Behind-the-Scene Tour of The Ringling, Crown Jewel of Florida’s Cultural Coast

Disclosure: Thank you, VisitSarasota.com and partners, for the hospitality, education, and fun. Readers, as always, the opinions here are my own.

 

This last feature of a 3-part series celebrating Florida’s Cultural Coast pays tribute to Sarasota’s crown jewel, The Ringling. The 66-acre complex of world-class art and circus museums, an educational center, a glass pavilion, historic theater, arboretum, gardens, and  palatial mansion is a place where lovers of all kinds can wander away from crowds. More a destination than an attraction, The Ringling alone is worth a trip to Sarasota County. It’s also a cultural center for local members and a dream venue for romance and weddings.

I took a three-hour private tour with Virginia Harshman, Ringling Public Relations Head, M.A. Harvard University in Museum Studies. She gave me a behind-the-scenes look, unlocking secret areas with keys, masterful storytelling, and passion for the property and the people who built it. I left wishing that I’d explored this hidden gem and national/global treasure a long time ago and looking forward to a future visit.

The Ringling is beautiful in any season. It’s not too late to plan  the perfect Valentine’s, Spring Break, Remote School, or Summer Getaway.

Who loves The Ringling? 

The Ringling Art Museum Courtyard

I Do! I Do! And if you’re one of these 10 Kinds of Lovers, you will, too…

1) Lovers of Love Stories & The 1920s American Dream

Even before I heard the love story of John and Mabel Ringling, American Royalty who owned the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, I fell in love at first sight with their home. Ca’ d’Zan transported me to my favorite era, the Roaring ‘20s, and two of my favorite places on earth. Its Moorish arches took me back to Morocco 

and its overall design to Venice where I started another new year. Inspired by the Doge’s Palace on the Grand Canal, the five-story Venetian Gothic Revival mansion overlooks Sarasota Bay. 

Doge’s Palace, New Year’s Eve, 2015
Doge’s Palace
Ca’ d’Zan Photo Courtesy of The Ringling

The exterior’s stucco as well as many glass windows and bedrooms are pink hues. My favorite color,  the breathtaking property, and  John Ringling’s story reminded me of one of my favorite characters, Jay Gatsby, and his pink suit. John Ringling, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s protagonist, had humble beginnings and both tenaciously pursued The American Dream. I could imagine Jay Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce, called a “circus wagon,” parked in the driveway beside John Ringling’s Rolls-Royce, now on exhibit in the Sarasota Classic Car Museum.

Walking the grounds, I could imagine legendary ‘20s parties around Gatsby’s and on the Ringling terrace.  John and Mabel frequently entertained celebrities, like Will Rogers who had his own guest room, movie directors, politicians, and actresses, such as Billie Burke, better known as Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Jay was “The Great Gatsby”and “John was King of The Greatest Show on Earth.” Both built romantic palaces for the women they loved, but here the parallels end. Daisy rejected Jay and his new money. John and Mabel had similar values–maybe because she, too, came from a modest family. They were kindred spirits in their shared love for culture, art, and travel, as well as their desire to give back. Their legacy is now the State Art Museum of Florida administered by Florida State University. 

Though Ca’ d’Zan means “House of John” in the Venetian dialect, it has been called John’s “love letter” to Mabel. They built it together, getting ideas as they traveled the world for twenty-five years buying art and new circus acts.  She collected in an oilskin portfolio photos and sketches of architecture, gardens, and design. See the video below of my behind-the-scenes tour where I learned more about Mabel and why everyone at The Ringling adores her.

John and Mabel Ringling

2)  Lovers of Architecture and Design

In 1911, John and Mabel began spending winters in Sarasota on 20 acres of waterfront property they purchased. They continued buying real estate and at one time owned 25% of the town. In 1924 they hired architect Dwight James Baum to design and Owen Burns to build the 36,000 square-foot Mediterranean Revival of their dreams. In addition to the Doge’s Palace, Ca’ d’Oro and the Grand Hotel d’Italie Bauer-Grünwald  inspired the plans. 

Ca’ d’Oro, Venice taken New Year’s Day, 2016

The roof was made of 16th century tiles John found in Barcelona and sent home in two cargo ships. The marble bayside terrace –now used for weddings, yoga classes, and other gatherings– was used by the Ringlings for entertaining. The orchestra played for guests from their yacht, Zalophus, beside Mabel’s gondola which bobbed in the bay. Their dining room table seated 22, and cocktails were served in style at parties and in John’s Man Cave. 

Ballroom Ceiling

John’s Man Cave

Virginia gave me a look at the upper floors of the house which were closed due to Covid. I felt like I was a kid again–Nancy Drew on a snoop–when she showed me the secret Playroom. Overlooking Sarasota from the 82-foot tower is a moment I won’t forget. (See video below.)

Everywhere you look there is regal beauty. John Ringling’s bedroom
Mabel and John painted on The Playroom ceiling
Some guest rooms, such this one where Will Rogers often stayed, were closed due to Covid
Everyday feels like a holiday at Ca’ de’Zan

 

3) Lovers of Art and History

After Ca’ d’Zan was completed, John built a 21-gallery museum modeled from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In the courtyard stands a cast bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David purchased from the Chiurrazi Foundry outside of Rome, Italy.  It’s now the symbol of the City of Sarasota on Florida’s Cultural Coast.

The Ringling, Sarasota, Florida’s Cultural Coast

Ringling Courtyard Photo Courtesy of VistSarasota.com

 Inside are collections of Classical and Modern Masters. In 1931, two years after the death of Mabel, John opened the museum to the public to promote “education and art appreciation, especially for our young people.” In 1936 he left it to the state of Florida upon his death. See the video above on the Rubens Gallery, the family crest John had designed, and Modern Art exhibits, such as the photography series, A Girl and Her Room . A world-class cultural center, The Ringling Art Museum was just awarded another grant–this one from the Andy Warhol Foundation.

At the Museum of Art and Education Center budding artists,  Artists in Residence, and teachers find resources, professional development, and inspiration. 

4) Lovers of Theater/Performing Arts

The Historic Asolo Theater itself, once in the castle in Asolo, Italy of Queen Caterina Cornaro, Venetian-born widow of the King of Cyprus is a MUST-SEE.

It has been restored and moved into the John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion, designed by Yann Wemouth, architect for the Pyramide du Lovre, East Wing of the National Gallery in D.C. and the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. See performing arts schedule here.

5) Lovers of Glass Art

Grouped by country of origin, works of art from the studio glass movement from the 1940s to the present are in the Glass Pavilion here.

5) Lovers of Gardens and Gorgeous Landscapes

In the 66-acre paradise are waterfront gardens and a Level II Arboretum with 100 different species of trees to hug. John and Mabel are buried in the Secret Garden below.

Secret Garden

6) Lovers of Cinderella Stories, Business, and Finance

The Ringling family story is fascinating. In 1927 John Ringling, one of the wealthiest men in the world, made Sarasota the winter headquarters for the circus. In addition to owning “The Greatest Show on Earth” he invested in oil, railroads, Madison Square Garden, and his community. When he died his estate appraised at $23.5 million, and he had $311 in the bank. Business Insider gives an in-depth analysis here.  

7) The Circus and Circus Movies

Ok, I admit it. I’ve saved the best for near-last.  One of my favorite movies as a child wasThe Greatest Show on Earth  which I watched again this week while writing this piece. Director Cecil B. DeMille traveled with the circus for research and John North, John Ringling’s nephew, plays himself in the film as he tries to save the show in changing times. I loved seeing Sarasota where it was filmed–especially the parade down Main Street which included locals as extras. When it was made, there was no Walt Disney World; time under the Big Top was the premiere happy place for children. The movie was the highest grossing film of the year. Though some critics didn’t agree with it winning Best Picture, I’m with  Stephen Spielberg, another fan. He said it was the first movie he ever saw and it inspired his film career.  Since my mom’s generation, kids would say, “I’m goin’ run away and join the circus!” Swinging from a trapeze in sequins and feathers still looks pretty fun to me. 

Check out Sarasota’s Circus Legacy and Circus Museum here. Don’t miss the world’s largest model circus (see video) and special exhibits, like Circus and Suffragists

9) Lovers of Visionaries, Dreamers, and Muses

John was one of eight children of a German immigrant. Mabel grew up in a small farming community in a family of eight. John began in a small circus as a clown. 

After making his fortune, he bought Saint Armand’s Key to develop it into a center for shopping, restaurants, and art. Though the Great Depression deferred his dream, it was fulfilled later by others. Today his statue overlooks Saint Armand’s Circle, a global destination. Here statues he donated to the city  transport visitors to other cultural centers, like Rome and Athens. Other plans he had for Sarasota were thwarted by the times, such as a residence for a U.S. President and a Ritz-Carlton on Longboat Key. The statues today in The Ringing Art Museum Courtyard had been purchased for the hotel.  One thing is for sure. He shared his love for mythology and was a muse and myth maker himself.

St. Armands Circle

10) Lovers of Photos Ops

If you are vacationing with teens and they aren’t convinced yet to do The Ringling, tell them it’s Instagram heaven. You can also book professional  portraits  here. 

 

MORE OPPORTUNITIES

Until you can visit in person, virtual options are here:

https://www.ringling.org/events/virtual-talks-lectures

https://www.ringling.org/events/learn-home-anytime

Valentine Celebration

Spring Break Treat April 1–my favorite artist on the Big Screen here.

Florida’s Cultural Coast: Part 1

Part 2

 

 

 

2020 Vision from Lessons Learned

Reflect, then project. For those of us who thought we’d be farther along in 2020 in some area(s) –education, career, relationships, health, finances, savings, freedom, peace–think again. Rather than be discouraged, let’s look back with gratitude at how far we’ve come! Make a list of what you did accomplish in the last decade. Identify steps you took in the direction of where you want to go and what you’ve learned along the way. Just as important as getting to destinations/ outcomes for the lives we want is moving closer to the people we want to be. 

