Why Pier House Resort Key West is the Ultimate Solo Retreat

Why Pier House Resort Key West is the Ultimate Solo Retreat

*Thanks to Pier House for reviving my mind, heart, body, and soul. As always, the following opinions are my own.

Wishing you could just ride (or sail away) into the sunset?

Sick of winter or overwhelmed by a longer season of taking care of business, children, grandchildren, or parents?

Recently I found the port in the storm I needed.

Sure, Pier House Resort and Spa in Key West is a destination for dream weddings, honeymoons and anniversary celebrations. But it’s also PARADISE if you need a Solo Soul Retreat. A safe harbor of beauty and a launchpad for adventure. A place where I enjoyed some solitude and experienced the kindness of strangers.

If one of your resolutions this year is to take better care of yourself, this is the place. Put it on your Bucket List — not in spite of but because of loved ones depending on you.

Take a quick look at just a few reasons why Pier House Resort & Spa is the #1 place in Key West to rest and reset.

“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Pier House Resort and Spa, a destination in its own right, is located on Fantasy Island, a.k.a Key West. If you’ve heard that all the beaches are manmade and that deters you, don’t let it. An island in the largest living coral reef in the Continental U.S. (and 3rd largest in the world) where you can play in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico is something to behold. Key West is a three-hour scenic drive from Miami, a ferry ride from Fort Myers, and accessible by commercial airlines. 

Key West feels like the Caribbean where I lived for a year minus the worries of what can happen if you leave the resort. The town is the best of Old Florida with a twist of New Orleans quirk. But members of The Conch Republic pride themselves in being different from the rest of the state — or anywhere — for that matter. You have to love rebels with a cause who are celebrating over 40 years of Fun-dependence since they staged a kind-of-coup in 1982. They’re an inclusive bunch, inviting you to celebrate this historic moment with them in April and every sunset year-round.

From the moment I saw from my plane fleets of sailboats bobbing below on emerald, turquoise, aqua, and midnight blue waters, I was smitten. I loved walking down the ramp and across the tarmac to the tiny airport (4 gates) as if in some classic movie. If you’re a romantic, too, I advise you to experience the Key West International Airport before the completion of the expansion in 2024.

Getting around couldn’t be easier. The Lyft driver met me at the pickup point a few steps from Arrivals within 5 minutes of my call. I paid $20 for the 15-minute drive to Pier House, and other than hitching a ride in a Pedicab and sailboat, I enjoyed walking everywhere during my 3-day stay. You can also rent a bike, Vespa, or go-cart to explore the 2 by 4-mile island.

Riding along the Malecón took me back to The Dominican Republic. The temperature was 75, 40 degrees warmer than the temperature in Nashville when I left. Palm trees, oh, how I love palm trees! waved a welcome as did the waves, clear and blue as the sky.

We rode through the Historic District of Old Town Key West where homes and churches circa 1800s – early 20th century line the streets. Pretty in pink, yellow, and blue hues, they have shuttered windows, verandas, and gardens with white picket fences. Similar to architecture in New Orleans, there are stately two-storied, white- columned homes, Spanish Colonials, and Queen Annes with gingerbread trim and whimsical gables, turrets, and towers. The single-storied conch cottages or “cigar houses” built by Cuban cigar makers are charming.

My plan was to drop my bag off at the resort and explore until my room was ready. I’d caught the Allegiant red- eye flight at 6 AM to get the $150 roundtrip deal. Allegiant flies to and from Nashville on Fridays and Mondays only, so I was happy to get an early start on my weekend. I got up with the chickens so I’d decided to have breakfast with the roosters at Blue Heaven built on the site of the Key West Arena in Bahama Village where Ernest Hemingway refereed open-air boxing matches. 

Normally I like getting my bearings in a new place with a low-key food tour where I also get a local’s tip on where to eat. This trip I was THRILLED that I’d be eating meals at the resort not only because the menu looked amazing but also because I was too tired to make decisions. I’d left the house at 3:30 AM, but, to be honest, I arrived weary from becoming a full-time caregiver last April. As I often felt as a single mom from the time my kids were tiny, I just wanted someone to take the wheel. I was armed with a map and directions, but when a pedicab driver with big personality and a cute little friend named Oliver offered me a ride and impromptu tour in his pedicab, I hopped in.

In our short ride I learned about “South Vegas,” saw The Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum, the former home of Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Witness actress who moved to Key West in the early ’90s to raise her family in the friendly, small town), banyan trees, roaming chickens, termites, Mile Marker 0 (end of Highway US 1), and “the best people on the planet.” It was a joy ride.

The Lobster Benedict, live music, and roosters lived up to the hype at Blue Heaven. The wait was over an hour, but you can eat at the bar straight away if there’s an empty chair. I like doing this when alone because it’s a way to meet locals and other travelers who’ll give you their must-sees and don’t-dos. Trey from Ohio who often comes to Key West with his sailing friends sat down beside me and did just that.

Quick Travel Tale for Caregivers on Why Getting Away is Important

As I started breakfast, the lady I’d hired to care for Mom called. I couldn’t hear her questions over the band or understand her text. Afraid something was wrong, I said I’d call her from outside as soon as I paid the check. Trey saw that I was shaking, told the waitress (who was slammed) to add my tab to his, and insisted that I go. He said, “My dad passed away a few months ago. It’s a good thing you’re doing.” I told him I haven’t been doing it so well lately.

