My grandmother, Mama Sargeant, was the Matriarch of Mom’s family and the Queen of Regifting. She asked us not to give her gifts and truly meant it. We learned that when we didn’t listen, gifts we bought ended up in her upstairs bedroom–unopened. When we needed to buy a gift for someone, she’d send us upstairs to choose from her collection.
What she really wanted was us at her table weekly for Sunday lunch and surprise visits any (ok, every) day of the week. As a mom myself, I don’t want things from my adult children. I want experiences. Time with them sharing something that we love.
And if you’re looking for a way to bond beyond one experience on one day, I have more unique ideas… they are in this month’s newsletter along with suggestions for summer entertaining, travel planning, and other May fun.
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Watch Episode One here or skip to sections which interest you marked below.
A lot of us are getting through sheltering at home by meeting online with old friends. I thank God for technology that bashes through borders during a pandemic. Looking back at how we’ve navigated change in the past can transform how we handle new norms in the present and future. Being grounded for many has been grounding–even if what we know about an invisible enemy seems to shift every hour. In Nashville we’ve been saturated with spring storms and power outages. Worldwide we’re assaulted with staggering statistics of death tolls and unemployment. So I’m wondering…
How are we doing? Reassessing life’s meaning? Seeking a new job or career? A new life? Needing to reinvent ourselves again?
I’d planned to start a podcast this summer but decided to first launch as a YOUTUBE series since we’re home on computers more than commuting to work or traveling. Welcome to this first episode where we’ll travel to Spain and meet my friend, Monica Fernandez Chantada, master of reinvention and growth, who shows us how she and her country are dealing with months of pandemic lockdown, social distancing, and unemployment. Her journey from a Corporate Human Resources position to International Teacher to Camino de Santiago Tour Guide to Life Coach will inspire you as she shares coping tips, travel go-to places, and the beauty of her backyard. She explains how saying “Yes!” changes challenges into adventures and offers to teach you Spanish online.
Moni will walk us through her province of Galicia, Bucket List worthy for its mountains, coast, Celtic ruins, wine, and wonderful people. Through here pilgrims since the 9th century have traveled to the Cathedral in Santiago on the Camino or St. James’ Way–backdrop for the Martin Sheen movie (trailer below). We’ve walked three continents together and I’m still inspired by her journey and spirit. I think you will be, too.
If you’re planning a getaway for when the coast is clear and up for a Camino or stay in Galicia, check out options at Moni’s company, Spanish Steps, and/or stay in her home in Vigo where she’s a Superhosthere.
11:30 How to Reinvent a Life (Again) From Journalism to Working in Corporate Human Resources Job to Teaching Spanish is the US to Camino de Santiago Guide “I always say ‘Yes!’ Every challenge, I take it!”–Moni
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 HUGEbecause, 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.
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 calledChérie, 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.
Lesson #5Expecting 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.
For 7 More Life Lessons Realized in Venice, go here.
If you missed my article above which explains the gallery below, please read it HERE.
In seven days this Southern Girl Gone Global Goes Home. After living in Morocco and The Dominican Republic for the last three years, I’m excited to return to Nashville–a city I love–where StyleBlueprint is bringing women together locally and globally. Recently I described in the article above my adventure in Gorgeous Galicia with old friends, Moni and Ale, who I met in Music City years ago. Today they teach English, host an Airbnb, and are El Camino de Santiago guides. Below are additional photos of our time together in Portugal and Spain.
If you are interested in seeing this area for yourself, meeting new people, and doing the Camino with us in 2018, email me at email@example.com for more details.
Parador of Baiona
Moni’s hometown, Vigo
(Below) Not to be missed next week, St. John’s Eve–story here.
LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Camping and hiking the Cies Islands. Until next time…
There’s a power struggle going on across Europe these days. A few cities are competing against each other to see who shall emerge as the great 21st century European metropolis. Will it be London? Paris? Berlin? Zurich? Maybe Brussels, center of the young union? They all strive to outdo one another culturally, architecturally, politically, fiscally. But Rome, it should be said, has not bothered to join the race for status. Rome doesn’t compete. Rome just watches all the fussing and striving, completely unfazed. I am inspired by the regal self-assurance of this city, so grounded and rounded, so amused and monumental, knowing she is held securely in the palm of history. I would like to be like Rome when I am an old lady.
—Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
‘I sometimes fancy,’ said Hilda, on whose susceptibility the scene always made a strong impression, ‘that Rome–mere Rome–will crowd everything else out of my heart.’
—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance
I first met her in the movies in the ’60s when my family spent Easter week watching Ben-Hur and The Robe. Later I sighed at her heroes in Gladiator and King Arthur, and still turn to Roman Holiday and Three Coins in the Fountain for escape, classic style, and fun frocks. And though recently I giggled at Brit wits, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy based on their pilgrimage to places Shelley and Byron lived, I do love teaching literary legends–particularly The Romantics–who moved to Rome. Long before the Left Bank of Paris brimmed with expat genius, Rome was muse to so many who for centuries have transported readers to the The Eternal City via memoir, fiction, and poetry. Still, nothing is like being in Rome for real. I was there last week on a detour; but as with many of life’s detours, I realized Plan B was To Be.
Since moving to Morocco in 2014, I began planning my Dream Week for Spring Break 2016. I didn’t know if I’d stay abroad after my initial two-year work contract, so I saved the best for last. I’d fallen in love with Italy in 2000 and have since returned eight times; but in 2004 I was swept away by the Amalfi Coast and hoped this year to perch on a Positano terrace across from Capri, the island that enchanted me more than a decade ago. A Mermaid in Marrakesh, I felt I’d find my muse staying between the Path of the Gods and the ocean below. Nothing moves me like the sea, and I couldn’t wait to live like a local and go no farther than a boat ride to a restaurant I’d read about. I’d write in the sun. I’d breathe.
I had booked the perfect villa last August beside the iconic Le Sirenuse, the set for Only You, a 1994 film my sister and I love . The plan was to join friends from the US in Tuscany the first week of the break, then travel alone by train to the coast. Sadly, an unforeseen circumstance that has caused much stress forced me to cancel that second week, but a colleague offered a Plan B. She suggested I stay with her in Rome and catch the Ryan Air flight on Tuesday for $26. My flight and stay at a hotel inspired by my favorite painter, Modigliani, cost less than changing my original ticket.
Lately I’ve been faced with huge decisions and it seemed all roads were, indeed, leading to Rome. I’m passionate about several paths–family, travel, writing, education–and have been praying for a way they can all convene. Birthdays are when I pull over to reevaluate the map of my life journey. While in Tuscany I celebrated the one that was my father’s last. He died at work. So young. So missed.
Roaming, resting, relaxing in Rome in my favorite neighborhoods (near Piazzas of Spagna and Barberini) proved to be poignant. I loved seeing friends in Tuscany (many pictures to come), but I’d spent the week fighting the flu. Being in Rome on Easter and finally visiting The Keats-Shelley House—where Keats, too, came to Rome seeking a kinder climate for his health—moved me. I’d always loved Keats’ “When I Have Fears I Will Cease to Be” where he confesses concern that he’ll die before writing all he felt placed on earth to write or before marrying his beloved Fanny Brawne. I thought, too, about Lord Byron who said “If I don’t write to empty my mind I go mad” and Henry David Thoreau, an American Romantic, who said, “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I’ve never wanted to be one of that mass. Keats died after just three months in Rome beside the Spanish Steps at twenty-five; Shelley was living in Tuscany when he drowned off the coast of Italy at twenty-nine. Byron died from exhaustion in Greece at thirty-six. All so young. So much more to write. To live. I returned to Marrakesh with a renewed gratitude for my health and the warm climate I enjoy daily. And I continue to seek the best way to live what’s left of my life.