Girls get a sports, arts, and health education at Project SOAR in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Project Soar, featured by Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn Initiative, is a Joy Zone in Marrakesh, Morocco. Volunteering there and writing their story was one of many blessings the country gave me.

What words best sum up your last ten years? For me they were change, journey, faith, and let go. Before 2010, I spent 17 years in the same house 3 streets from the school where I taught/my children attended K-12. After 2010, I fled my too-silent, empty nest; lived in 2 countries abroad; traveled to 15 more; taught at 7 schools; and became a travel blogger, writing coach, and full- time university lecturer. During this time of transition, I thank God most for relationships; for my time in Morocco; and for other travels–Christmas with my children in Marrakesh and London, New Year’s Eve in Venice, Easter from Prague to St. Petersburg, and springs and summers in Spain.

Christmas Break with Cole and Taylor in Marrakesh Medina

 

New Years Eve in Venice

 

St. Petersburg, Russia with the Model UN delegates from the American School of Marrakesh

 

Canals in Amsterdam
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

 

Cies Islands off coast of Vigo, Spain

 

Bratislava, Slovakia

 

Belgium Waffles
Brussels, Belgium
Montemartre, Paris

 

Surfer in Portugal
Miramar Beach, Portugal

Our Maker customizes journeys each of us need for seasons of life. Whether they require us to cross continents or make discoveries in our own backyard, all lead home– to the people we were uniquely created to be. God gives us the desires of our hearts when we delight in Him (Psalm 37:4) so He can fulfill them. He delights in giving us good gifts (Matthew 7:11). What dreams has He given you? In ten years, where do you want to be? What’s your word for 2020 that expresses what you most desire to be or do? Is it a noun–courage, strength, laughter, vulnerability, hope–or a verb–enjoy, explore, create, focus, dream?

I share some lessons I’ve learned/relearned/am still learning over the past decade as invitations to reflect on your own. Please share in a comment what life has been teaching you on your journeys and where you hope to still go in the new year and decade ahead. 

Lesson #1: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”–George Addair

In January of 2014, my friend, Julie, started a blog. She was moving to Belize to dive, and posted the quote above. I knew those words were true. I’d battled Fear, Fiercest of Dragons, all my life. Studying the Enneagram over the last few years taught me that everyone does. A personality test profiling nine types according to strengths and struggles wasn’t that new. What was new was finally understanding why we are the way we are. Each number is driven by core values/desires/needs and fears. Everyone has fear, but we don’t all fear the same things nor deal with those fears in the same ways. Recognizing and appreciating our differences can help us navigate and deepen relationships. (If you haven’t taken the test, this one costs $12 and is probably the most thorough, but there are other good free ones online like this one.)

When, like heroes in books and movies, we set out on a quest, we meet Fear spitefully guarding the treasure– joy, confidence, freedom–whatever it is that we seek. Sometimes the dragon looms large before us, stradling our path with the breath of a blowtorch trying to force us back. Angst and Anxiety, fear’s more subtle forms– can be harder to identify although more people than ever say they suffer from both. Stress can also ambush us from within, threatening our mental and physical health. It can literally short-circuit our nerves, causing them to burn through our skin. This Christmas I experienced this condition for the second time — “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, SHINGLES all the way!” (I also learned that this can happen at any age. Three of my friends were diagnosed with shingles while in college.)

When anxiety gets me down, I get frustrated with myself because it seems by now I should have mastered the whole fear thing. Maybe that’s because over the last decade, I was more determined than ever to slay fear once-and-for-all. 

In 2013 I booked a bedroom in a Costa Rican jungle beach house owned by Lisa Valencia, an expat who’d left her empty nest in Montana for a more economical, adventure-filled life. Her book, like Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love, inspired me to believe I could change my life, too. I’d always wanted to live abroad, and with an empty nest and bank account I was curious about a place where healthcare might actually be affordable. I’d traveled with students and done service trips in Europe and South America, but this time I’d go it alone.The trip didn’t go as planned, but it prepared me for an expat life a year later.  Steps we take in faith toward a dream can lead to unforeseen, scary territory, but rather than detours, they are necessary legs of the journey. They don’t throw us off course but help us stay the course and find the desired destination.  

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Over the years my friend Sherry, who I visited in Ecuador, and my friend Sally, a nurse who raised her family in Niger, sent me Matthew 11:28-30: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. I wanted that.

Braving waves and living freely/lightly in Costa Rican surf

I also wanted to be the woman in Proverbs 31:25: She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.  In Morocco, like few times in my life, I fully experienced both. Moving solo to Africa sight unseen and trusting my most precious gifts–my grown children and other family members 4400 miles away– grew my faith. I had to trust God with all because (other than our choices and despite our best efforts), we humans control little. Most days, I felt my faith cutting through fear like a lightsaber. Even when blind-sighted, I was able to sing in the dark and when sad, I could find joy

Bird in Morocco
Birds abound at Marrakesh’s La Mamounia. Even when life grows dark, there’s comfort is knowing His eye is on the sparrow and me.

I thought I’d defeated fear for good. Then I moved to the Dominican Republic. I felt I was drowning in two tsunami waves–one the first month after I landed, the other the last month before I left. After moving home to Nashville, I also felt afraid. The supernatural peace I felt in Morocco couldn’t be sustained. Life is seasonal, and I realize now that this side of heaven, we will never be permanently fear-free. Just when we think we’ve beaten fear like in a video game and moved onto the next level, a stronger version of the monster appears. But with each bout we can grow stronger. Grace enables us to ride fear Queen Daenerys-style.  In darker seasons I find peace in the 365 forms of “Fear Not” in the Bible, and test my thoughts with 2 Timothy 1:7: “God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” I trust His character and protection, the One who over the last seven years sustained me through earthquake, illness, a mugging, a van accident, a hurricane, and an assault. We can’t see what lies in wait, but He can. 

Lesson #2: Each of us has a life story and gets to be the leading lady or leading man of it.

In the movie The Holiday, an elderly friend and famous Hollywood producer, Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), advises Iris (Kate Winslet) to let go of a man who doesn’t love or respect her. 

Arthur: So, he’s a schmuck.

Iris: As a matter of fact, he is…a huge schmuck. How did you know?

Arthur: He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.

Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life…Arthur, I’ve been going to a therapist for three years, and she’s never explained anything to me that well. 

Palais Namaskar in Marrakesh, Morocco makes walking in one’s own story feel epic.

We are free to live our own story– to choose where to live and how to serve others with the gifts God gives us. I’d taught Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey for years, but it wasn’t until teaching Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist while in Marrakesh that I recognized each stage in my own journey. Like heroes in books– Ulysses, Frodo, Luke Skywalker, Mulan–we real folk are sometimes called to adventures that require us to leave everything familiar. Unchartered territory is daunting and can cause us to refuse the call. Coelho, in his introduction to the 10th Anniversary Edition, gives four reasons why: 1) We’re told since kids what we want is impossible. 2) We fear the defeats we’ll experience on the path. 3) We fear success. 4) Love–for me, the obstacle. 

Coelho explains: “We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.” I am forever grateful to my daughter and son who supported me 100% when I told them I wanted to apply for teaching jobs abroad, my sister and brother-in-law who gave me a sendoff party with family and friends, and my Mom who kept in constant touch the three years I was gone.

When moving abroad we cross the threshold into a new world with the help of mentors–those like my friend, Dana, who’d taught in Casablanca and blazed the trail before me. On the path we meet allies and traveling companions. And ordeals. (See Lesson #1.) But if we stay the course, we find our treasure–an elixir–that transforms us, and we return to share what we’ve learned with others, inspiring them to follow their dreams, too. Coelho said, “People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.” I’m a romantic but know realistically that finances, family responsibilities, and illnesses can put dreams on hold. Some of my coworkers in Morocco raised their kids, then began international teaching as their second act. Others chose to raise their children in international schools where they taught abroad. Travel blogger friends now work their way around the globe as digital nomads; others use Trusted HouseSitters and Mind My House to country-hop. The world brims with possibilities to live the lives we want.

Lesson #3: Let go.

One of my greatest struggles has been with the empty nest. Moving abroad forced me to create a new normal so I could outrun it for awhile. School breaks–that Christmas in London and summers at home–we spent quality, intentional time together. I wasn’t prepared for the delayed pain that hit full force when I returned to Nashville–the place we’d lived together.  Releasing my children was HUGE because, as a mom, I’m a Stage 5 Clinger as much as a Gypsy Soul. The last decade I’ve also learned/am learning to let go of…

  • Expectations of how life and people “should” be. Plans are great, but life can derail them. How we react is the only thing we can control. Decades earlier, divorce made me let go of my idea of a “perfect family.” For years I feared my children and I weren’t just on Plan B but benched for life as the B Team. We realize now how close we became as the 3 Musketeers. I’m also learning that basing our happiness on how others act and react is a setup for frustration and disappointment. We can know our limits, respect other people’s boundaries/choices, and choose with whom to be in relationship and to what extent. 
  • Judgement–Travel teaches us flexibility. Living cross-culturally makes us let go of rigid constructs of what life should or should not be. I’ve taught behind what some, sadly, would call in my polarized home country ‘enemy lines.’ Working over the last decade with colleagues, students, and families in a Bible Belt Christian high school and university, a Caribbean Catholic high school, an international high school with coworkers from 20-something countries and students who were mostly Muslims,  a liberal public high school, and a public community college and university has taught me one thing. Our same Maker creates us more alike than different. Regardless of where we live on the map, most people love their families, value faith, and want to live happy and free.  
Ladies I met in Vilnius, Lithuania on my Birthday in 2015

 

Players in Prague
Children at Cologne, Germany Christmas Markets
Russian Performer in St. Petersburg
Ladies and children in Chefchaouen, Morocco
Sledding in the Atlas Mountains an hour from Marrakesh, Morocco

Learning to play basketball at Project SOAR
Watching Die Hard3 in El Fna Square at Marrakesh Film Festival
  • Material things–Downsizing the amount of “stuff” in our lives clears space for what we really want. Living out of 4 suitcases for three years taught me how much I really need. I like Thoreau’s approach to minimalism and simplicity: The cost of a thing is how much of life I’ll be required to exchange for it– now or in the future. 
  • People–Family is forever but time spent with friends can be seasonal. This is especially true in the expat community where friends bind fast and furious. International teachers by nature want to see the world, so after serving a two-year contract, many move on. Likewise, while expats are abroad, friends at home are also transitioning through new seasons. Priorities, addresses, interests change. Thankfully technology can keep us in touch, and I was able to reconnect with these friends when I returned to Morocco Summer 2018.
  • Old Stories–Some old stories–the ones we laugh about– keep us connected, and some connect us in shared pain. However, some stories we tell ourselves or others tell about us are unhealthy. They block us from moving forward. People can victimize us, but unless we are physically restrained, we can break free. Once we do, internalizing what the perpetrator did still holds us hostage.
  • Assumptions–We all have bad days or seasons when we speak or act from a place of pain. As discussed in the The Four Agreements, our lives are happier when we only believe what we know to be true and refuse to take things personally.  
  • Perfectionism–Though some life experiences follow the journey model, most are not linear. They spiral. We find ourselves confronting over and over our most challenging issues, and sadly, we still sometimes fail. Growth is learning from past mistakes, knowing our triggers, and adding to our skill set so we can better handle adversity. When we do mess up, we can make amends and treat ourselves with the kindness and patience we extend to others.  We can lean on God and give ourselves what we need when depleted– H.A.L.T. when feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired–rather than demand others fill these needs.

