kind to anyone?!

The quirky side streets, the ridiculous selection of wine bars, cafes and restaurants, the squares, the stunning parks, that glimpse of the volcanoes you catch as you walk through the streets of independent stores, the copper street lighting, the overhanging ivy and the baskets of flowers, and those incredible black buildings…they all combine to create a vibrant city that I am proud to now call home.

I love it here and cannot stop taking photos. I have already had three visitors – my boyfriend, my Scottish friend Duncan who lives in Annecy and my Irish friend Carol who lives in Scotland – and they have all loved it too and vow to come back soon. We didn’t have enough time for everything on any trip, by the way.

I think the Clermontois enjoy keeping Clermont to themselves – well mes amis, it’s too nice to keep to yourselves so I’ll be sharing more photos and videos. Clermont Ferrand is beautiful…venez vite, venez nombreux!

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Why Volcanoes and Cheese?

The website name represents two of the most identifiable things about Clermont-Ferrand and the Auvergne region where it is situated – the volcanoes which surround the city, providing an incredible backdrop, and the famous Saint Nectaire cheese.

However, I first used this name in the subject line of my farewell email at work. I sat there, emotional, typing up my goodbyes to people I had worked very hard with over the course of four years; many had become friends and even mentors.

I had invested a lot of myself in that job and in my work with my colleagues – I was on call 24/7/365, a huge undertaking, but many of my colleagues saved lives on a daily basis and they provided my motivation to show up and do a great job each and every day.

I couldn’t just say goodbye or farewell in the subject line, and as I said, it was an emotional time for me – leaving work was a huge decision and challenge. Every little thing made me question why I was doing this, but I was able to remind myself why and push forward.

I decided that my leaving was a positive thing and the tone of my subject line and email should reflect that. So, with a smile and a chuckle, I changed the subject line to “Volcanoes and Cheese” and hit send.

I was overwhelmed with the amazing replies that poured in over the following days. The very encouraging and often envious responses reinforced my decision for me – I would be missed but I had to do this! Many wanted to join me, many threatened to visit and others were able to regale me with their tales of helicopter refuelling stops at Clermont and the great nights out they had here.

By presenting my departure in a fun and positive way and getting such a response made me wonder: had I used a sober “farewell” or “goodbye” subject line, how would people have replied? When it came to choosing a website name it was the natural choice – fun, positive, good change, leaving my comfort zone, moving to France…Volcanoes and Cheese represents all that, and more.

 

Listening to myself

I had thought for quite some time about moving from my communications role into something slightly different, perhaps into commercial or marketing. I had long considered doing a Masters in Communications but with nine years’ experience in communications it no longer seemed like time or money well spent.

I started exploring my options and interests by doing a free online course in digital marketing with The Digital Garage and once I knew I was definitely interested in digital I signed up for a paid course with the Digital Marketing Institute. Then, while only a few weeks into that course, something made me run a quick google search for digital marketing courses in France and within a short space of time I whittled my main options down to courses in Montpellier and Clermont-Ferrand.

I started one of those awful “we need to talk” conversations with my boyfriend, but he was as excited as I was and told me to go for it, that I had to do it. There’s something very special about the Danish outlook on life and being happy, but I’ll save that for another post!

Despite my fears I continued to listen to myself and pressed forward, but his support and words of encouragement certainly helped a lot as I went through moments of doubt, and each step of the process. And it was a very quick process! I knew very quickly that Clermont-Ferrand had the right course for me and gladly accepted it while we were poolside on holiday in Italy at the beautiful Casa Glenister with our friends.

The MSc in International Commerce and Digital Marketing had the right subjects for me and would open me up to opportunities in international trade, business development, traditional marketing and digital marketing. My fellow students would be in their early twenties to mid-forties – a nice mix of students who had recently graduated from their degrees to professionals like me who were returning to their studies. It would be taught in English but French classes would be obligatory. It was exactly what I had been looking for.

The day I got back from holiday I had to hand in my notice at work so I could finish up, go on our next holiday – a weekend in Dublin for our friend Carol’s 30th birthday and a weekend break to Annecy, France – do some final study before my Digital Marketing Institute exam, pack my things, sell my car, go to Jenny’s 30th in Glasgow and fly to Clermont-Ferrand.

It was a whirlwind few weeks but all worth it, very much so!

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There’s a whole world out there!

For almost two years, my boyfriend and I attended leaving parties for at least half of our friends. We watched helplessly as they lost their jobs, lost value on their homes and moved away. In addition, businesses continued to fail and for sale signs were like a breadcrumb trail leading the way around town.

I loved many parts of my job but my colleagues and I were all affected by the decline in the energy industry, yet the worst was knowing that every other building in the city was experiencing the same heaviness – it was like a thick fog engulfing us all. A fog that infiltrated each building and held the threat of redundancy in it.

I had enough. I needed to leave and I needed a positive change. It was time to re-evaluate. I wanted to feel young, happy and carefree again; I wanted to change career path; I wanted sunshine (or defined seasons at least!) and I wanted a work-life balance…but it’s very hard to leave your comfort zone.

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Could I move away? Could I leave him, our friends, their beautiful kids, our life and our home? What would I do? Where would I go? Could I be that brave…or was I just crazy?

France beckoned. It always has. It was time to take my own advice: grab life by both hands; be happy; be selfish for once; live the life you love and love the life you live; take control.

And so I did. I did it! Never forget that there’s a whole world out there. Go find it.