Posted on August 7, 2020
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.—Jacques Yves Cousteau
What can I say? I’m a Pisces and was caught in the ocean’s net long ago.
When my spring break trip to Sicily was cancelled by Covid and borders began closing, I planned an escape to another island–this one in the US. My sister and brother-in-law love Anna Maria Island, Florida where they vacation (and Sarasota where they married just down the road). We grew up doing summer sojurns with Mom and our grandparents to Panama City, then took our own children to build sandcastles in Destin, also on Florida’s northern “Emerald Coast.” I’ve explored Florida’s east coast from Daytona to Miami to the Keys so began last year chasing the legendary sunsets on beaches in the Tampa Bay area and southwest Florida.
I’m drawn to all kinds of water–whether it laps the beach gently or crashes against its rugged rocks. While living in Morocco I escaped the city to inhale, exhale with the tide in Essaouira, Agadir, Taghazout, Asilah and Tangier. I’ve been thrilled by coasts in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, France, Monaco, Greece, Italy…Costa Rica and the Bahamas…California, Hawaii, Tybee Island, Folly Island, and Hilton Head.
But if you want an island escape with sand, white and soft as powdered sugar, and clear, green/blue waters, check out the Cies Isles in Europe; The Dominican Republic, where I lived for a year in the Caribbean, and Anna Maria Island. This US destination provides gorgeous sunsets; major shelling; live music; dolphin and manatee sightings; no high rises or food chains, a trolley to take you all the way to Sarasota, and a laid-back Old Florida vibe. I now understand why residents call it Paradise and travelers become pilgrims who return yearly.
Beaches on the 7-mile island include Anna Maria City, Bean Point, Holmes, Bradenton and Coquina. We stayed on a private section of Bradenton Beach where there was plenty of room for social distancing.
I went with my friend, Traci, also a teacher, who has to plan vacations around school. When our spring breaks were cancelled, we made plans for June, then postponed them to July thinking Covid would calm down. It didn’t. Florida became a hot spot, but we’d chosen an area that wasn’t. We’d booked a condo which had a kitchen for meals and deeded beach property. We also drove rather than flew, did dinners in restaurants with outdoor/open spaces maintaining social distancing, and wore masks in the few enclosed public spaces we went. We also stayed in touch with friends who are Florida residents and kept us current on the situation. There was no heavy traffic or long waits at restaurants. As with any vacation in the pandemic era, be sure to check the latest information on health-related sites. This one might also be useful for Covid-19 Travel Information for Florida.
Location. Location. Location. Our comfortable, spacious condo was located in Bradenton Beach on a bay beside Cortez Bridge. It had paved paths both to its deeded beach property across the street and to Historic Bridge Street a couple of blocks away where the clock tower calls locals and tourists to a hub of fun. Owner Morgan Henderson is an amazing host who after months of staying in touch now feels like an old friend! She had everything we needed in the 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom space including a wagon to carry coolers, an umbrella, beach chairs, and towels to the beach. If you book with her, please say hi for me!
The Beach of Course!
Traci’s friend, Pam, who recently moved to Florida joined us for beach time, dinners on Bradenton Beach, and on our excursion to Sarasota. She suggested for future stays Lazy Lobster and Dry Dark Waterfront Grill in Longboat Key. We’d already tried Mar Vista there and loved eating by the water under the trees. The scallops were amazing! Down the coast (a 30-minute drive from AMI) we took a quick spin around St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, bought by Charles and John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1917. In 1927 they moved the circus to Sarasota as their winter headquarters. John Ringling’s permanent art collection was left to the public. Guests can tour the galleries, now the State Art Museum of Florida, and the Ringlings’ Mediterranean Revival-style mansion on the Ringling estate. I can’t wait to further explore “Florida’s Cultural Coast”--hopefully during the Sarasota Highland Games and Celtic Festival celebrating Scottish roots. I want to know more about Sarasota’s intriguing history and that of Anna Maria Island.
So what have I learned in the year of the Great American Road Trip after being grounded from Europe? I’m told in Sarasota I’d normally hear languages from around the world as I do there. I miss that! But I’m discovering incredible natural beauty in my home country–a place of diverse, gorgeous landscapes; immigrant influence; and indigenous roots. So much more to see…
2020 has been a stormy year. None of us can know when this pandemic will end–when borders will open and global travel resume. We keep watching the sky, but I believe with God’s help, we can weather the storms–even find beauty in the midst of them– and more than we dare dream on the other side.
Disclosure: I received a discount on my accommodations, but as always, the opinions on this blog are my own.
Posted on May 12, 2020
Watch Episode One here or skip to sections which interest you marked below.
A lot of us are getting through sheltering at home by meeting online with old friends. I thank God for technology that bashes through borders during a pandemic. Looking back at how we’ve navigated change in the past can transform how we handle new norms in the present and future. Being grounded for many has been grounding–even if what we know about an invisible enemy seems to shift every hour. In Nashville we’ve been saturated with spring storms and power outages. Worldwide we’re assaulted with staggering statistics of death tolls and unemployment. So I’m wondering…
How are we doing? Reassessing life’s meaning? Seeking a new job or career? A new life? Needing to reinvent ourselves again?