Second generation Romantics Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron, and Keats followed fathers of the movement, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Blake, in philosophically opposing tenets of the previous period, The Enlightenment– institutions, tradition, conformity, science and reason. Romantics were (and are) the Carpe Diem Crowd, idealists who value individualism, democracy, experimentation, emotion, imagination, social reform, change, and nature. Other European Romantic artists were Pushkin, Hugo, Turner, Beethoven, Schubert and Berlioz–all influenced by the philosophies of Goethe (who lived in Rome for a time), Locke, and Rousseau whose tabula rasa (man is a blank slate made by society that writes his story) meant respecting the “noble savage” be he a Native American or Mary Shelley’s creature in Frankenstein who became a monster by the doctor who recklessly created and abandoned him and villagers who feared and abused him, and the social contract (fair play between the governing and governed which fueled the French and American Revolutions).
I thought about how the tension between Reason VS Emotion, Duty VS Passion, Fact VS Feeling VS Faith affects decisions. Just as I lived the questions while wandering Venice three months ago, I roamed Rome believing I’ll live into the answers. Meanwhile I’m learning to wait in passionate patience.
I brought back writing inspiration from the vibrant literary landscape that is Rome. I walked the streets off Via Condotti where writers gathered around wine at restaurants and coffee at Antico Caffè Greco. In the area around The Spanish Steps known in the 19th century as the “English Quarter” lived not only the Shelleys, Byron and Keats but also Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and William Thackeray, Henry James, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne, the subject of my Master’s Thesis, wrote The Marble Faun based on the Faun of Praxitelesdisplayed in Capitoline Museum. I returned and read Wharton’s “Roman Fever” and plan to read Dickens’ Pictures from Italy and Henry James’ Italian Hours.
I loved studying filmmaker Federico Fellini in grad school who said:
Rome does not need to make culture. It is culture. Prehistoric, classical, Etruscan, Renaissance, Baroque, modern. Every corner of the city is a chapter in an imaginary universal history of culture. Culture in Rome is not an academic concept. It’s not even a museum culture, even though the city is one enormous museum. It is a human culture free from cultural faddishness, or neurotic trendiness.
One thing is for sure. From the bizarre to the sublime, Rome is human history. I’d enjoyed seeing the Forum, Pantheon, Colosseum, Catacombs, and Vatican City on two prevous trips, but this time it was nice to do what Romantics do best. Feel. Truly Rome is an Ode to Joy, a Sonnet called La Bella Vita.
Near here in Palazzo Barberini was the home of William Wetmore Story, an American sculptor, poet, and art critic, where expats gathered from 1819-1895.
I’m grateful for roaming Rome which confirmed two things. I’ve been missing my children since December and want to travel and do life with them again more than anything. In Positano a gorgeous villa awaits, but I hope to go when they or my sis can join me one day. And, like it or not, the only constant is change. The Romantics knew this and thus seized the day knowing too soon the day ceases. I’ve experienced adventure, beauty and new relationships aplenty. So much in my life has changed in the last two years. Places. People. Paths. My comfort is knowing the One who holds this gorgeous globe, my family, and me. He has already picked our next path. It’s good to be at peace with peace.
Whether wanting to explore Spain (and other countries’ roads that lead there), pursue a personal dream, ponder in peace, practice wellness through hiking or yoga, learn language, hear stories from travelers around the world, Spanish Steps leads the way in offering options. I fell in love with Spain last year, and experiencing that gorgeous country with Spanish Steps is now high on my Bucket List.
After hiking with Mònica Fernàndez, a talented Spanish and English teacher, through her native region of Galicia, in Southern Spain, and in the Sahara, I am excited to learn she will co-lead tours below with other dedicated members of Owner Judy Colaneri’s Spanish Steps staff including co-guiding with her husband, Alessandro Martinez, October 12-19.
All Camino tour dates in Spain, France, and Italy can be found here. Tours fill up fast so if interested take the step that leads to more here.
I am still with my friend’s family at their home in Idstein. Earlier this week I spent 48 hours in Cologne.
In this city in 1709 Giovanni Maria Farina, an Italian perfume maker, created a fragrance he named after his new home. He described to his brother the concoction called Eau de Cologne: “I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain.” The original formula is still sold there.