I actually felt like a failure. I share this story because 1) there are kind people in the world and plenty of them in Key West, 2) if you’re a caregiver to the elderly and feel isolated, know that you’re not alone. According to the CDC, 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are receiving care at home. Approximately two-thirds of dementia caregivers are women… and approximately one-quarter of dementia caregivers are also caring for children under age 18. 3) Give yourself a break. Mom and I have had fun together and share moments I’ll treasure forever. But some days I’ve felt depressed, irritable, and frustrated, then guilty, because I can’t imagine how hard many days feels to her. A social worker told me that no matter what we do, don’t do, or how we do it, when our parents are gone we feel we should have… could have… done more. She said burnout is real, and if we don’t put on our own oxygen mask we can’t care for others. My mom knew this when my kids were little. She’d take them once or twice a year while I went alone to a Tennessee B & B. I returned a better mother. After Key West, I returned a better daughter.

Beautiful Place

By the time I returned to Pier House, my room was ready. As the video shows, the property is a tropical hideaway in the #1 location in Key West. The address is literally 1 Duval (Duval being the main artery of town pulsing with restaurants, bars, and shopping all the way to the Southernmost Point in the US. Steps from the front door of the resort is Sunset Pier and Mallory Square where folks from everywhere on the 2 x 4- mile island migrate daily to toast the sunset. Everyone is invited to the party. I met new friends there and on the property. Pier House is the perfect place to retreat or engage as needed.

These 2 photos are courtesy of Pier House Resort and Spa Key West

There was room for a party on my balcony, but I enjoyed relaxing to the rhythm of the Gulf below. The view from my comfortable bed in my one-bedroom suite was stunning. Pier House also has two-bedroom Ocean View Suites and a Presidential Suite, which encompasses the entire top floor of the building overlooking the harbour.

The property has 119 rooms, 23 suites, a private beach, pool and hot tub, an award-winning spa, a beach bar and One Duval on the Gulf of Mexico. Pier House was listed #1 Best Hotel in Key West by Southern Living magazine in 2022, received the Experts’ Choice Award in the 2022 Trip Expert Awards, and was voted Top 13 Resorts in the Florida Keys in the 2021 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.

Great People

People who Make Pier House Home

The resort and spa staff took such good care of me I was tempted to never leave. I immediately bonded with Thekla who has been working in the spa for over twenty years. She says Pier House feels like a family. She is from Salzburg, The Sound of Music city I adore and was intrigued about solo travel. I loved hearing about her journey from Austria to the Keys. By the time we were finished, she said she is going to take her first solo trip to her Dream Destination, and I had a podcast episode I’ll share with you soon.

Other staff members who made me feel at home were Roman from The Czech Republic, Joko at the beach bar, Naz and Cristina at One Duval, Marc, bartender at The Chart Room, and Lee, the Concierge who gave me tips to chart my course when I arrived. Turns out, even when I went rogue, he saved the day. Literally.

I saved 2 Bucket List items for last — deep sea fishing and The Hemingway Museum. I planned to call the post, “The Old Lady and the Sea.” Being a do-it-yourself, bargain-hunting kind of girl, I booked a fishing charter online with my go-to tour company. I bought a sunblock shirt at CVS on the corner, a pair of shorts at a $5 shop a local lady volunteered to take me to, and and a pair of wraparound sunglasses. I grew up fishing with my dad on lakes in Kentucky. A Hemingway sort himself, he’d caught a sand shark the one time he fished in Florida. I was soooo excited to finally fish on the high seas.

The Hemingway Museum was amazing. (More on that in another post.) When I stopped by Lee’s desk to ask where to catch the boat for the 2:30 fishing excursion I’d booked, he looked worried. He called the captain. There was no 2:30 trip on Sunday, just one at 8 AM. The captain offered to take me on Monday, but I told him I was leaving the next morning. I wanted to cry.

“Let’s get you on the water,” Lee said kindly.

It was too late to book a fishing charter, but he had many other options. I said a sunset cruise with food, drinks, and live music would be great. I mentioned a rambunctious crew I’d heard on a party boat my first night, but he steered me away. I listened because I’d learned a lesson. Let local pros handle your stay. They truly know best. He broke down several cruises by company, type of ship, food and drink, music, and number of passengers.

Lee’s expertise can also help with parasailing, biking, scuba diving, reef snorkeling, dolphin swimming, jet skiing, rain and trolley rides as well as:

  • Red Barn Theatre
  • Fort Zachary Taylor
  • Harry S. Truman Little White House
  • Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
  • Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
  • Hogs Breath Saloon
  • Sloppy Joe’s Key West
  • Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Key West Acquarium
  • Ernest Hemingway House

Don’t Miss The Chart Room

Pier House was actually built around this institution. Check out photos of Jimmy Buffet starting his career here and other celebrity sorts. Great drinks and free popcorn, peanuts and hot dogs nightly.

The Key West Effect

Poets, pirates, parrotheads, and painters…bikers, hippies, cowboys, and sailors. Boomers to Zoomers … animals with attitudes … in Key West, fun is had by all.

In reel below, I learned at Island Cigar Factory all about Alvin’s Doggy Speed Dating and wedding. And at the Hemingway Museum, cats spread their paws in boredom knowing tourists are searching for that 6th toe. Pets are welcome at Pier House. For a Pet Fee of you get bowls for food and water, luxury pet bed, flashlight and waste bag holder and Pier House treats.  

Fun Fact: The Hemingway Museum consulted a cat therapist to be sure the growing number of descendants of Snow White, a gift to Hemingway’s son, were doing ok. A couple of the cats were enjoying the bed during my tour of the home. Obviously, all is well.

Happy Sails to You, Key West, Until We Meet Again…

Something about the sun melting into the Gulf of Mexico makes everyone happy. Just a few nice folks I met…

I met Dennis and Teri the first night. They had a rental for a month and had biked to Sunset Pier for the Sundown Celebration. Though retired, they help their daughter by caring for grandchildren. Thanks for the Rum Runner!