Lesson #4: Embrace.

Once we’ve let go of what we don’t need in our lives, we have free hands to hang onto what we do. Hang onto…

  • Beauty breaks for the soul. Most of the women I know live with passion and purpose. They are what southerners call steel magnolias–curious, creative, courageous. They contribute and grow. I know, too, they often feel overwhelmed. Exhausted. Stretched to the limit. Whether in our backyard or on an extended getaway, we need time to listen to our hearts–to explore, breathe, just BE. Self-care was foreign to me until I became a single mom with two young children. Wise women advised me to take timeouts–to put on my own oxygen mask– when my son and daughter were away. The solo travel and moves abroad I did in the last decade wouldn’t have happened had I not learned how to make the most of time alone decades prior.  I started with baby steps– lunch out with a book on a pretty patio, exploring a museum, or seeing a film in the theater alone. In the 2000s those moves became strides–an annual overnight stay at a B and B, learning Latin dance, leading students and volunteering on trips abroad.  Beauty and adventure infused me with superpowers I needed as a mom, teacher, and creative. All of those mile markers moved me to Morocco. Wandering and dwelling in beauty creates calm. So do centering practices like yoga, meditation, prayer. 
  • Creative Community. Spend time with people who inspire you to do what you were put here to do and realize fully who you were created to be. Releasing a book or album or any other project creatives feel called to do can be a long, lonely process without traveling companions to remind us of our mission and cheer us back to the path when we lose our way. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way and in The War of Art advised well— stay away from chaos and  ‘crazy makers’ who distract us from our work. 
  • Curiosity. T. H. White in his The Once and Future King, a retelling of the King Arthur Legend through the lens of WW2, explains the gift of education. In it, Merlin tells young Arthur: “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old … you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting… Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” Online courses, podcasts, and audio books make learning-on-the-go possible. Exploring new territory, like Josephine Baker’s Moroccan home, taught me about a woman who is now my hero. 
  • Your True Identity/Value. My friend-since-I-was-five Sally, created a jewelry line based on photos of my adventures. She knew me when high school dances ended with Chicago’s “Color My World,” and we prayed that one day someone would be our happily-ever-after. After both of our marriages ended, we saw God make mosaics from the shards of our lives. An Italian friend told me once I was meant for a grande amore. We all are. God calls us to a love story–one with Him full of adventure. The jewelry line she created is called Chérie, which in French, the language of Africa, means “cherished by God.” Thanks to Sally, women can wear the lessons I learned on my journey–Choose Adventure, Walk in Faith, Seek and Find, Follow Your Heart– and feel connected to a global, cross-generational sisterhood of seekers. See the line here.
Cherie jewelry line
Cherie line on Etsy

Lesson #5 Expecting the unexpected, enjoy the moment. Our health and that of our loved ones is not a default blessing. Without health, our dreams— like travel— can die. Take your shot when you have it. For many of us, that’s between when kids leave the nest and parents need our help. Most things cost more than the price tag, but experiences, unlike things we eventually Goodwill, we take to the grave and are priceless. And that old adage—“You find love when you aren’t looking”— for me proved to be true. I am thankful someone I hadn’t laid eyes on in over 30 years found me, has made me laugh like no other, and also values roots and wings. 

Fort Meyers Beach January 2020

For 7 More Life Lessons Realized in Venice, go here.

Share on Pinterest:

Life Lessons for 2020

Morocco Retreat Summer 2021

Your heart knows the way. Run in that Direction.–Rumi

IMG_6753 (3).jpg

Write what should not be forgotten.–Isabel Allende

Travel to have more to remember.–Cindy McCain

Have you vowed that writing will be a priority in the new year? Do you have travel tales you would like to tell? Are you ready to make new memories and create the ultimate souvenir–remembrance–of a time and place you never want to forget?

Whether you are just starting to write or a pro honing your craft…wanting to journal your journey in a an exotic land or transport others with a travel narrative piece… this writing retreat is for you. 

Though I’ve journeyed across 27 countries, nowhere like magical Morocco provides me with as much rest, adventure, and inspiration. While living there 2014-16, I fell in love with diverse landscapes, rich cultural experiences, and wonderful people. I returned Summer 2018 to some of my favorite writing spaces to prepare this retreat for 2020 when I can share them with you. I hope you’ll join me for a Beauty Break for the Soul.

southern (3)

Imagine yourself with journal or laptop perched on the ramparts of the Atlantic coastal town, Essaouira  , formerly known as the Port of Timbuktu. Anything’s possible here, where goats (not pigs) fly.

IMG_6155

img_8833

IMG_6783

img_8680

Imagine wide, open spaces where you write on the mountain terrace of a Berber village overlooking Toubkal, highest peak of the Atlas Mountains and northern Africa.

IMG_5019
Here Martin Scorsese filmed Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt.

IMG_4711 copy

See your inner child (creative unconscious)  freed to play in pools and secret gardens. Or learning to cook from local ladies.

IMG_2731

Version 2

IMG_5723 copy

IMG_6485 (2)

Enjoy sharing over dinner with new friends.

IMG_5010

IMG_9883

Taking a photo walk. Volunteering.

Journaling beside mosaic courtyard fountains, writing in the salon and outdoor terraces of a private riad, and reading your work on the rooftop overlooking the medina.   

img_5985

Truly, Morocco has been a creative hub for generations of artists, each meeting his or her respective Muse there. Edith Wharton, Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles… Josephine BakerJimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens … Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas.  Here Laurence of ArabiaIndiana JonesGladiator, and Game of Thrones came to life. Teaching, writing, and wandering there, my life felt epic, too.  

Join me in Morocco for my favorite local experiences from the Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh to the African coast. Choose what your soul needs:

  • yoga
  • photo walks with a community of explorers
  • prompts for journaling your journey
  • beautiful spaces to recharge, relax, reflect, create on your own
  • study of the craft of travel writing, analyzing works of master storytellers inspired by Morocco who infused elements of journalism, personal essay, narrative, and poetic prose.
  • Workshop and instructor feedback
  • a rooftop/salon reading

Package Includes:

  • 5 Sessions: Craft/Prompts/Workshop with Feedback
  • One-On-One Session with Instructor
  • Rooftop or Salon Reading of Your Work on Final Night of Retreat
  • 7 Nights in Private Suites (5 in Marrakech in Private Riad and 2 in Essaouira
  • Seaside Villa)
  • Airport Transfers
  • Private Transportation to Essaouira and Berber home near Toubkal, largest mountain in northern Africa, for mule trek, class, and lunch on terrace
  • Medina Guided Tour and Entrance to Bahia Palace, El Badhi Palace, and Jardin Majorelle
  • Free Time to Write and Wander
  • Luxury Resort Pool Day
  • 7 Breakfasts
  • 4 Lunches
  • 4 Dinners (one in the  former palace of “Lord of the Atlas,” Pasha of Marrakech from 1912-1956)

Spots are limited. Contact me at cindylmccain1@gmail.com to reserve a place or ask questions. 

Not Included in Package/Paid by Participant:

  • Airfare
  • Proof of Travel Insurance
  • 4 Lunches, 4 Dinners, Tours/Activities during Free Time
  • Alcohol
  • Tips/Gratuities
  • Local hotel tourist tax collected by riad and villa

Itinerary

*Signifies lunches and dinners not included in package price

Day 1

  • Arrive in Marrakech by Noon
  • Transport to Private Riad/Welcome with Moroccan Tea and Pastries
  • Lunch together at Amal Women’s Center
  • Neighborhood walk (We are located near some of the best spas, shops, and restaurants in the Medina.)
  • Dinner Together at Riad

Day 2

  • Breakfast at Riad
  • Class Session
  • Guided Medina Tour/Photo Walk
  • Lunch Together at my Favorite Rooftop Lunch Spot near Koutoubia Mosque and Jemma el Fna Square
  • Ensemble Artisanal
  • Writing/Free Time
  • Dinner in the Former Palace of the “Lord of the Atlas”

Day 3

  • Breakfast
  • Class Session
  • Resort Pool Day with Lunch—Palais Namaskar or La Maison Arabe Cooking School/Country Club
  • *Dinner on own (May be ordered at our riad for 20 Euros. Many other options including fresh produce, local bakeries, groceries, mall food court, and restaurants/cafes at all price points. Next to our riad is the iconic La Maison Arabe and its jazz bar.)

