Women Gather in South Carolina to Exchange Gifts for the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Sally made her amazing Ma’amouls– Lebanese cookies made from a buttery semolina pastry filled with exotic dates, imported nuts, Mediterranean spices, and Middle Eastern essences.  Ma’amoul is also Sally’s grandmother name which she says has  become a symbol of life’s sweet blessings and delights. 
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Photo by Blakely Dixon
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Gifts for the Soul Organizer Ruth Surface (left) and Keep It Real Mommy Founder Danielle R. Adamczyk (right)

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

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

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

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

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

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Ruth Surface

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Jess James
Women realizing dreams at Milk & Sugar Spa and Salon

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

Rising from Travel Trauma

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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.