I met Jane and Joe on the last night on a sunset cruise celebrating Joe’s 75th birthday. They said they aren’t into partying, but found so much history to enjoy in Key West.

Pretty ladies from California enjoying the cruise, too.

By the time we glided into the port that last day, I was a different person. I’m still smiling. My administrator noticed it at our spring semester kickoff meeting, marking my 80th semester of teaching. Last August, I’d started this 40th year clearly exhausted.

“You seem so calm,” she said.

“I am,” I grinned. “I just got back from Key West.”

Any time you need a break is the right time for Key West, but also check out special events, like The Key Lime Festival,Parrot Heads in Paradise, and Fantasy Fest here. Stay tuned for a post on Key West literary events and homes of two guys I stalk —Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams.

Travel is the Ticket to the Life You Want in 2023

Travel is the Ticket to the Life You Want in 2023

Planning new adventures can cure post-holiday blues and cabin fever. Intentional travel can provide what you need and value most for a happier, healthier new year.

Vowing to make travel a priority this year is more than a resolution. It’s the means for fulfilling goals and desires. Time away improves mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Paradoxically, journeys are essential for leading us home to the people we’d like to be.

Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction.

— Rumi

Time away gives space and perspective to…

  • bond with family and friends
  • meet kindred spirits
  • learn something new
  • rest, reset, or reinvent your life
  • scout where you want to spend a gap year or retire
  • be amazed at how big and beautiful the world is

In fact, just PLANNING and anticipating a travel experience makes us happier than a material purchase and the mood lift lasts longer. Travel benefits us before, during, and after the trip by:

  • making us more “mentally resilient”
  • enhancing creativity
  • relieving stress
  • enhancing work productivity
  • providing a new lens to reevaluate ourselves and our home culture
  • motivating us to continue something we enjoyed on vacation once we’re home (i.e.) language, cooking, Latin dancing classes or Meetups

When I started this blog, my focus was to encourage moms to take time outs. Mentors taught me the foreign concept of self-care when I became a single parent. They urged me to take a walk, eat on a pretty patio, or go to a movie when the kids were at their dad’s. I eventually took annual solo trips to a Tennessee B and B and volunteered with strangers in New York City, Ireland, and Italy. Teaching literature is fun, but even better is leading students on educational tours because Saint Augustine was right: “The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page.”

Moving 4400 miles away to survive the empty nest is not for everyone. It was counter-intuitive for a Stage 5 Clinger Mom like me. For years I showed my students Dead Poets Society and sent them off to college with Carpe Diem! Find Kindred Spirits! Fulfill Dreams! After two years in an empty house, I knew that I needed to seize the day before the day ceased. I needed rest, a new purpose, and to see the world with childlike wonder. I needed to live by faith, let go of fear, and begin again. Thank God I did.

When I started writing my book about living abroad, I called it my “No-Mom-Left-Behind Memoir.” I encouraged women to use the empty nest as an opportunity to do what their children were doing — spread their wings. I didn’t realize the window between caring for my children and caring for a parent was already closing. The mom who couldn’t be left behind became my mother rather than me. Since then, I’ve talked with so many empty nesters who I’ve met in passing, reconnected with at a class reunion, and interviewed for Second Harvest Food Bank at food pantries. MANY are caring for partners, parents, in-laws, and grandkids.

Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. According to the Alzheimer’s Association: “More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million. 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.”

According to a new study by AARP, 46% of caregivers are between the ages of 18 and 49. That same study suggests that the average age of a person receiving care is roughly 69. Thus, a mother who gives birth at 29, which is above the average age in the U.S., would likely need some sort of care by the time her child turns 40. Research also shows more women are affected by dementia than men. Worldwide, women with dementia outnumber men 2 to 1. While we live longer than men on the average, dementia is caused by diseases of the brain rather than age alone. 50% of women develop dementia. Travel Therapy has been proven to benefit caregivers and those with dementia, too.

Fulfilling deferred dreams after we retire may not be an option.

My mother, a former Recreational Director at an assisted living facility, often says how thankful she is for the travels she did while working. Most of those trips were with her residents. When I told her I’d been offered a teaching job abroad in 2014, she hugged me and said: “We only go around this way once.”

The Bottom Line

We don’t know how much time we have here. The same is true of places we want to see. In 2021 and 2022 I featured Sarasota, Anna Maria Island, Captiva and Sanibel Islands, and Fort Myers as Top US Destinations. The first two were threatened and the last three pummeled by Hurricane Ian this year. Last summer a trip to The Kentucky Wildlands was cancelled due to catastrophic flooding. In March 2020 my trip to Sicily was snuffed out days before departure. Climate change and a global pandemic have taught me that life as we know it can grind to a halt or mutate at any time.

In light of the Ukrainian War and other humanitarian crises happening now, spending money or time on travel, entertainment, or other luxuries can feel selfish. When I first supported volunteers with travel funds and raised support for service trips I’ve done, I’d wonder… Wouldn’t that money be better spent if sent to program directors who would give it directly to the people in need? Now I know that getting involved up- close- and- personal builds ongoing relationships, raises awareness of needs, multiplies resources exponentially, and makes us more empathic global citizens.

Travel is an investment. It’s the best form of education I know. Thanks to international teaching, leading students on service and educational trips abroad, and travel writing, I’ve had experiences that I could have never imagined or afforded on my own. I’ve met people on the road serving with the Peace Corps and other non-profit organizations, working remotely for US and European companies, running tour companies, managing hotels, and waiting tables who are adding value to others’ lives while loving their own.