Day 4

  • Breakfast
  • Private transfer to Berber Village near Toubkal, highest point in Atlas Mountains and Northern Africa. We’ll mule trek to a Berber home where lunch and class will be held on the terrace.
  • Stop on way back to Marrakech at Sir Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot https://www.virginlimitededition.com/en/kasbah-tamadot for a *drink
  • *Dinner on own

Day 5

  • Breakfast
  • Private transfer to Essaouira
  • Check into sea villa
  • Medina and ramparts walk (*Lunch on your own—many cafes and fresh seafood served at port stalls)
  • Dinner on Rooftop above the Sea

Day 6

  • Breakfast
  • Class Session
  • Free time/Writing
  • *Lunch and *Dinner on Own

Day 7

  • Breakfast
  • Return to Marrakesh
  • Free day to write or explore/*Lunch on Own
  • Suggestions: Shopping, Yoga, Hammam/massage, Pool Day (resort or near riad near Medina), Jardin Marjorelle. Contact me prior to trip if interested in volunteer opportunities in Marrakesh, such as Project SOAR or  Mule and Donkey Rescue .
  • Dinner together at Riad—Salon or Rooftop Readings of Your Work

Day 8

  • Breakfast
  • Transfer to Airport

About Your Instructor:

Untitled design (3)

I live in Nashville, Tennessee where I’m a writer and have taught university writing and literature courses for thirteen years. I’ve led educational trips abroad for over two decades, and my Travel Tales course at The Porch, an independent writing center for adults, has been a best-seller. Please see my portfolio for links to freelance publications and Southern Girl Gone Global collaborations with travel brands and tourism boards. Southern Girl Gone Global was named a Top 50 Travel Blog of 2016 in the UK and has been featured by US News and World Report, Expedia and Orbitz.

When not on the road or in the classroom, I’m spending time with my grown kids, the loves of my life; dancing salsa with friends; storytelling about my travels  ; and writing my No-Mom-Left-Behind memoir, Roses in the Desert. More of my story here.

Know someone who may be interested in joining? Please share this post and brochure below.

Read more

Women Gather in South Carolina to Exchange Gifts for the Soul

Peace. Artistic Expression. Adventure. Beauty. Sisterhood. Self-care.

My holiday season commenced with a road trip to Rock Hill, South Carolina where women of all ages gave and received gifts that nourished the spirit. Ruth Surface of Mended by Hand Massage and Wellness organized the event which benefited Keep It Real, Mommy,  a nonprofit organization empowering women to care for their emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.

KIRM Founder Danielle R. Adamczyk shared her story and goals for the community she has created–women brave enough to be transparent about the challenges of motherhood. Plans include a life coach, chaplain, and counselor on staff to support women through miscarriage and grief, overcoming childhood trauma, and learning self-love.  Danielle wants mothers to know they are not alone. A fast-growing organization based in Charlotte, North Carolina, KIR plans through expansion and legislation to positively impact women’s lives nationwide.

Keep it Real Mommy
Danielle of Keep It Real Mommy: “50% of the women who are going to experience postpartum depression begin to spiral during their pregnancy. A good way to jump ahead of that is with a community base–a place where everyone is welcome regardless of motherhood philosophy or religious background or beliefs. A place where everyone is accepted warmly.”

Ruth asked me to read travel tales of living in Morocco and offer guests ways to chart their own adventures–local or global– in the new year. Bonus was meeting Ruth’s friends and family while spending time with her mom, Sally.  Sally and I have been soul sisters since kindergarten, and she was driving down from Virginia. I couldn’t wait to see her newest jewelry line, Chérie, inspired by the photos I’d taken on my journey in Africa–a continent Ruth and Sally called home for nineteen years. 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As is the tradition in Morocco, those who attended made new friends and deepened old ties over mint tea and treats. Catering was provided by Food Taylor Made.  Guests sampled classes by Ceramics and More, soaps and lotions by Raw Essence, essential oils and massages by Mended by Hand.

IMG_8959
Sally made her amazing Ma’amouls– Lebanese cookies made from a buttery semolina pastry filled with exotic dates, imported nuts, Mediterranean spices, and Middle Eastern essences.  Ma’amoul is also Sally’s grandmother name which she says has  become a symbol of life’s sweet blessings and delights. 

IMG_8964
Photo by Blakely Dixon

44422386_758011774591047_1762096597602140160_n (1)
Gifts for the Soul Organizer Ruth Surface (left) and Keep It Real Mommy Founder Danielle R. Adamczyk (right)

I shared that self-care was foreign to me until I unexpectedly became a single mom when my children were one and three. I hated the times when they were away, but wise women convinced me to use the space to recharge. Over the years, baby steps—lunch out on a pretty patio, walking through the woods or a museum —eventually turned into strides—an overnight stay at a B and B, learning Latin dance, leading students and volunteering on trips abroad.  Beauty and adventure infused me with superpowers  moms, teachers, and creatives need–wonder, confidence, calm. And when my kids grew up and flew away, God called me to fly away, too. In Africa I felt like a girl again and a woman much loved. Chérie means “cherished” in French, the language of Niger and Morocco where Sally, Ruth, and I lived.

Some who attended were young moms. Others were grandmothers caring for their  parents. Most said wistfully they’d like to travel solo, with a spouse, or a friend. I offered a calendar to intentionally schedule timeouts in the new year–be they massages, art classes, trips abroad or across town.

IMG_9295

Practicing what we preached, Sally and I explored Rock Hill, a southern city just south of Charlotte reminiscent of the Kentucky hometown of our youth.  First stop was Ruth’s new salon smelling of newly sprouted grass, essential oils, and fresh paint. At Milk and Sugar, Owner Yolonda Licea, as delightful a lady as you’ll ever meet, makes staff and clients feel like family. Though busy preparing for the official grand opening, she sat cross-legged on the floor telling me the story of her heaven-sent space. I believed her. After my long drive from Tennessee, the facial from Jess James and massage from Ruth were as soothing as naps under angel wings.

IMG_1281 (1)

IMG_8928
Yolonda Licea, owner of Milk and Sugar, Rock Hill, South Carolina’s Premier Day Spa

To book a massage with Ruth (see below), go here.

IMG_1309 (1)
Ruth Surface

IMG_8920

IMG_8919 (1)

IMG_8918 (1)

IMG_1286 (1)
Jess James

Women realizing dreams at Milk & Sugar Spa and Salon

We drove to East Main Guest House Bed and Breakfast Inn which proved to be the place to stay. Though the Rock Hill square rocked with live music (Food Truck Friday), we opted not to walk into town but to relax in our beautiful surroundings. Once the home of the town doctor, the inn is now a healing haven of southern hospitality. Our room was perfect–pretty and overlooking the garden. The twin beds brought back memories of my sharing a room with my sister and birthday sleepovers (called slumber parties when Sally and I were kids). We enjoyed meeting other guests at breakfast and seeing signatures from around the world in the guest book. If you want to experience a charming, quiet getaway or need a venue for a southern wedding or women’s event, this is your place. Tell gracious Innkeepers Scott and Donna Peterson I sent you.

IMG_8940

IMG_8931

IMG_8930IMG_8939IMG_8935IMG_8983IMG_8986

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_9017 (1)
Just a couple of blocks away is Amélie’s French Bakery & Café. Sally loves this spot and now I do, too.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_8992

For more information on Chérie, please see brochure. And in the new year, remember to follow your heart, walk in faith, choose adventure, wonder at beauty, seek and find.

1

2

Thank you to East Main Guest House Bed and Breakfast Inn and to Ruth of Mended by Hand for your hospitality.  As always, the opinions here are my own.

 

 

 

 

Rising from Travel Trauma

IMG_6082 (1)
As Brene Brown says, “Soft front, strong back, wild heart.”

Last spring when my friend Caroline offered me her holiday home as my private writing retreat, I was thrilled. Though we’d never met in person, we’d been in contact since 2016 just before I left Morocco. After I moved to the Dominican Republic, she bought the house and sent me photos of each phase of its restoration. I was returning to Marrakech in June and couldn’t wait to finally step into the haven she had designed. She’d be working out of the country but would leave the key for me.

Months before the trip, I started envisioning myself wearing a kaftan again, journaling mornings on her rooftop couches and clicking afternoons on my laptop in her jade courtyard. The color she chose for the entrance tile and kitchen reminded me of the Emerald City. Appropriate, I thought, because Magical Marrakech had been Oz where I’d lived over the rainbow for two years. I  couldn’t wait to return.

I imagined scouting the souks in her neighborhood for wedding quilts–my most prized Moroccan treasure– and eating next door at the hotel she frequented. As I’d done before, perched on ramparts above the African Coast, balconies on the Mediterranean Sea, and atop other medina guest houses, I’d watch sunsets. And as the moon rose, though a female solo traveler, I’d feel safe so high in the dark. The panoramic views at sunrise and star-filled heavens at night– beauty breaks for the soul– would give me new perspective. I’d feel protected, closer to my creator, and thus more creative.

 

IMG_6153

An inspiring place to write is always top of my list when choosing accommodations. When traveling with children to Florida beaches, I’d book stays with pretty ocean or pool side patios where I could work before they woke up. Writing for me is a sacred space, and to do so in an Edenic location makes my heart sing.

But like Amanda Wingfield, despite all my  “plans and preparations,” things sometimes went awry. My 2013 trip to Costa Rica to write like Hemingway in a Caribbean jungle was rattled off course by an earthquake and ER visit. On the 2016 Girl’s Trip to Tuscany rather than writing in a vineyard villa the flu or pneumonia forced me to bed. I then finished the week like the walking dead. Spring Break 2017 in the Dominican Republic I was to write on a terrace by the sea. Instead, a man  hiding in the jungle in a mask marred my sense of safety for the two months I had left to teach in the country.  God protected me and I’m forever grateful, but I’d discover in Morocco over a year later that like Michael Myers in the Halloween film, fear had stowed away in my luggage to stalk me.