But the highlight (literally) of the city is the Cologne Cathedral (Koelner Dom), the largest Gothic church in Germany and the tallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world. The UNESCO Heritage site was built to house the bones of the three wise men, brought to the city in 1164. Started in 1248 and finished in 1880, it was dedicated to St. Peter and the Virgin Mary in the tradition of Gothic cathedrals in northern France. From 1880-1884 it was the tallest building in the world.
I originally planned to see in 24 hours four of the city’s seven markets–the Cathedral Market, Old Town “Home of the Elves” Market, Neumarkt’s Market of Angels, and the Harbor Christmas Market. An ambitious plan, but it would mean booking a room for only one night. A solo female traveler, I wanted to be near the Cathedral Market, having read it’s the hub of celebration, to enjoy live music at night. I hoped to walk everywhere in safety day or night with no need for a taxi—even to and from the train station. I found a hotel, in this perfect location on one of the websites with deals I typically use. However, my friend, Mithu, said rather than sprinting through the city, I should book through HRS (Hotel Reservation Services) because at their prices I could get two nights for the price of one. My room was 65 Euro. It overlooked the Elf Market and was one block from the Cathedral Market. Mission accomplished.
Live music, more food and Glühwein or “glow-wine” (the German winter drink of heated red wine spiced with cinnamon sticks, cloves, star aniseed, citrus, and sugar) one could ever possibly eat or drink, and friendly folks were found at all four. With the Cologne-Bonn airport close by and train connections aplenty, it is a beautiful Christmas destination.
Christmas is charged with nostalgia. I’m in bed looking out my window at the Market of the Elves in Cologne, Germany. Under tents and trees all lit up, replicas of funny bearded men beckon below. Elf statues are more numerous here than in pictures of Santa’s workshop in the book Mama Lou read to my sister and me when we were kids. I came to Cologne to find Christmas cheer because I knew I’d need it.
I have dreaded the holidays for months. It is the first Christmas I’ll spend without my children with me. My son graduates in May on my daughter’s birthday. Last year we had the ultimate Christmasreunion, but because flights from Marrakesh to Nashville are too expensive with the May trip, we decided I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.
Because flights are cheap to Europe, I decided to spend the holiday with a friend in Germany and take the train to the Christmas markets. My daughter said she couldn’t bear to think of me sad in my apartment alone and all the family wished me well. All my coworkers—international teachers who in their collective years abroad have traveled to every country on the planet it seems—said “No one does Christmas like Germany.” And so here I am in a city with seven Christmas markets—an amazing place (as you’ll see in my next post). Yet despite enjoying the music, live trees, winter air wafting with spices and mulled wine, I’ve also shed some tears.
Since moving to Africa I’ve had bouts of loneliness and fear. Through every trial God comforted me, strengthened me, grew me more into the woman He has always wanted me to be. I have found freedom, peace, joy that nothing from without can sustain—only his presence within. I have seen beauty and experienced adventure as gifts—love letters from Him–during this amazing season. I have been protected and contributed on this new continent, feeling totally in His will and being blessed beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Still… despite so much growth…so much faith and thankfulness for how far God has brought me physically, emotionally, and spiritually throughout the course of my life and particularly over the last sixteen months… despite feeling closer to God than ever and thus, like the Proverbs woman clothed in strength and dignity who smiles at the future … a woman who now lives most days without fear, regret, and doubt….that woman took a holiday. Today, thankfully, she is back.
While teaching The Life of Pi my eyes filled at the line, “All of life is letting go.” It seems I was brought to Africa to learn this truth more than any other. I had to let go of so much to follow the life in Morocco God planned for me. Being close to family and friends; renting the home and leaving the job where I’d been secure for over twenty years; giving up comforts like water and wifi that never failed, a car to grab what I forgot at the store, a neighborhood and greenway where I’d walk my sweet dog, Ella.