I love the story of the single mom who started the “coffee can revolution” that Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, shared. There are many resources online for funding travel and living abroad. I’m now enjoying Kate Jordan’s How to Quit Your Job and Travel the World. Even though much has changed since 2015 when it was published, she still gives inspiration and practical tips for finding work abroad for an extended travel or expat experience.

My children are grown now, but we continue making memories traveling. Our favorite holiday gifts weren’t wrapped in boxes under a tree. We still speak of that Christmas in London and Marrakesh. And the holiday trip to New Orleans. This Christmas my daughter, Taylor, and I received the most exciting gift ever. My son, Cole, surprised us with tickets for a March getaway to California. We’ll return to Santa Monica, our favorite summer vacation spot ever, and drive to Palm Springs. Next week my sister will join me on a blogging trip to Key West, and in June, the dream of leading a writing retreat in Morocco is finally happening. We have a couple of spots left if you’re interested.

So where do you need to go this year? What do you want to do, learn, see, or be?

Lonely Planet’s Ideas for Learning Something New

I love Road Scholar, a non-profit travel adventure company. They offer financial assistance from donors to folks over 50 with need. If you or someone you know is a caregiver or educator wanting to get away, see below. They also have trips that don’t charge more for singles as well as online adventure scholarships. Road Scholar is my kind of people!

Grants for Caregivers at Road’s Scholar

No Solo Traveler Fees at Road’s Scholar

Educator Scholarships

Have you booked a trip already? Where are you going? Know of other travel learning experiences you’d like to share in the comments?

Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

All great stories start with “What if?”Author Angela Correll

After the rush of the holidays, winter is a time to slow down, to get still, to sit by a fire in a quiet place where we can listen to longings and hear our hearts speak. For many of us, this requires getting away. We need a respite to reflect, recharge, reset. And if there’s been a stirring in our souls, if we’re seeking something different, a place to consider new possibilities. A place to ask, “What if?”

In mid-December, I drove into a town that had inspired the book I was reading. It looked like the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie and the community described sounded Hallmark-close and friendly, too. I couldn’t wait to meet the author who has created a one-of-a-kind experience. I did. After the weekend I drove out of town feeling rested and inspired to take on whatever the new year brings. 

Please listen to this conversation I had with Best-selling Author Correll in this special edition of Travel People: Living Authentic Lives, Finding Kindred Spirits, Fulfilling Dreams.

In a new year when we try to focus on the positive, she inspires us to see problems as possibilities, to create something for our souls and others, to remember what matters most, and to embrace our roots and spread our wings. 

We met  in Stanford, Kentucky where she lives on a farm with her husband, Jess. The novels of her May Hollow trilogy –  Grounded, Guarded, and Granted– are based largely on life in this small town with a big heart. She and Jess are the creators of the Wilderness Road Hospitality Group that has built a stronger sense of community here. In Part 1 of the interview she explains how they went from milking goats to saving and renovating historic homes. How they built two restaurants, an Inn, and are building another. Angela talks about the importance of close community not only in Kentucky but in a Tuscan village, Montefollonico, where she and Jess have a home and are renovating rentals for retreats and vacations.

Like Annie and Jake in her trilogy, Angela and Jess have quite the love story. Their travel experiences are the stuff of fairytales, and they enjoy the best of all worlds with homes in Kentucky and Tuscany.  What I love most is that while she was still a single woman who lived in Lexington with good friends and  a job that provided amazing travel experiences, she felt a pull toward another life. She wanted to live on a farm. She knew that nature feeds her  soul. She says she knew God was turning her in a new direction, but had no idea how she’d get there. God fulfilled the desires of her heart in ways she didn’t expect.

Lisa, our mutual friend who is also a writer and Italophile, introduced us by email because she though we had a lot in common. Angela and I both went to The University of Kentucky, lived in Lexington, and lived on farms. Our grandfathers were farmers. We grew up in small Kentucky towns. For her, it was Danville. For me, Hopkinsville. She strives to write about the “good, true, and beautiful” for a mainstream audience. No matter how much we love travel and exploring other countries, we recognize our native language — SouthernSpeak.

Angela’s books have been adapted to the stage for sold-out performances at the Pioneer Playhouse, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater. Their themes — navigating family, romantic love, purpose and passion, our need for community— are universal. Like Thornton Wilder’s classic, Our Town or Jan Karon’s Mitford series, her books are timeless.

We’re not super easy to get to. We’re an hour south of Lexington’s small airport but we think that’s part of the charm. When you come you’re going to pull away from everything. You can let your blood pressure drop, be fully present, and receive peace. –Angela Correll

I finished Grounded while I was on her stomping ground. Spending time with her characters felt like Old Home Week (a southern church tradition of my childhood that meant dinner on the ground or potluck in the fellowship hall). I recognized some of Annie’s grandmother in both of mine – one that fried country ham, then simmered it in water to make it tender every Christmas morning. Another who watched Billy Graham specials and tucked me in under quilts.  I recognized generational struggles over the need for dishwashers, cable, and the internet. Over expressions like “You can’t expect a man to buy the cow if he is getting the milk for free.”

Her grandmother’s farmhouse with its creaking floors took me back to the homes in the country of 3 great-aunts. They, too, gathered eggs from ornery hens and didn’t lock their doors. Stripping tobacco, guns and gardens, Blue Willow China, Bluegills and the Farmers’ Almanac. “Widow Women,” “young folk,” “up North,” “down South”… all reminders of my childhood. The comfort food sent me back to Nashville on a mission to make break green beans, cook them with new potatoes, fry up some crappie, bake a chess pie, and chase it all with sweet tea. 