I felt him, faintly, in the distance when I met Moni in Madrid on my way to Marrakesh but thought I was just rundown  from a rough interim teaching gig or exhaustion from the last two years. Seeing her would be good medicine as would be seeing Kate and Jasna in Morocco where, before, I’d  felt so free. But while making my way one afternoon back to a hotel I was reviewing, I thought I was lost. Though I’d shopped and riad-hopped for two years in the medina, turning onto a deserted street–like the stretch of beach where the man grabbed me–I became terrified. I hurried on–as it turned out, on the right route–and turned down another deserted alley where I knew the hotel entrance would be. When a man on a motorbike turned down the same street, I began stabbing my key, hands shaking, to hit the hole. I stumbled over the threshold and pulled the bolt behind me. In  my room, I shook and cried. Was this what people call post traumatic stress?

The next trigger was when I went to Caroline’s. Kate said she’d see me settled  but couldn’t stay. We took a taxi to a part of the medina we weren’t familiar with, then were told by the driver we’d have to walk the rest of the way. A young man heard us talking about the hotel where we would get the key and pointed down a narrow street.  Though the hotel was there and the riad just around the corner, by the time we unlocked the door I was racked with anxiety.

IMG_8192

Two of Caroline’s friends from London stopped by to give us the tour. They said they were staying next door until the next day and while Marylynn, a flight attendant, chatted with Kate in the salon, Martina, a hair stylist, took me up three more floors. She unlocked each gorgeous bedroom and the stairway to the roof.

“Caroline said to choose the room you like best.”

“They’re all so pretty,” I managed to say. I tried not to start crying. And failed.

“I apologize. Something bad happened to me in the Dominican Republic. I love Morocco. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Caroline was so sweet to offer me her home. I wish you two were staying here. ” I was thinking, I AM VERY, VERY AFRAID. I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE. Somehow, she knew.

“Listen. We will be right next door. You can wave to us from the roof.” She kindly smiled and nodded, shaking her curls and, now animated, pointing to the neighboring restaurant.

IMG_6155 (2)

“We are going to dinner there and you will join us.  We leave tomorrow so I have to do a bit more shopping. My daughter’s getting married and I need to buy some things to take home. Relax and we’ll be back in a couple of hours. We’ll have some Prosecco on your rooftop and head over. Tell me what you’d like and I’ll make you a reservation. We’re having lamb. Do you know tapping? I’ll show you how to be free from those bad vibes.”

And with that the three women were gone. Caroline checked in by phone to be sure all was well, and I unpacked and shortly Martina and Marylynn returned. We talked children, travel, tapped, and toasted the sunset. Then laughed, a lot, over dinner. They were fun and so very sweet.

IMG_8167
Caroline’s Rooftop

IMG_8181

IMG_6140
Marylynn (left) and Martina (center)

IMG_6138

IMG_6142

IMG_6143

IMG_6144

They walked me back to the riad, and the next morning, before we met for breakfast, I took photos of the hotel to remember yet again time I’d been able to depend on the kindness of strangers. I hated hugging them goodbye, but we have stayed in touch and hope to meet again on one continent or another. I’d love to host them and Caroline in Nashville.

IMG_8179

IMG_8191

IMG_8189

IMG_8190

The remainder of my stay whenever I was afraid, I prayed. I wrote of how God had protected me–in the DR and throughout all of my life–and thanked Him for a place where He had again given me roses in the desert.

IMG_8182

I knew last summer my time for living in Morocco had passed, but I hope to return there often. Next June I hope to show others on a writing retreat this place that moves me and so many.

IMG_6130
In Caroline’s home lines from The Wizard of Oz.

And on the last night at Caroline’s, I climbed to the rooftop. I’d been saved from a predator on a faraway shore. I could have been harmed, even died, but he hadn’t taken me down, made me too afraid to be alone or to travel.  Fear had almost made me miss staying in Caroline’s lovely home and meeting her friends.  God was still protecting me and blessing me with people who make me feel less alone. I had fresh hope that one day  I may travel with not only amazing women friends but also someone else.

I felt him out there. Not the guy I’d dreaded, but the one I’ve been waiting  for. The one who waits for me.  And then I found the poem below by Hafiz Shirazi, a 13th Century Persian Poet.  I twirled and smiled.

IMG_6158

IMG_6116

IMG_6134 (1)

I SAW YOU DANCING

I saw you dancing last night on the roof
Of your house all alone.
I felt your heart longing for the
Friend.
I saw you whirling
Beneath the soft bright rose
That hung from the invisible stem in
The sky,
So I began to change into my best clothes
In hopes of joining you
Even though
I live a thousand miles away.
And if
You had spun like an immaculate sphere
Just two more times,
Then bowed again so sweetly to
The east,
You would have found God and me
Standing so near
And lifting you into our
Arms.
I saw you dancing last night near the roof
Of this world.
I feel your soul in mine
Calling for our
Beloved.

Taking a Timeout in a Tennessee Version of Walden Woods

Yesterday at Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin  with my sister and brother-in-law, I ran into Edy, our wonderful Airbnb hostess last summer. She asked why I haven’t been posting on the blog.  To her and other readers, I apologize. Reentry into the US over the last six months after three years abroad has been an adventure in itself.   So much has happened which I’m still processing and will be part of the memoir I’m writing.  And, yes, I’ve been away from the blog and all of you too long. Thank you, Edy, for sharing my Nashville Guide with guests and encouraging me to post this…

In the morning I watched the geese from the door through the mist, sailing in the middle of the pond, fifty rods off, so large and tumultuous that Walden appeared like an artificial pond for their amusement. But when I stood on the shore they at once rose up with a great flapping of wings at the signal of their commander, and when they had got into rank circled about over my head.—Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Mom and I watched the geese from the patio as they picked through grass by the pond. The week after Thanksgiving had been quiet.   As much as we loved having my grown kids with us, we hated seeing them go. Determined to have everything done before they arrived so I could savor time with them and too excited to sleep, I was in the kitchen till 1 AM the night before, cooking and binging on Outlander.  We blinked and only leftovers in the freezer were proof that the holiday really happened.  Now Christmas calls.  But as I walk Ella over crunchy leaves beside still waters at Edwin Warner Park, I remember not only being there with Cole and Brittany Thanksgiving Day, but how nature reminded me all fall I’m never alone. I’m grateful for last autumn—my first in three years.  And I thank God that I spent much of it in my own Walden Woods.

In 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden or Life in the Woods  after living in a 10’ X 15’ cabin beside a pond for two years, two months and two days.  Though I’ve never been to Walden Woods outside Concord, Massachusetts, I’ve been inspired by Walden and so have my students. Thoreau was the original American minimalist. I’m learning to follow his advice to “Simplify! Simplify!” and after living in apartments three years while abroad I have grown accustomed to  small spaces.   I’ve culled and curated my material possessions which were packed into 1800 square feet for over twenty years, then a storage unit until I moved back.

I moved home and had no house.  Virginia Woolf was so right when she said women need a room of their own—or at least room, space— to write, create, think, breathe.  I am grateful for three months spent with my mom in my hometown as I job searched, then began teaching university and college English. At the end of September, I finally settled  in Nashville, where I call home.  I was able to focus on writing my memoir of the three years abroad–why I went and why I returned. Surrounded by peace, quiet, nature, I could hear God, my Muse, again. 

My “tiny home” is 785 square feet beside three quiet lakes where geese greet me each morning. Minutes away is Percy Warner, Cheekwood, and the Harpeth River.   I craved green space while in Santo Domingo where my apartment had no outdoor area and was surrounded by loud, relentless traffic and high-rise condos.  When I returned to Nashville, I ironically found much of the same.  

Friends and family warned that Nashville had grown and changed. Drastically.   But last September I managed to find a place where I now see deer on daily walks.  A couple of weeks ago, after all the leaves had fallen, I realized I could finally see into the woods.  At the moment I looked up, peering past the pine trees, I saw on a shag carpet of burnt orange and brown leaves two of them staring back at me.  On Thanksgiving Day we saw a buck snorting through the woods not far for where we walked Ella. The next day, Cole spied three deer while sitting on my living room couch.

Here I watch cardinals, bluejays, and finches take turns at my bird feeder and chipmunks enjoying seeds that they drop to the ground.  A covey of doves feed there, too, reminding me again that although I have no idea what 2018 holds, I have peace. I still miss my home of 21 years which I sold in 2016.  I always will and still can’t bear to drive by.  But I believe I made the right choice and am where I need to be.  In stillness I’m moving in the direction of my dreams.

Since moving home last June it has been a journey, and on it goes—a new season in a new life which a former coworker in Morocco called “the new new.”  With all the change over the last 3+ years—4 schools and 4 addresses in 3 countries—I’ve not posted on the blog as much since I lived in Morocco.    I’m writing a memoir that will explain, as I continue to understand, all that happened there and in the Dominican Republic, and what is happening now as I repatriate and try to create a new life in Nashville. 

For me, moving to foreign countries was easier in many ways than making a new life in what used to feel so familiar. Career transition can be one of the scariest moves of all.  Trading the  security of what we’ve always done for what we now want to do is risky.   I’d been in a classroom Monday through Friday since I was five.  It was time. Teaching as an adjunct gave me a season to prioritize writing  though  I still put in eleven-hour days commuting to two schools twice a week.  I missed full time pay and travel, but  taking a timeout meant more time with Taylor who lives nearby and Mom who needs me now.  And more time to create the life I imagine.  

At Belmont University I designed and taught a course called “Long Way Home: Essential Journeys.”  Truly life is like a web of adventures radiating to and from a center—home.  I believe our Creator is home.   That He lives within and guides us on journeys uniquely designed for each of us to become the person he or she is meant to be.  My students chose journeys out of their comfort zones they felt would positively impact their lives.  They researched the benefits and risks, the how-tos and whys, and for a month carried out their quests.  We had focused on narratives and memoirs, particularly Cheryl Strayed’s, Wild.  Check out the book and the movie it inspired produced by Reese Witherspoon, a Nashville girl, who played the lead.  Cheryl’s journey — hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail alone—was a physical and spiritual task.   What she learned wasn’t so much about the finish line as what it took to cross it. It always is. 