Letting go is painful. Because our natural reflex is to hold on. We fear if we let go we’ll lose something rather than free ourselves to receive gifts God wants to place in our hands. Letting go means losing the illusion of control and stepping out in faith, believing, remembering this leg of the journey was God-mapped though I can’t see where it ultimately will lead. I’m realizing that distance doesn’t mean I’m asked to let go of family and friends. Though I can’t hug them during the holidays, they are with me in my heart, loving me on Skype and in spirit.
Letting go means losing fear—the greatest enemy of the soul. I believe with all my heart, “God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” I just don’t always live it. Like Linus, I’ve been able to drop my security blanket (whatever I contrive and hold onto thinking it will protect me against fallout of a fallen world) when I remember two simple words—a mantra in my Bible: “Fear Not.”
Yesterday as I walked along the Rhine River with God I thanked Him for being my wonderful Counselor, my Prince of Peace. I believe with all my heart He is Emmanuel—God with us. This morning I googled “Daily Devotion” to reset (as I must do every day) my mind to truth. Only truth trumps fear. Up popped this post by Jason Soroskiexplaining the impetus for dropping what we cling to in fear. I’m also grateful for his Part 2, which reminds me why, after letting go, I as a human, pick up my blanket again. I’ve often felt like Charlie Brown–someone who wants to be perfect but never gets it right. I’m thankful for this reminder that I don’t have to. I’m loved by One who will never leave me.
I came to Morocco believing the move would benefit my family, finances, future, and faith. In the latter, I knew I’d find true freedom. I haven’t seen where my story will end and thus fear sometimes still rears its ugly head, but the Christmas story reminds me again that I am to fear not.
On the train ride to Cologne I saw beautiful woods and a river. I knew this trip was what I needed. Though the skies were cloudy and I was striving to trust in the dark what I’d seen in the light, God again was taking me on a journey that would make me lie down in green pastures…lead me beside still waters… restore my soul.
And this Christmas I find comfort and cheer knowing no matter what 2016 holds, no matter where I’ll live, work, serve, that surely goodness and mercy will follow my all the days of my life and I’ll dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused. —Rainer Maria Rilke
When drowned by stress, I go to one of my Happy Places which is often the ocean.
In my 2015 travels one of my happiest solo travel stays was at Hotel Santa Marta –a beauty break amidst botanical gardens winding down, down, down to the shore. Sheer. Bliss.
The near 15-acre (6-hectare) estate is located on its own private bay, Santa Cristina, and was chosen for the opening night party of this year’s European Travel Bloggers Exchange. I had already booked a stay there for a restful retreat after the networking/workshops of the conference ended, but by the time the ship reached sand I was in love with a wonderland lit by sunset.
The Spanish Mediterranean coast is as beautiful as beaches in Southern Italy and France. I was there in spring when, like late fall/winter low season, a single sea view room can be as low as 115 Euro per night. I love boutique hotels for their privacy, but plan ahead because this paradise stays booked, particularly by Europeans who vacation along Costa Brava in high season.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.— Kate Chopin
The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.–Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I loved swimming in the pool and sea, writing on the balcony, and sleeping to the sound of waves in the ultimate room with a view. It’s the perfect solo, group, or romantic retreat in Lloret de Mar.
I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.–-Anna Quindlen
For more on the beauty of Girona and the Costa Brava Coast, see my 5-Part Series (links below) and go here for more information.
There are so many precious moments we take for granted or don’t appreciate until later. Then there are those that while IN the moment, we realize we are happy and THIS time we will never forget. I knew on April 3, 2015 I was in one of those moments.
Since reading Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist–an inspiration for my move abroad– I’ve wanted to see Andalusia–the land of the book’s hero. I always understood why Santiago wanted to see the pyramids. But after seeing the shepherd’s home with Ale and Moni (who live in Vigo, Spain and met me in Tarifa), I marvel that he ever left.
I’ve loved singing in the car with the windows down since I was a kid. We sang with our taxi driver–a warm southerner full of fun and music–who even played one song dedicated to me, a fellow Southerner. So if you are in Tarifa and need a ride to Bolonia Beach, Taxi 21, at the Tarifa Bus Station or 695 080 841 is the way to go. The fee is 25 Euro. Later in the season, a public bus will also be an option, but bet it won’t be as much fun as we had.