Her reference to Genuine Risk, the 1980 Derby winner the year I married, took me back to Lexington when I lived on a horse farm. So did this description of Wildcat Mania.

The restaurant walls were covered with black and white pictures of local celebrities. Featured prominently were the University of Kentucky basketball and football coaches, and some of the players, both past and present. Even Hollywood stars like Ashley Judd, George Clooney and Johnny Depp were proudly featured Kentuckians. The fare was fine Angus steak, grass-finished and locally grown, served in an atmosphere of dark paneled walls and white table linens.

A romantic, I cried and was satisfied at the end of her first book, but I appreciate that the story didn’t stop there. She wrote a trilogy as if to ask, “What if … a fairytale ending of boy gets girl isn’t the end of the story? Aren’t relationships more complicated?”

Career struggles, abandonment issues, financial troubles, gossips, family secrets, depression… it’s all here. But there’s something about this place that is so familiar and comforting that I listen to the Audible versions as bedtime stories. Maybe because I spent a weekend in the world of the novel where people care for each other, stop and talk on the street, remembered my name. Maybe because in a world of troubles and negativity, I need to stay grateful and focused on the positive this year.

The Stanford Inn includes the cottages but in the works are additional lodging spaces including more hotel rooms (larger than the current Inn rooms) on Main Street. 

If you need to finish an artistic project– book, painting, documentary–on your own or want the direction/support of a group, listen to Part 2 of the interview where Angela discusses her writing journey and options for retreats and creative community in Stanford and Italy.

Part 2 of Podcast Interview with Angela Correll on Writing and Writing Retreats

May Hollow Trilogy by Angela Correll in her Soaps and Such Store, Main Street, Stanford, Kentucky
Esther’s Wellhouse
Amy at Esther’s Wellhouse gave me a great massage. See her in video. She drives an hour from Lexington to work because she loves it here.
I grew up on Rutland’s Barbecue in Hopkinsville, KY. My dad brought it home from work. I’ve been partial to Western Kentucky Barbecue but this at the Bluebird Restaurant was AMAZING.
Sara, House Manager of Bluebird, who made me feel at home every time I dropped in.
Savannah was my sweet server at Bluebird. She lives in Pulaski County but drives to Stanford. Since the renovations of the Wilderness Road Group, the town has changed. She said there wasn’t much here when she was a kid, but now “everything is in Stanford.”
Sarah with Hot Cider at Kentucky Soaps and Such
The store was full of people of all ages gift shopping and catching up.
Many books by Kentucky authors (and many selections from Italy)
The weekend lives on… loved my coffee cup from this collection and the soaps at Kentucky Soaps and Such
I wrapped these soaps from Kentucky Soaps and Such and used them as decorations/gifts on my Christmas table. Inside each, I placed a question the recipient asked the other family members and answered. We all learned new things about each other.

Thank you Angela and Wilderness Road for incredible hospitality. As always, opinions on this blog are my own.

Help Rebuild Fort Myers, Florida

Help Rebuild Fort Myers, Florida

*The post below was published in December of 2021 naming Fort Myers a 2022 Best Destination. As of this update published on October 16 2022, Fort Myers is rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Ian (see NPR photos below).

https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2022/09/29/1125903958/hurricane-ian-florida-photos

To find out ways to help, please go here:

https://www.fortmyersbeach.org/hurricane-ian-recovery-how-you-can-help/

Do you have post-holiday letdown or New Year’s Eve dread? Do you feel deflated — like a Christmas yard decoration lying in a heap upon the ground?

There’s a way to flip your mood, stretch yourself like a starfish, and feel happy as a clam. Ok, cliches aside…

Even if you’re not a beach person, celebrating the new year on the southwest coast of the Sunshine State has many benefits. Booking a stay in Fort Myers, Florida, “The City of Palms,” is a really great plan. 

If you’ve joined my two-year expedition down the southwestern coast of Florida, you know that I’ve fallen in love with this area of the state. Here I’ve found the white sand and clear aquamarine waters that I played in as a child on the Panhandle’s Emerald Coast. But I’ve also found educational, historical, and cultural treasures. I’ve felt welcome in a community that still marvels at manatees and dolphins and salutes sunsets with bagpipes, conch shells, and guitars. 

Built in 1901 as the Bradford Hotel, The Arcade Theatre opened in 1914 as a Vaudeville house and in the 1920s became a movie theater.

Why Travel?

If wellness is a goal for the new year, multiple studies have shown that merely planning travel gives our mood an instant boost. Amy Blankson, author of The Future of Happiness and authority on health and wellness in the digital era, explains in Psychology Today:

The anticipation and sense of hopefulness for better times can keep us motivated and excited for the delayed gratification of a getaway. This ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ often has a long-term mood-boosting effect and can help us relax as it puts us in the mind frame of a more soothing future.

And about that light…

Sunlight provides Vitamin D and releases higher levels of serotonin which lowers anxiety while elevating mood, focus, sleep, and immunity. (I can attest to the power of perpetually sunny skies. While living in Marrakesh, Morocco, I felt happier and had more energy year-round.)

Travel is also a way to reconnect with people we love as we create shared memories of precious moments. Solo travel provides opportunities to reconnect with ourselves and Creator as we discover (or remember) our passions and purpose. It can also push us to make new friends.