They shared the challenges and takeaways of playing instruments, learning sign language, serving in the community and beyond.  They practiced yoga, veganism, and ran, boxed, rock-climbed, and hiked their way across Nashville.  One student after learning to play the guitar changed her major from Music Business to Music Therapy; others sought counseling to heal old wounds so they could move forward.  They challenged each other to use less social media to make friends in real time and get more sleep.

Like my high school students who had completed The Deliberate Life project from Music City  to Morocco, students at Belmont taught me a lot.  So did my night classes at Vol State where I enjoyed working with adults who gave their all despite full time jobs and responsibilities to their own families.  Students who believed an education would help them follow Thoreau, too, who said:  “Go confidently in the direction of your dream. Live the life you’ve imagined.”  

IMG_6693

IMG_6564

IMG_6556IMG_6612

IMG_6632

IMG_6633

IMG_6634

IMG_6637

 

IMG_6666

IMG_6680

IMG_6688

IMG_6686

Cheekwood
Cheekwood is minutes away–part of my Tennessee Walden Woods

IMG_6703

IMG_6704

IMG_6711

IMG_6712

IMG_6717

IMG_6722

IMG_6730

IMG_6748

IMG_4755

IMG_4762

IMG_6754

 

IMG_4783

Edwin Warner Park
Ella loves our daily walks, especially at Edwin Warner Park.

Reading to ride at Bellevue Red Caboose Park
Ella is ready to ride at Bellevue’s Red Caboose Park.

Las Terrenas: DR Destination for Business and Pleasure

When I told US friends I was moving to The Dominican Republic, several said they’d vacationed there and loved it.  Most, like many of my coworkers and school community, enjoyed seclusion at Punta Cana’s resorts where they received five-star treatment.  I get it; I loved this stay at Barcelo Bavaro Grand Resort last fall.  Perfection…or at least one version of it.  But like my friend from home, Sara, who said she had wanted to see the “real DR,” I also understand why many local friends love the Samana area for adventure and authenticity.  I especially like Las Terrenas because of its “mom and pop” properties–private apartments and beach bars I remember from my childhood summers in Florida.

I love the laid back vibe of the province of Samana and will be forever grateful for the good times spent there with friends —horseback riding, swimming in a waterfall, drinking pina coladas on a small island off the main island, and whale watching in Samana Bay. I’ve seen couples enjoying different stages of life together there, too–newlyweds, retirees, and recently a pair from Canada who decided to pack up, move south, start a beach business, and live the dream.

I’ve always been fascinated with expats reinventing their lives in faraway places,  like folks I met in Marrakesh like Aussie Alexandra featured on this blog who are doing just that.   Likewise, Samana has enticed many from North America and Europe to move to the Caribbean.

Something pulls people here–even if just for a weekend.  Anyone who travels regularly from Santo Domingo knows the thrill of coming around this curve, parking on the roadside lookout point, and thinking I’ve arrived. Paradise pops in Renoir-rich blue and green until sunset softens the sky with Monet-muted purples and pinks.  This place definitely leaves an impression.

IMG_3317IMG_4115

IMG_3308

IMG_3309

IMG_3305

Riding through the province of Samana is also colorful.   Mountain homes teeter on cliffs and balance above deep ditches while motorcycles and cars careen around curves.

green and blue (1)

fence (1)

dog (1)

ditch (1)

yikes (1)

IMG_3314

IMG_3312

Last January I loved the villa  where my friends were married and vowed to stay in such a place near the hub of town on my next trip.   I had instead chosen an all- inclusive  in El Portillo because I’d snagged a Daily Deal on Booking.com.   I looked forward to pondering possibilities for the new year and not having to decide where to eat or what to cook sounded relaxing.

I left Nashville on a redeye flight after the holidays, had a layover in Miami, then a three-hour bus ride from the Santo Domingo airport.   Seventeen hours later, I was excited to finally drop my bag in the room and head for the fridge.  I’d planned to grab a beer, order room service, and take a hot bath in the Jacuzzi, but the fridge was empty, room service was not included, and the bath jets were dead.  When I went to the terrace to regroup before making the trek back to the front desk, the sliding glass door’s lock fell to the floor.  Two days and multiple hikes to the front desk later, I was moved to a room where everything but the safe worked.  It was fixed a day later.  But on the very bright side–where I like to focus–the weather was perfect, and I loved dancing/exercising at the pool with fun instructors, great music, and guests from Europe.  Hearing French, German, Italian, and Spanish on the beach was sweet as was eating every meal on the water, Brazilian steak night, the Crème brûlée, and the French man who sang while couples danced in the dark (see video at bottom).

IMG_3301

IMG_3178

IMG_3083

IMG_3085

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 8.34.18 PM

IMG_3412
Winter weather in the DR is amazing.  Sunny, mostly dry, breezy and low humidity compared to the rest of the year.

IMG_3191

IMG_3156

IMG_3188

IMG_3181

IMG_3163

IMG_3165

My next trip to Las Terrenas was in mid-March and amazing.  Thanks to Sana we had a private villa, Casa Anna, with a pool she found on AirBnB; Italian owners, Allesandra and her husband , greeted us when we arrived.   The perfect location, it is in a quiet neighbourhood just a five minute walk to the fisherman’s village, Pueblo de Los Pescadores, the town’s pulse where locals, expats, and tourists shoot pool, watch games, listen to live music, eat, drink and are merry.  We started the weekend with dinner there; I had a whole fried fish and a mojito as lights blinked along the shore like fireflies and water lapped the shore near our feet.

IMG_4122IMG_4120 (1)

IMG_4121

IMG_4126

IMG_4124
Steve and Sana

IMG_4130

IMG_4165

IMG_4163

The next morning we had coffee with the hummingbirds on the bungalow’s covered porch, then went looking for an American-sized breakfast on the beach. We found it at One Love Surf Shack.  Owners, Barry and Chef Kari, served bacon, eggs, toast, and  rosemary potatoes (delicious).  Barry joked if we were looking for granola and yogurt we’d come to the wrong place.  I enjoyed every bite but was too full to join the three generations of ladies doing  Zumba on the beach beside us.  Barry said to come back for Happy Hour, their signature burgers, and open mic night.

IMG_4252
Backyard Blooms

IMG_4256

IMG_4257

IMG_4258

IMG_4259

IMG_4158

IMG_4156

IMG_4145

zumba (1)

IMG_4142

IMG_4144
Chillin’ with Cava and Fresh-Squeezed Passion Fruit at One Love

IMG_4154
Barry and Kari, owners of One Love Surf Shack

The Canadian couple scouted locations around the world to open their restaurant:   Mexico, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands,  France,  Thailand,  Panama,  England, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hawaii.  Why did they choose the DR?

“Health care, title to own the property, exchange rates, tax treaties (getting their retirement money from Canada), basic amenities and infrastructure as opposed to ‘nice to have’ things which we placed on the bottom of the list. We tried to stay away from the ‘la-la’ happy things and focus on daily reality basic fundamentals when making our decision.”

It seems they made a great call… maybe even got it all… judging from the jovial crowd of back-slapping regulars reminiscent of buds who gathered every night at the bar Cheers. We watched the US play the DR in baseball.  There was a whole lot of happy going on.

IMG_4239

IMG_4243

IMG_4240

I’ll be leaving the island in June but will maybe return one day with a dance partner like these guys at El Portillo.  Sana says she’d like to stay here with Steve and sell coconuts on the beach.  No doubt business in Las Terennas will be booming.

Knoxville & Smoky Mountains: Great Escape and Journey Home

img_2998

Though I am writing this on a Dominican Republic beach a couple of hours from Santo Domingo where I’ll return to work on Tuesday, I’m reliving the mountain escape I had while home for the holidays.  I’m sorry I missed the snow in Tennessee that arrived just after I flew back to the Caribbean on Wednesday, but  I am glad my son and I had clear roads for a trip to the Smoky Mountains while I was there.  Cole moved to Knoxville last summer and with each visit I understand more why he likes the city where he chose to work.  Nashville’s growth spurt since I’ve been gone has frustrated natives and longtime transplants with the high rise apartments and traffic chaos that came with it.  Knoxville feels much like Nashville did before the boom and with the bonus of Gatlinburg one hour away and The Biltmore two (which we plan to see next summer when the gardens are in bloom), it’s a great destination for more than Vols fans.

img_2884
View of Smokies in the Distance from my son’s area of Knoxville

Tennessee is a hiking and wildlife lover’s paradise.   My first morning there while drinking coffee and looking out my son’s sliding doors I saw the usual–a cardinal, squirrels chasing each other–and then something moving in the brush behind his apartment that looked like a bobcat but larger.  Then there were two of them.   I grabbed my camera to zoom in and started snapping; while focusing and scanning the second creature disappeared.

img_4130

 

Whether they were both coyotes (a growing problem in suburban Nashville as well), coywolves or one was a deer that took off like the roadrunner I am not sure, but one of these guys stayed and stared  me down.  The sighting seemed another sign that 2017 will be full of surprises.

img_4137

img_4144

img_4147

Version 2

Version 2

Thrilled to be home for the holidays for the first time in two years, I had wanted to rent a cabin in the Smokies for our family, but with the recent fires we weren’t sure how much of the area had been destroyed and which roads would be closed. Instead we drove to Cade’s Cove and stopped for lunch at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, a hot spot for locals and tourists. We saw no fire damage and given the line of cars, neon lights, and ticket sales the Pigeon Forge “strip” was still going strong.

The good news about southern food is the comfort.  The better news is there are gorgeous opportunities to hike it off.  Living two years in the desert and the last six months in the tropics, I had so missed journeys amidst farmhouses hidden in hills; cows and horses in fields; and cold, crisp air on moss-covered banks beside mountain streams.  My questions about the future, usually rushing like water over rocks, are hushed and stilled by a winter forest.

img_4221

img_4220

img_4218

img_4212

img_4223

img_4222

img_2875
Applewoods was packed with people and home cooking.  I couldn’t decide between fried chicken, chicken pot pie, and chicken and dumplings so had all three.  The apple fritters with apple butter below…wow.

img_2874

 

img_4169

img_4173
Beaver Dam

img_4179

img_4180

img_4177

img_4181

img_4188

img_4193

Later in the week Taylor drove up and joined us for some amazing Italian food and a day in downtown Knoxville at Market Square.  I highly recommend Altruda’s for an authentic, family-owned atmosphere and The French Market for a quick trip to Paris.

img_2907

img_2911

img_2889
Reviews raved about the family-sized salad and garlic rolls–well deserved praise.

