New WEEKEND ESCAPE Series to Inspire Travel & Global Experiences at Home: Dinner and a Movie

I’m starting this series to inspire real life travel, celebrate global culture found at home, and feed the soul. In the summer of 2014 just before I moved abroad from Nashville, I saw Chef at the theater and loved it. Although the soundtrack has been on my plane playlist since I rushed home and downloaded it, I hadn’t seen the movie again until last night. A great getaway, Netflix and Chef took me on a food tour that stopped in Miami, New Orleans, Austin and Los Angeles.  (I’ve been considering a streamline retro trailer life in the US for awhile now.)

I had no idea after two years in Morocco I’d end up living in the Caribbean, but given my love of Latin culture in Nashville—the music, dance, food—it makes sense. Last fall the Santo Domingo Food Truck Festival felt like home. In fact, downtown workers in Music City say the best part of the workweek is Street Food Thursdays.  But this movie, starring Jon Favreau as Everyman Chef Carl Caspar, serves up more than culinary masterpieces and comfort food– a grilled cheese sandwich turned art, a Cubana this carnivorous girl raised on Western Kentucky pork craved.  It’s for those who fancy food…eaters and cooks…and those who love a good story.  (Foodies can check out this space with recipes from the film (and other films) thanks to Judie Walker’s story here.)

Most will be able to relate… wanting to do what you felt you were put on this earth to do but feeling held back in (or from) the dream job…parents co-parenting across two households… dads and sons wanting to connect but not sure how …the bullying and blessing of social media… a career crisis that can rend or mend a family. Performances, funny, real, and warm, are given by an interesting cast— Emjay Anthony (Percy), compelling ten-year-old son of Carl and Inez (Sophia Vergara); Marvin (Robert Downey, Jr.) as the first husband, Riva (Dustin Hoffman) as the creativity-crushing boss, Molly (Scarlett Johansson) as faithful friend, and Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), the callous, caustic food critic who ignites a Twitter War and change. An added treat is live performances of “Oye Como Va” and “La Quimbumba” by legendary Cuban singer, Jose Caridad Hernandez, who plays Abuelito.

The film written and directed by Favreau  with the help of consultant/food truck Chef Roy Choi of Kogi Korean BBQ  won nods including Audience Award for Best Narrative at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and in 2015 Best Comedy given by the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards.

Be prepared to plan a southern road trip to NOLA for beignets from Café du Monde, Little Havana for Cubanas at Hoy Como Ayer, or some blues at Franklin Barbecue.  Even better, the film will help anyone who feels he/she may have lost his/her way or is simply afraid to turn in the direction to which we’ve been called for a long time.  E. E. Cummings said “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Growing pains are real no matter our age, and change for the better usually comes after we are pushed from our comfort zones and, thus, really scared. For years I’ve taught literature students the hero’s quest  which is all of our journeys. When called to adventure–our bigger story and unique purpose God put us here to do–we often, at first,  back away from the call.  When we do accept it, there will be obstacles, but I believe it’s the way out of living the lives of quiet desperation Henry David Thoreau said sadly most people accept.  Carl is faced with a choice though he feels he has none.  Sometimes it takes a lot for us to heed our hearts.

Carl: “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve always known what I was going to do and now I’m lost.”

Molly: “I think that’s a good place to start.”

Food Truck Fest in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic…

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Wisdom Wanted for the New Year

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It was a good day.

My coworkers in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic  greeted me Latin-style after our being off for 3 weeks for Christmas break. Hugs. Kisses.  Big smiles.  “Happy New Year!” “Feliz ano nuevo!”

On my way to the grocery an older lady saw me trying to cross the street in the rain and scooped me under her umbrella. She talked to me like a mom in Spanish. We braved the crazy traffic together.  After that I made my ultimate comfort food, Irish Beef Stew.

My mom is feeling better after receiving treatment today in Nashville. My sister– truly our family’s Florence Nightingale–got her a doctor’s appointment. My aunt drove her to and from Kentucky.

My daughter is at the Vanderbilt-Kentucky game with her boyfriend and dad. She sounds happy. My son messaged back that all is good with him in Knoxville.