A getaway provides escape into a new world where we can try on another life, explore, learn. It provides not only adventure but also perspective. Miles create distance from our problems, sadness, or stress. We can rest, recover, rethink, and reset when we see the Big Picture. Sometimes this means rising above obstacles and changing our focus literally. I’ll never forget the beauty I saw and gratitude I felt looking down from a balcony on a Spanish hillside or out from ramparts on the African coast. Morocco taught me the gift of rooftops whether places to gather or to be alone. I started 2021 by looking down on the lights of Sarasota from a rooftop New Year’s Eve party at Art Ovation Hotel. I ended it by looking down on Fort Myers from Beacon, the appropriately named rooftop of the luxurious Luminary, another hotel in the Autograph Collection® of Marriott International. (No surprise that their 2022 Rooftop NYE Party quickly sold out, but you can still see fireworks and the Ball Drop at the New Year’s Eve Downtown Countdown. )

View of Fort Myers Bridge from Luminary Hotel Rooftop

Finds in The Franklin Shops on Main Street, Fort Myers, reminded me that travel inspires us to…

Inspiration found in Franklin Shops, Main Street, Fort Myers

Why Fort Myers?

If you like winters with sunny skies and 70 degree temperatures… a walkable downtown with eclectic shopping and dining outdoors on rooftops, by the river, or along a red-bricked Main Street… art galleries, live music, museums, theatre, symphony, opera, or ballet… Spanish Floridian, Art Deco, or Modern architecture… inspiring and beautiful places like the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, … then this is your place. Seriously, the downtown area is one of the prettiest I have seen.

Main Street Fort Myers, Florida
The original Ford’s Garage (located on Main Street just a few blocks from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates) is the place for craft beer and a burger. Vintage Fords and gas pumps give it a 1920s service station feel while the copper bar recalls the Speakeasys.
And speaking of Speakeasys, Capone’s
You could make a day of exploring vintage and consignment shops here.

Other Reasons to Choose Fort Myers for a Getaway

Location

Approximately 20 miles from downtown Fort Myers are Fort Myers Beach located on Estero Island, Sanibel Island, and Captiva Island with world-famous shelling, wildlife preserves, and an “Old Florida” feel. And if you’re up for a vast adventure, The Everglades, an UNESCO World Heritage site, is only two hours away.

Fort Myers Beach Photo Courtesy of Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel

Attractions for All Kinds of Travelers in All Seasons

In 2021, MSN, Travel & Leisure, HGTV, Fodor’s Travel, Fishing Booker, Country Living, U. S. News & World Report, Yahoo Life, Coastal Living named Fort Myers, Sanibel, and Captiva as top getaways for many reasons, such as uncrowded family-friendly beaches and outdoor spaces, tropical beauty, charm, island living, wildlife, shelling, fishing spots, and other hidden treasures. And I can vouch for its allure for couple, family, friend, or solo getaways because I’ve experienced all of them there myself.

My romance with Fort Myers Beach started in 2020. In April 2021, my daughter and I recharged and reconnected on Captiva Island. In early December 2021, I returned for an unforgettable writing conference and community event (more on that later), then ended the week solo in downtown Fort Myers at Luminary. 

Located In the historic Downtown River District on the Caloosahatchee River, the AAA Four Diamond luxury property — the first in the area of the Autograph Collection® of Marriott International — first lit up the waterfront and city in late 2020. The hotel, decor, and restaurants are named for visionaries and innovators (such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford whose winter estates are within walking distance) who converted Fort Myers from a cattle town to a historical, cultural center. Today snowbirds, locals, and tourists flock to the 12th floor rooftop bar nightly to do what’s customary in these parts, watch legendary sundowns with a drink or meal.  My room was perfect. I felt like Kate Winslet in The Holiday when she raised some fancy window shades with a remote, read in bed, and took a dip in the pool below. The shower/bathroom was the largest I’ve seen in a hotel suite and the branding throughout was very Gatsby.

Sincere thanks to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, Luminary Hotel, the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, for your hospitality. You fed my mind, body, and soul with art, beauty, random roaming, and coral skies of hope.

Planning Your Trip

To plan your trip, start here.

I’ve used Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) twice and Dolphin Transportation and Punta Gorda Airport (Allegiant Air) once, both about a 30-minute drive from downtown Fort Myers.

When you arrive, you can also pick up the Southwest Florida Guide to the Arts: Gulfshore Life with a listing of events and coupons in the back with discounts.

Just a few of Hundreds of Happenings in 2022

Florida Rep‘s A Doll’s House, 2 and Driving Miss Daisy

Gulfshore Opera‘s A Night in Italy, Songs of Ireland, Tosca

Broadway Palm Dinner Theater‘s Singin’ in the Rain, Escape to Margarittaville, and In the Heights

Gulfcoast Symphony concerts from Led Zeppelin to Frank to Billy Jo

In March, the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival and Parade

In May, Fort Myer Film Festival

In June Captivaville

More here

Sarasota County Part 2: Where Locals and Tourists Go for Health, Wellness, and To Give Back

Sarasota County Part 2: Where Locals and Tourists Go for Health, Wellness, and To Give Back

Disclosure: Thank you VisitSarasota.com and partners for the hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.

Sarasota County: Part 2

Wellness is one of many reasons U. S. News and World Report named Sarasota, FloriDa the #1 Place 2020-2021 to Retire and the #16 Best Place to Live.
LOVE LOVE LOVE Pineapple Yoga + Cycling Studio

So how are those 2021 health and fitness goals going? January 1, I kicked off  the new year making wellness a priority at Pineapple Yoga + Cycling Studio–a highlight of my Sarasota County trip

While vacationing on the west coast of Florida the previous two winters, I saw happy, fit folks of all ages everywhere. Snowbirds love this area–maybe now more than ever– because, unlike the northern parts of the state or most of the US, it’s warm enough to socially distance outdoors all year. Only an outside studio could have coaxed me into a class the morning after celebrating New Year’s Eve, but I’d missed my yoga studio in Nashville, closed due to Covid now for almost a year. I had just restarted the practice that gave me peace, joy, and community while living in Marrakesh, and though I’ve done some online classes since the pandemic started, it hasn’t been the same.  So I traded my comfortable bed at Art Ovation Hotel for one of the bikes they provide and took off on empty but sunny streets.