 

img_2893
The ziti is amazing.

img_2917

img_2919
So many choices

img_2933
The Crepe Suzette may have been my favourite treat over a holiday full of scrumptious food.

img_2935
Taylor liked the chocolate crepe and hot chocolate as well, but Cole waited for our next stop, brunch at Tupelo Honey’s.

img_2928

img_2925
Macarons to go

img_2941

img_2968

img_2969

img_2970
For the blueberry jam and biscuits (or the joy of being with my grown kids below)…no words are adequate.

img_2947

img_2942
We took a quick walk around Market Square where there are many Sunday brunch places, unique shops, an ice skating ring, and history.

img_2943-1

img_2966

img_2964

img_2963

img_2961

img_2957

img_2954

img_2975

img_2978

img_2952

img_2997
It was New Year’s Eve day so most were indoors waiting for the big party that night.

img_2938

img_2936

As we took a shortcut to our car, we happened upon an alley of street art.  Again, it seems, technicolor surprises are just around the corner this year.

img_2993

img_2988

img_2980

img_2983

img_2992

 

 

img_3023

We saw Arrival, nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Cole had already seen it and thought I’d like it. He was right.  Among other vital truths, it stresses that we can’t survive without communication and global collaboration.

img_2886
Knoxville sunset

As I felt when the holidays were over with my children in London and as most moms feel when the world goes back to work and “reality,”  (and though I am forever grateful for the beauty and adventure of the time spent abroad), nothing brings me joy like relationship.  Translated: quality time spent with my kids/family.  I loved Marrakesh, but it was too far from them.  The Dominican Republic, though many hours closer, is as well.   They are grown and have lives of their own, but my heart longs to see them more often.   We are bonded across miles  by blood and years, vacation times spent together, technology and our love for one another.  And we’ve learned, or at least I have, that home is what we are to each other–not one place.  Good to know since Taylor is in Nashville and Cole is in Knoxville now.  (Likewise, my sis is in Nashville but mom is in Kentucky.)   And though I’ve learned “home” is wherever I am at peace with God, as a southerner I feel tied to place, to roots, to people–my people–my kids, family, and closest friends.  And so my journey back has begun.  I look forward this year to following the path God charts to my dream destination.

 

Samana Road Trip: Day Two

img_3784

After a Domincan breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and rice, papaya, mofongo we were  back on the van following the blue bus above deep into the jungle. It is estimated the Dominican Republic has 1.5 billion USD in marble, most of it mined in the Samana province.  When we explored  Mina de Marmol I again wished my dad was with me.  He’d worked in a rock quarry for years in Kentucky.

img_3756

img_3755

img_3757

img_3758

img_3760

From there we headed to Boca Del Diablo, the Mouth of the Devil, a blowhole where the sea churns beneath and sounds like a dragon breathing until it spews water up and out  the cliff’s surface above.  I was so excited to get this on video that when I heard the ocean churning  I took off too fast across an overgrown path and tripped on the jagged stones under the vegetation.  Semi-dehydrated, when I was pulled to my feet and looked down upon a 2- inch strip of skin hanging like crepe paper from bloody gashes in my knee I almost fainted.  Thankfully Steve and Sana took my camera and got the shots of the cliff below.

img_3772

img_3773-1

Though only my traveling companions spoke English, a kind lady on our van from Ecuador gave me some antibiotic cream and our guide brought a bottle of water from the cooler.  Afraid I would vomit or faint, I poured the water over my head and felt better.

In the van as we headed to the beach, I thought about my first instinct after the shock of being bit by the devil’s mouth.

img_3766

Blindsided by going down, I turned on myself:  What are you thinking going on an adventure like this at your age?  Living outside the US?  This is all a bad idea.

As my friend, Kim, and I have discussed often, when blindsided we feel shocked and vulnerable as  I did in an earthquake in Costa Rica or a van wreck in Morocco. The impact of being taken down unexpectedly shakes lose accumulated hurts and hard times  bringing us to our knees literally.

img_3770

Challenges with this move had been churning in me for awhile and, released by my fall, they blew inside my head.  Once I could be as kind to myself as others were to me, I was back on track and headed to the next beach. The next day I’d get a stronger antibiotic

img_2313

but at our next stop beauty would make me forget the pain and I’d plunge into the cleanest, most beautiful waters I’d ever seen.  The salt began healing my body at the gorgeous Las Galeras and I was again so grateful for the chance to see all I’ve seen on this island.  Here we played in the water and had delicious fish for lunch.

img_3779

img_2297

img_2278
Pina Colada

img_3777

img_3778

img_3795

The last stop of your beach hop was Cano Frio where the Atlantic creates a freshwater swimming area locals love.

img_3803

img_3802

img_3801

img_3780

While I enjoy solo travel, this weekend reminded me of the importance of friends wherever we live.  Together we are stronger and can pull each other up when, far from home, we fall down.

img_3782

10 Must Dos When Going Solo To a Caribbean Resort

img_3423

1) LET YOURSELF GO…

Long before Pinterest prodded us to create virtual vision boards, Instagram insisted we share in-the-moment bliss, and Facebook fostered travel posts of happy places far, far away, I cut out and saved a magazine photo of a couple walking in the surf of the Caribbean Sea. I was single again, sad, but looked forward to a day I’d be that girl, her cocktail dress blowing in the breeze, as she laughed and leaned into her guy’s shoulder, one arm wrapped around his, the other hand holding a champagne flute.   I longed to share such a celebratory moment in paradise… one day (sigh)… with The One who was meant to be—whoever, wherever he was.

Though I still wait in hope to meet him, I have learned to cherish the many people with whom THE One, God, has blessed my life. And over the last twenty years, I stopped waiting to be in a romantic relationship to see the world or show it to my children. Money I have spent on traveling with my family, friends, and students strengthened relationships, made priceless memories, and taught us all something.  Likewise, I’ve learned to appreciate solo travel which has given me confidence, courage, and peace I never thought possible. A mentor told me years ago that giving ourselves what we need models self-care to our children and is healthier than waiting for someone else to fulfill us.   Travel rejuvenates and like a class taken to improve mind, body, or spirit, it’s  an investment in personal growth which positively impacts us and those around us.  Yet, though I’d traveled from Moscow to Morocco to Malibu and now live in the Caribbean in Santo Domingo, something inside kept saving the fantasy island resort experience for a hoped-for honeymoon. Until recently…

I gave myself permission.  I let myself go…solo…to Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort.

img_3362

Though Punta Cana is known for love connections– the 2014 season of The Bachelorette was filmed here– and this 5-star mega-complex in The Dominican Republic is popular for weddings, family vacations,

img_3364
This family reminded me of Florida vacations with Taylor and Cole.  I long for those days but in the words of Disney’s Dori, a family favorite, we have to keep swimming.

and bachelorette/bachelor getaways,

img_3344

the Caribbean haven cradles single women travellers with comfort. For those of us with grown children on their own journeys, going solo can provide rejuvenation and even reinvention as we navigate this new season of life.

I was impressed by the 85-year history of the  Barcelo Group, a family  company founded by Simón Barceló in Felanitx (Mallorca, Spain) and later expanded internationally.   After scanning The Dominican Republic by helicopter, owners chose Punta Cana–a then deserted stretch of beautiful jungle and beach.   Because they bought wide rather than deep as many property owners have since, this resort stretches two kilometres along Bavaro Beach rather than behind a small oceanfront area.  The company’s hotel division now has over 100 hotels in 19 countries and its travel division has 685 travel agencies in 22 countries. These figures position it as the third largest hotel chain in Spain, and the forty-second largest in the world.

2)  REST AND REVIVE.

Choosing an all-inclusive resort is the best way to rest before and during your stay since everything–where to eat, drink, swim, sunbathe, shop, be entertained, be active, and find transport–is provided.   While I enjoy researching and plotting my own travel adventures from restaurants to excursions, planning takes energy and time.  For those worn out from home/work responsibilities and constantly making grown up decisions, going with the flow of resorts that offer everything from a bowling alley to a soccer field

img_3431

to a casino

img_3339

img_3342

img_3535

to live entertainment can be freeing.   For those flying into the Punta Cana airport, transfer service to the resort can be arranged as can car rental.  Currency exchange is available and stores carry items you may have forgotten, like sunscreen.   Upon arrival at reception, get a map to see the lay of the land, and if not interested in the buffet, make reservations for some restaurants which require them and any special services–such as spa or tee times (though you can call from your room to set these up later).  I traveled less than three hours from Santo Domingo but was tired and upon checkin rested awhile, then showered before dinner.

img_3632
Relaxing shower and pampering products provided

Realize as the New Kid at Camp (seriously, the Barcelo complex feels like an amusement park/pleasure palace for adults), it’s normal to feel excited but also strange not having friends or family there to share the experience.  A trip to the spa and Wellness Center with use of the private pool outside thanks to Premium Level (this upgrade also provides free internet and personal service in the Premium Level Lounge which serves food and champagne and early and late check-in/check-out when available),

img_3541

img_3543

img_3547

img_3544

img_3545

DCIM105GOPRO

Photos of me by Patirica Fuentes, Community Manager, Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort

img_3555

a dip in one of the oceanfront pools,

2016-09-17-13-56-24an iced chocolate cappuccino in the coffee/cigar bar,

img_3641

or room service, minibar, (courtesy of the Premium Club Suites)

img_3499
In my room were local rums.  Mamajuana is a spicy, peppery legend in the area.

and a movie –whatever you need to unwind–will help you relax, recharge and relish your evening and stay ahead.