Yesterday I talked with a former student who graduated in the ‘80s.  Now retired, he reached out and said it was on his Bucket List to have a conversation with me because I made an impact on him and some of his friends. A very wise and creative person, veteran, survivor he knows how much I want to write a memoir to share what I’ve seen and learned to encourage others.  Understanding my frustration of never having enough time to write, he advised me to be ok with where I am–of doing what I can do– because we may never achieve all we had hoped, and that is reality, and we are still enough.  He reminded me not to languish over where I think I should be or want to be. To un-clutter my mind and not allow worry to pierce my heart. To be ok with doing what I can do each day no matter how seemingly small the accomplishment or far the goal.  Because, paradoxically, when we stop worrying, obsessing,  we’re freed to move toward what we seek.

Today I talked with my gone-back-to-school friend.   Both of us have had full-on panic attacks—me last fall and her today. We needed to know we are not alone. I reminded her to be as kind to herself as she is to others. To let go of perfection, over- achievement. To not sacrifice what is most important—like her health–in the pursuit of making others healthy.

Tonight I am continuing the course taught by Elizabeth Gilbert  that my single mom/songwriter friend recommended on creativity and finding your life’s purpose.  Eat, Pray, Love inspired me and millions to do more than travel–to take a soul journey solo. Today she is a life coach not only by example but also by design offering video sessions and an online supportive community of other creatives (which by her definition would be anyone who tries to consistently choose curiosity over fear) seeking to live their best lives possible. She distinguishes between hobby, job, career, and vocation and provides journal exercises to determine what we care about most, why we care about it, and how to start doing it daily.  She believes creativity is about becoming a student of whatever lights up our brains like a cat scan.

She says the creative life is about humility. And service. She basically says what Hal Thurman did (my favourite quote which I’ve shared with readers and students for years): “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I love that she advised bloggers not to worry about building a big platform.   Rather, she says:  “Serve the platform you have.  Do you have five followers on Facebook? Serve them.”  She mentions her blogger friend who shares what many are afraid to say about being a mom and wife. That kind of transparency and authenticity has organically drawn a huge audience because it helps others–something I’ve wanted to do whether teaching or writing.  I want to share in a memoir what I’ve seen and learned, but until that book happens, I need to show up more on the blog while still on the journey.  I need to let go of perfectionism which causes me to labor so long over what I want to say that posts  end up in my unpublished drafts folder.  Though I work more than 40 hours per week so have authors I’ve heard speak since I first started attending the Southern Festival of Books. Many said they show up every single day before their “day job.”   I’m a morning person so have pledged this is the year I’ll write two hours before work every morning and not wait for the perfect time like weekends or school breaks.   And so I write this…

Simply.

Humbly.

Quickly. (Ok, I have edited it a few times since posting.)

Immersed in a culture that just celebrated Three Kings’ Day I was reminded of the Wise Men who brought gifts to Christ.  And this I know:  I want wisdom in 2017.  In 2016 my word was “Hope.” Then…”Wait.”  So far this year it’s “Wisdom.”

Last fall was a stormy season–ranked just shy of Category 5 for more reasons than Hurricane Matthew.  My mantra then and still was, “No say,” which translates, “I don’t know.” I don’t.

I’ve been confused about many things that have happened and especially about what’s to come.  I don’t know what job/career will come next.  I enjoy teaching those who want to learn, editing, proofreading, promoting, recruiting, and, of course, traveling.  I want to be closer to family again.  The perfect life, it seems, would be full of writing, traveling, friends and family.  As I’ve said many times before–roots and wings.   I don’t know where I’ll live having sold my house last year.  Or what I’ll drive having given my son my car.    But I don’t have to know.  Until God opens the next door I’m thankful for each day–for where I am now.   And I’ve thankful that, as Elizabeth says, the font of creativity (and I believe, wisdom or anything else good) isn’t us. She reminds that before Renaissance humanism, the ancient Greeks and Romans  believed that all good things we achieve, that we create…that especially genius… comes from divinity. Thus it’s good to know just one thing: I know so little. My theme verse since moving to the DR has been,“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

A very wise former headmaster told me years ago when I felt very alone as a single mom of two young children: “Bloom where you are planted.” And another truism I’m trying to practice here is that even when you don’t speak the language, smile.  Smiles translate worldwide.  And for awhile now I’ve tried daily to list all the things for which I’m thankful.

It’s so cool outside that my bedroom windows are open.  This usually screaming, shrieking, honking, jackhammering, rooster-crowing, motorbike beeping city is asleep.

Thank you, Lord. It was a good day.

Samana Road Trip: Day Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pina Colada

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

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

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