I enjoyed the ride through the Burns Court neighborhood. When I arrived at the studio–a haven that Claudia Baeza has created in Sarasota–I  instantly felt welcome,  energized. Something also seemed very familiar…like a Moroccan coastal yogi retreat.  

Please watch the video below to understand why, meet some amazing ladies, hear about a haven for locals and tourists…and a model for giving back.

I understand why locals love Pineapple Yoga + Cycling Studio, named in Sarasota Magazine Best New Yoga Studio 2019 and in SRQ Magazine, Best Local Yoga Studio 2020. On-demand classes, online teacher training , studio and live streaming, and here’s just a few events: history yoga classes, Dock Yoga at Marina Jack on Valentine’s Day, Poolside Yoga at the Moderns Sarasota Hotel, Moving Meditation at the Ringling Museum, Throwback 90 Outdoor Yoga Party. AND… check out other experiences offered on beach, boat or paddle board here. Take me back please!

Best of all, staying fit and having fun funds the Dharma Footprint Project so others can, too–so many incredible programs for those listed here AND their care-partners : Yoga and Cycling for Parkinson’s, Love Your Brain™ Yoga (LYBY) for those who have experienced a TBI (traumatic brain injury) or concussion, Y12SR yoga with 12-step programs for addiction recovery, Trauma Sensitive Yoga for Anxiety and Depression, Yoga for Veterans, Yoga for Differently Disabled.

I loved meeting Claudia, a kindred spirit. If you saw the end of the video, stay tuned… when the coast is clear we just may team up in Morocco for a writing and yoga retreat!

Some of Sarasota County’s many wellness opportunities, outdoor sports, adventures on the water and an unbelievable list of gorgeous beaches and parks make for a healthy 2021 body, mind, and soul.

Here’s a few I’d like to try:

Canopy Walk at Myakka River State Park 
Mangrove Tunnels

My podcast guest, Morgan Henderson, talked about the fun her boys had on this family field trip they did during remote school. 

Quick Point Nature Reserve at Longboat Key
Epic Equine Experiences

Photo Credit Epic Adventures

Turtle Beach Campground Waterfront Siesta Key
Bike Tour and Siesta Key Sunset Tour
And of course, my favorite thing about Sarasota County…. miles of beaches for walking, running, shell gathering … exercise, mental health, peace.

Siesta Key, Named #1 US Beach, Photo by VisitSarasota.com

 

 Where to Eat for Health and Wellness

After my January 1 class, I biked through a park, around the corner, and up Main Street for brunch.

 

Main Street, Sarasota, Florida

 

Sarasota has been named the Best City for Vegans in America.
My son. has been vegan for a few years and has opened my mind and tastebuds to some delicious dishes. Lila, recommended by locals, was a great choice. Pronounced Lee-lah, translated as fun, whimsical and creative, the eatery lives up to its name.

Grilled Tofu with Lila’s Dragon Sauce

Ginger Margarita, Macro Bowl with Chickpeas, Brown Rice, Fermentlicious Sauerkraut,  Avocado, Cucumber, Warm Kale, Togarashi, Tumeric-Tahini Vinaigrette. Dessert wan a cappuccino before I hit the road and biked back to the hotel.

I love that Sarasota County  is  known for  Clean Conscious Eating. Here are more suggestions.

MORE ON PINEAPPLE STUDIO and BEACHES HERESARASOTA COUNTY, FLORIDA, BEST OF ALL WORLDS: PART 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feedspot Names Southern Girl Gone Global a Top 35 Baby Boomer Travel Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2021

Feedspot Names Southern Girl Gone Global a Top 35 Baby Boomer Travel Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2021

Thank you, Feedspot, for naming Southern Girl Gone Global on  your Top 35 Baby Boomer Travel Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2021.  

Feedspot is a content reader that simplifies life by combining websites and blogs you follow into one space. They also match brands with 100k influential Bloggers in over 1500 niche categories for marketing.

I’m honored and humbled to be listed with bloggers I admire for their adventurous spirits, humor, and commitment to inspiring and equipping those planning to travel or live abroad.  Just a few mentions from the list…

Are you dreaming of living in Portugal or Scotland? Of visiting there for a month?  Check out the recent posts of Life Part 2 where a retired couple living in Porto, Portugal gives us the costs. I LOVED Porto (and not just because J.K. Rowling juggled teaching, having a child, and writing the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Lello Bookstore, inspiration for Hogwarts.)  Also see their posts on Sicily (where a lot of us were meeting for the Travel Writers Exchange last March until Covid shut it down 🙁 . One day…

Also see stunning shots of Utah and the Free Boomer Walking Tour of Prague, a city I also love, on  My Itchy Travel Feet

Been streaming or rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy and ready to head to New Zealand?  Albom Adventures has the scoop.

Barbara Weibel of Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel is a lady I’d like to hang out with for awhile. See all she has done since 2007 when she followed her passions and found true joy.

I love the idea of traveling with my brunette sister. Check out how that’s working out for these two on Blonde Brunette Travel sisters. 

And this lady–Suzanne Fluhr–of Boomeresque has entertained, informed, and inspired readers for years. She has built a community of female boomer bloggers and I’m happy to call her my friend.

2020 Vision from Lessons Learned

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.