3)  BREATHE AND DWELL IN POSSIBILITY.

Before dinner at the seafood restaurant where I had lobster on the terrace (the Sante Fe Steak House also has seaside dining), I walked barefoot on sugar sand inhaling the sea air.  I breathed…exhaled… under a full harvest moon.  What would I reap on this trip?  As always, I felt warm knowing those I loved to the moon and back were looking up, too.  I thought of Van Morrison, Emily Dickinson, and the Creator of the most gorgeous clouds I’d ever seen.  Truly, it was a soothing, surreal, “marvellous night for a moon dance,” a time to “dwell in possibility…the spreading wide (of) my narrow Hands To gather Paradise.”

2016-09-16-21-45-49

img_3347

img_3524

img_3521

img_3525

img_3526

img_3528

img_3529

img_3503
Though the property is so huge shuttles connect its vast offerings, a solo woman traveler can feel safe walking alone at night.

img_3350

4) EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY.

An all-inclusive (see under “Other Important Services”) vacation is NOT where we count calories.  Healthy choices are always available, but dieting?  No way.  And since we first eat with our eyes… the ambience of open air tables set amidst lagoons, lakes, and gardens makes every meal a feast.

I slept later than usual thanks to the blackout curtains, had coffee on my patio where I was visited by a Moorhen, nicknamed the Chicken-foot Coot because its feet aren’t webbed and it steps high like a hen. Rested, I was ready to step out, too, so I headed to the nearest restaurant just around the corner for something I rarely get–a Southern-sized breakfast.   The night before PGA golfers (The Dominican Republic is known for the best golfing in the Caribbean) gathered in the foyer bar –champagne, cocktails, beer and bachata music flowing.  Now hushed except for the tin, hollow sound of clubs hitting golf balls, the course and sky met as a blue-and-green canvas for a new day.

img_3501

2016-09-17-09-47-30

2016-09-17-10-00-46

img_3460

2016-09-17-09-42-06

2016-09-17-09-42-48

img_3590

From Dominican fare to all-you-can-eat buffets to a Buffett-worthy Cheeseburger in Paradise, culinary and beverage choices abound.  My finest meal was at the French restaurant recommended by the concierge upon my arrival.  I had to book for my second night because it was booked the night I arrived.

img_3505

img_3506

img_3504

img_3511

img_3513
Warm Salad with Breaded Camembert and caviar (a first for me).

img_3514
Snails A’La Bourguignonne

img_3519
The Chateaubriand was rich and tender. Other choices included Beef Wellington, Pork Loin, Chicken Cordon Blue, and Duck Breast a l’Orange.

img_3520
Chocolate Fondant

img_3510
Berries and cream

5)  LET YOUR INNER CHILD PLAY.  

Remember when you were little and you weren’t afraid to explore, concerned about “getting it right” or impressing others?  An all-inclusive where you don’t know a soul allows you to follow Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice: “Do  one thing everyday that scares you.”  Of course, do what you   love.  For me, this was dancing bachata on the beach (Romeo Santos had recently done a concert in Punta Cana).  Golf, tennis, volleyball, soccer, walking, swimming –do what makes you happy– but leave room to discover a new passion.

img_3496

img_3433

img_3491

img_3457

img_3462

img_3468

img_3453

img_3576

img_3486
Zumba

img_3487

DCIM104GOPRO

Maybe learning to like alone time is what you need.  Or maybe starting a conversation to make new friends and not just because paddle boats take teamwork.

DCIM104GOPRO

DCIM104GOPRO

DCIM104GOPRO
I loved meeting Patricia who gave me a tour of the property on Saturday and took me out to sea on Sunday.  She assists travel bloggers/media influencers, she’s from Spain, loves promoting community and all the Barcelo brand has to offer, and I liked her instantly.

img_3434

And I finally tried kayaking.  It was fun.

DCIM104GOPRODCIM104GOPRODCIM104GOPRO

So was meeting Harry Lee and Livvy Turner, Brits below who had just arrived.  They were in the Caribbean for the first time and were looking forward to ten days of bliss.  Harry said they weren’t leaving the property, that he was exhausted by city life.  “I am a broken man,” he quipped, “but will return to London with more energy.”

img_3589

6)  LET YOUR INNER CHILD NAP.

Count ships, not sheep, under rustling palm leaves shading you from the sun.  And if you can’t sleep, as my mother used to say, rest your eyes and your mind.

In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes:

“Il bel far niente means ‘the beauty of doing nothing’… [it] has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement. ”

 Last spring break I’d planned to practice this skill on The Amalfi Coast.  Of course, I planned to write and photograph Positano, but that isn’t work to me.  Circumstances prevented that trip, but I’m trying to learn the same lesson in the DR.  This weekend was a wonderful teacher.

img_3474

img_3479
My favorite–pink and blaring bachata.

img_3480

img_3481

 7)  LOOK BACK IN GRATITUDE.

Recall happy times in the past with thanksgiving.  If I’ve learned one thing from many Dominicans it is to laugh and sing more.

img_3591

Too often we’re too tired to remember what day it is, much less yesterday or yesteryear.  As has happened a lot over the last two years of living abroad memories of family flood me.   In Punta Cana I remembered other beach vacations with women who have strongly influenced my life.  The summer in Hawaii with my mom, sister, cousin, and aunt.  Another summer in Florida with Mom and her mother, Mama Sargeant–single women for many years like me.  I toasted to them with a Pina Colada, the drink my grandmother enjoyed when she became ill and mom moved in with her until she passed.  I thought of a month earlier when my daughter, Taylor, and I enjoyed another DR beach together.

img_3539

8) LOOK FORWARD IN HOPE.

img_3540

As gentle waves lap the shore the clear, calm waters of the Caribbean invite reflection.   Remembering happy times, even hard times, reminds us of all we’ve overcome to get to this place which strengthens us to face, even greet what lies ahead.

img_3608

img_3604

Scan the horizon knowing that good is coming.  In studying Spanish I realized this week the roots for esperanza, hope, and esperar, to wait or to expect, are the same.  Faith says to wait, to expect with hope.

img_3606

img_3598

img_3489

img_3436

img_3440

img_3446
On this lake is the Barcelo chapel where some couples marry.

img_3450

img_3488
And on this pier, a group of friends waited for the bride and groom.

What are you waiting for?  Some things we can make happen.  Others we can’t, so we must trust, wait, and watch.  Traveling solo helps us figure out what we want and how, if in our power, to get it. What to hold onto.  What to let go of.  The beauty of this gorgeous globe  gives us peace in knowing the One who created it can work  all things together for good.

Version 2

9)  SEIZE THE DAY AS THE BEST SOUVENIR.

We must live in the moment.   I agree we can take so many photos trying to capture special times that they truly escape us.  Too much staging can kill just being, breathing the experience.  And yes, people may laugh at your selfies, but deep down most of us want to remember times we recognize as special pieces of eternity.   Even if you don’t typically like to have your photo taken, you will  want to remember that you were once in a beautiful place and felt more beautiful for it.  I promise.  Just as a mom says if the house were on fire and all people and pets were out safely she’d grab baby photos first, one day you’ll want to see yourself in a Caribbean paradise where you grew, changed–even use the photos as your screen saver–so you don’t forget how important it was–it is–to get away and enjoy gifts of beauty and adventure you’ve been given.

While in Punta Cana I read an article in More magazine called, When Looks Fade: An Exercise in Perspective by  Christine Lennon who interviewed “The Professionally Beautiful,” asking them how to age with grace.  Molly Sims, author of The Everyday Supermodel said:

“It’s funny how I used to look at a picture when it was taken and think, Ugh, I look awful.  You look at that same picture five years later, and you think, Dang.  I looked pretty good.”

A friend in her 40s recently had professional photos taken to remember this time in her life.  My mom did the same in her mid-30s.  I get it.  Even if you shy from the camera, the best souvenirs of any vacation are photos which capture living -in- the- now forever.  At a Caribbean resort photo opps are everywhere and you’ll see many taking advantage of it.  Don’t be shy.  Help a solo traveling sister out.  Ask if she’d like you to take her picture and ask her to take yours.  Hotel staff will kindly oblige as well.

img_3600

Whatever your age or style–girly girl, Bohemian Babe, or mermaid, wear something–maybe a new frock found in shops on the complex– that makes you  smile.  Though I brought a tropical dress with me–a TJMAXX special–I was thrilled to see new styles of two brands I fell in love with in Spain (Mele Beach in Tarife and Desigual in Vigo) sold at the Barcelo Punta Cana complex.

img_3631
Mele Beach

img_3620

img_3627
My inner flower child loves this.

img_3626

img_3620

img_3635
This brand colors my world.

img_3636
Desigual

img_3633

img_3638

The beach is your runway.  Get creative.  Take the plunge.  You’ll be glad you did.

img_3373

img_3424

10)  TAKE A PEACE OF PARADISE HOME WITH YOU.

Peace.  Going solo to a Caribbean resort will convince you of what research shows.  Though too few people take enough time off, those who do vacation return rejuvenated and more productive.  No matter the age.  For some of us, the prime time to go solo seems to be when we are trying to survive, even thrive after the nest empties.  We are “tweeners”and if we can’t take a gap year, a gap week works, too.  Soon–assuming we stay in good health–we may be needed to care for parents and grandchildren. Doing all we can to stay fit–physically, mentally, spiritually–is vital for the ones we love.

We are as young as we feel.  I loved seeing women my mom’s age doing Zumba in their bathing suits on the beach.  And about those photos and the freedom on your face they will reflect…

Christie Brinkley, 62 year-old author  of Timeless Beauty and former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model said, “Aging needs a huge rebranding campaign.  People still think of 60 and picture a granny with a shawl and bun.  We need to stop lying about our ages.  Go ahead and say your number; then you’ll reshape other people’s images of that number.”

Likewise, when people ask in disbelief, You traveled to the Caribbean alone? say, Yes and smile.  They may need to be freed, too.

Special thanks to Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort for an amazing experience.  As always, the opinions here are my own.