I had a spring fling. I fell in love. With Andalusia.
Exhausted, I’d returned to Marrakech the day before from a 12-day, 7-city European tour/ Model United Nations conference with teens. Needing a vacation from that “vacation,” in less than 24 hours I’d washed clothes, repacked, and flew Ryan Air to Spain. In an hour, I was in Seville.
I wanted to relax in the sun after the snow in Russia. I needed time alone, then time with friends, Monica, who had suggested the southernmost tip of her country, and her husband, Ale. I needed to write, drink sangria, eat grilled meat, and wear summer clothes without harassment. I needed to be in a country that celebrates Easter. I needed to feel free again.
Though the distance between Southern Spain and Morocco is merely 35 kilometers and the two cultures share Moorish roots, in many ways they are worlds apart. Those wanting to experience both can fly from Marrakesh to Seville, then take the bus or rent a car to Tarifa. (Details found here.) Or from Marrakech, they can take the train or car, then ferry across. Likewise, some travel from Tarifa to Tangier by ferry for day trips or extended stays. And for those wanting to experience a third culture, they can hop a bus or taxi to British territory, Gibraltar, just 45 kilometers down the beach from Tarifa. The bus ride from Seville began at 8 PM—just in time for creamsicle sunsets and Irish green fields and olive groves.
I arrived at the bus station from Seville near midnight and was so happy to see, as promised, Juan Jose there to drive me to the condo I’d booked. He not only showed me how the kitchen appliances worked, but the pantry and fridge which he’d stocked with coffee, bread, butter, milk, and local olive oil. He showed me the lights of Tangier from the balcony. From The Beatles to the Beat Poets, the likes of The Rolling Stones, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg sought the city’s inspiration. But this trip, I needed distance. I was grateful to be on Spanish soil again—not only because I’d been to Barcelona, but because the country is what a friend calls “the Mothership of Hispanic culture “ which I love and feels even more like home. I fell into bed and slept deeply.
Refreshed, I wrote again while drinking coffee before green grass, sand, and sea. Though I didn’t see whales common to the area April-October, I felt another force of nature creating waves. Here winds created from air pressure where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic range from 45-80 kilometers per hour, making this coast a kite-surfer’s paradise. (The next night I’d be blown so hard walking back to the condo from the Old Town that a new earring I bought that first afternoon would be swept from my ear and lost.)
This is the land of Don Quixote. It was too windy to ride one of the gorgeous Andalusian horses on the beach as I’d hoped, so I wandered into the Old Town, named from the Moorish invader, Tarif Ibn Malik, in the first century. Castillo de Guzman was a walled fortress where long after African rule, the Spanish and British together defended the tower from Napoleon.
Cafe Babel became my wifi/sangria spot, and the next day where I had a Texas-sized plate of local beef. (Everyone in Morocco thinks my accent is Texan, so it seemed fitting.)
Guitarists playing, people laughing, beautiful boutiques with breezy beachwear calling. By the time I left, the saleswomen at Butterfly Tarifa and Natural Chic Tarifa knew my name. And I knew a new name, too. I love MELÉ BEACH resort wear.
That Diane Lane moment in Under the Tuscan Sun when you want to just go for it.
Moni and Ale arrived on my second night in Tarifa. We caught up on the balcony over good wine, then headed to the Old Town for the Easter procession and fresh catch.
During Holy Week, Semana Santa, crowds–Catholic, Protestant (like me), or neither– come to see the processions of decorated floats carrying images Mary and Jesus. In Tarifa the processions begin on two different streets but converge in the city square. In churches floats of Mary and Jesus are cared for by members of cofradías. We saw the Holy Thursday procession with Mary where black-robed “Nazarenos,” or the penitent ones, are in front of the float with a band behind. Monica said Antonio Banderas carries a float annually in Malaga (another coastal city 160 kilometers east of Tarifa.)
On our last day we headed to Bolonia Beach where we explored Roman ruins and ate on the sea. The next day we boarded different busses and hugged goodbye…till June.