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Life Lessons for 2020

Rising from Travel Trauma

Rising from Travel Trauma

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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Caroline’s Rooftop

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Marylynn (left) and Martina (center)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Riad Melhoun Makes Dreams Come True

Riad Melhoun Makes Dreams Come True

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From the moment I walked into Riad Melhoun, I was treated as an honored guest and  friend. Maybe I loved the experience of this stay because the blend of Arabic- Andalusian architecture and music felt so familiar after living in Morocco and visiting southern Spain often.  Like Santiago who traveled from Andalusia to Tangier in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I’d journeyed to this mysterious country where dreams and destiny converged. As I was warmed by the traditional welcome, mint tea, I gazed into the shimmering pool which reflected a silver service, an exotic hookah, and a woman forever changed by two years in this place.

Maybe I loved Riad Melhoun because it, too, is a reflection of art and history– wood carvings, stucco, and design inspired by the Bahia Palace nearby and the Medersa Ben Youssef.

Maybe it was being shown to the superior Amessan suite, making any woman feel like a princess with the canopied bed and decorative doors opening exclusively  to the courtyard pool. On the second floor were seven other sumptuous rooms.

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Maybe it was the attention to details–matching tile sinks, arched doorways and alcoves,  stain glass windows, bedding, lanterns, soft robe and slippers, and a spacious shower.

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Maybe I felt at home because  I wrote for hours under the arbor on the rooftop. Being outdoors is paradise to me despite insects that love lush gardens, too. If you enjoy  camping out as I do everywhere I go, repellent is a suggestion.

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Truly taking pride in the details, the staff plans excursions with guests. Though I stayed on the property,  Riad Melhoun delivered my Big 3–beauty, adventure, and new friends.

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I met guests waiting for the sunset on the rooftop, like this gentleman from China who showed me how drones work.

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As the night grew dark and lanterns were lit, I went down to dinner and found my table set at the end of the pool. Thrilled, I took my seat. On the pristine cloth, to my delight, were red rose petals.  Again I thanked God for blessings as I’d done that afternoon in the memoir I am writing about moving to Morocco. It’s called Roses in the Desert.  As a solo traveler I am accustomed to eating alone. Here I felt  special and with attentive staff never felt alone.

 

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The next morning I found my place on the rooftop. Local honey is loved here by Moroccans, tourists, and bees.

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Riad Melhoun has a spacious spa where massages and hammams can be booked. I had missed hammams, Morocco’s signature treat, so enjoyed one before leaving.   This ritual originated in public bathhouses separated by gender for those with no indoor plumbing to bathe weekly. Women socialized here. Recently on tour with a local guide in Tétouan, I learned  the three most important mainstays of the medina are the mosques, hammams, and bakeries.

I love private hammams performed by a lady who instructs clients to disrobe and lie on the hot stone bench in a marble room with dry heat like a sauna. She poured water over me from a silver bucket and smeared me on both sides with savon beldi (a blackish looking soap made with olive oil). She left me ten minutes to relax allowing the heat and oil to soften my skin. When she returned, she scrubbed away the top  layer of  dead flesh (which peels off in rolls) with a kess (a mit akin to sandpaper). Next she covered me in argan oil by Sens of Marrakech (a local, organic, fragrant line of products), and left me again to “bake.” She returned, washed my hair and rinsed my body. Finally she massaged lotion into my then-baby-soft skin. She wrapped me in a robe and sat me down in a cooler room for mint tea.

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The only  problem was, I felt so relaxed after the experience I could barely walk downstairs. Thankfully, I was packed up so all I had to do was tumble into a tuk tuk to be whisked away to another adventure. so thankful Riad Melhoun was a dream come true.

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Thank you to Manager Mr. Mohamed and his wonderful staff for their hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.

 

Riad Matham for Rooftop Oasis and Supreme Sunsets in Morocco

Riad Matham for Rooftop Oasis and Supreme Sunsets in Morocco

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Upon arrival, I met the Ambassador of Riad Matham, Cous Cous the Tortoise. Photo credit  @katemoroccobespoke

Riad Matham offers guests the magic and mystery of the Marrakech medina. Built in the 16th century by a wealthy Berber family, the traditional Moroccan home provides an  intimate courtyard with seven comfortable rooms–some with private salons– named for Moroccan dynasties.  

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Photo credit @katemoroccobespoke

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I really enjoyed the large Almoravide suite’s bed, bath, and private salon. Depending on season, it runs from 79Euros to 98 Euros. Other rooms start as low as 53 Euros.

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Arabic Alphabet

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Bougainvillea cascades down three stories reminding me of Morocco’s Ozoud Falls.

Novice nomads  who lack time or energy to caravan by camel across the Sahara Desert can lounge in wide, open spaces on the roof. On pristine couches, friends sipped wine as I climbed the lookout for sunset watch with the doves.  The panoramic view is one of the best I’ve experienced–perfect for stargazing, too.

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Though tucked away on a narrow street , the riad is close to shops and major landmarks (three minutes to Museum of Marrakech, Medersa Ben Youssef, and Photography Museum of Marrakech; ten minutes to  Jema El Fna square).  Julien, owner of Riad Dar Kleta and manager of Riad Matham, gives great directions for navigating the area and makes guests feel welcome.

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I recommend wandering through nearby La Jardin Secret Marrakech (50 Moroccan Dirhams/$5 USD) where fountains and fields of lavender soothe on a summer day.  The property, dating back more than 400 years to the Saadian Dynasty,  recently opened for the first time in history to the public.

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Great Caesar Salad on the Terrace

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The view for sunsets here is incredible. I climbed the lookout for sunset watch with the doves.  Stargazing is also highly recommended.

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Perched

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Dinner can be ordered but arrange early to allow shopping for fresh ingredients. Breakfast is served by the plunge pool.

Thank you to Riad Matham for their hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.