I’d planned to start a podcast this summer but decided to first launch as a YOUTUBE series since we’re home on computers more than commuting to work or traveling. Welcome to this first episode where we’ll travel to Spain and meet my friend, Monica Fernandez Chantada, master of reinvention and growth, who shows us how she and her country are dealing with months of pandemic lockdown, social distancing, and unemployment. Her journey from a Corporate Human Resources position to International Teacher to Camino de Santiago Tour Guide to Life Coach will inspire you as she shares coping tips, travel go-to places, and the beauty of her backyard. She explains how saying “Yes!” changes challenges into adventures and offers to teach you Spanish online.
Moni will walk us through her province of Galicia, Bucket List worthy for its mountains, coast, Celtic ruins, wine, and wonderful people. Through here pilgrims since the 9th century have traveled to the Cathedral in Santiago on the Camino or St. James’ Way–backdrop for the Martin Sheen movie (trailer below). We’ve walked three continents together and I’m still inspired by her journey and spirit. I think you will be, too.
If you’re planning a getaway for when the coast is clear and up for a Camino or stay in Galicia, check out options at Moni’s company, Spanish Steps, and/or stay in her home in Vigo where she’s a Superhost here.
0.00-3.30 “Travel People” Series Intro. “Come Run Away with Me” by Carole Edwards https://www.reverbnation.com/caroleed… Photography https://cindymccain.photoshelter.com/… and courtesy of Monica Fernandez Chantada
4:15 Meet Moni in beautiful Vigo and learn how Spaniards do Lockdown (started March 14)
6:20 Memories of Madrid: Attention chocolate lovers!
7:05 How Moni and I met in Nashville, Tennessee
9:30 Moni’s US Teaching and Traveling; Alaska, Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, and the Bahamas
11:00 The Wanderer Returns Home to Vigo
11:30 How to Reinvent a Life (Again) From Journalism to Working in Corporate Human Resources Job to Teaching Spanish is the US to Camino de Santiago Guide “I always say ‘Yes!’ Every challenge, I take it!”–Moni
13:30 Effect of Pandemic on 2020 Camino Tourism
14:00 Moni’s Call to Another Life, Spanish Financial Crisis, Realizing in India what she really wanted
15:30 Moni’s Mom’s Advice
17:20 Pandemic Effects on Finances and Family
20:00 How Emergency State in Spain differs from US Lockdown
22:30 Dealing with Solitary Confinement after divorce
25:43 Beautiful Vigo–My visit with Moni and Ale on St. John’sEve/Summer Solstice
26:28 Meeting Moni in Porto, Portugal
27:28 Cies Islands–one of my favorite travel experiences ever
28:30 Spain Photos from Other Journeys
29:37 Eating and Socializing in Spain
32:15 Toledo –Day trip from Madrid
34:40 Camino options based on distance, routes, fitness, purpose
40:08 Photos of Coastal Camino through Galicia; Pilgrims; Goals
45:40 My journeys with Moni: Morocco and Andalusia, Spain
49:22 Moni’s Other Travels for Growth ; Backpacking at 37 in India
50:20 Travel Deals Now
52:30 Moni’s Call; Nashville, Kenya, Japan, New Zealand. What’s on her Bucket List now Moni: “I’m rich because I have freedom.”
1:03:00 Healthcare in Spain
1:05:00 What Moni would tell a 20something daughter or her 20something self
1:06:00 Join Spain’s 8 PM Lockdown Celebration of Solidarity and Spirit
Posted on March 31, 2020
First and foremost, I pray for those fighting the Coronavirus around the world, families grieving loved ones, and all feeling global angst and loss. I pray for protection for those on the front lines, like my daughter and sister in patient care, first responders, and grocery store employees who are caring and kind. I pray for wisdom for researchers seeking a vaccine, leaders around the world, all of us facing something so frightening, evasive, new.
COVID-19 has stolen income. It has postponed or cancelled lifelong dreams. Instead of graduation and milestone birthday celebrations with families… honeymoon dinners in piazzas… spring break escapes overlooking azure seas, we are on lockdown–many in solitary seclusion– practicing social distancing. We never dreamed going to the grocery (for those of us able) would be our only “getaway” where we hold our breath, swerve to miss other shoppers, and shake our heads at empty shelves.
March 2020 proved a 19th century proverb wrong–the one that says if the month comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb. Tornados ripped through Nashville March 3 and made global headline news. Since then COVID-19 has ravaged much of the US and the world.
I started the month trying three times to outrun the outbreak. When my travel blogging conference in Sicily was cancelled last minute (thankfully, given the crisis that hit full force a week later), I considered using my connecting flight to New York City and spending spring break there. When the Coronavirus was reported there, I booked a flight to Florida but canceled within 24 hours because they were being hit, too. For most of us, there’s nowhere else to run and home is the only place to hide.
The university classes I teach have gone remote for the rest of the year, and with no more commuting, I have more time and technology to be in touch with those I love. I’ve traveled via books and movies which I suggested here, and I’ve discovered some new music that sweeps me away.
I’ve remembered teaching English in a small village in Italy one summer and my own childhood where families ate hot lunches together in the middle of the day. I’ve been cooking more and through food, music, and memories returning to some of my favorite places. It started when I cancelled birthday reservations at an Irish pub and made my first corned beef brisket at home.
For almost three weeks I’ve gone nowhere except to buy groceries and my birthday present– plants for my patio — knowing it would become my home office and world. Spring rains have made everything I see Ireland-green grass and pink blooming trees. As the bulbs push through soil in Italy-blue pots around me, and the natural world comes back to life again, I’m reminded daily to trust God who sees what I can’t… knows what I don’t.
But this I do know. Neighbors I’d never seen before have come out of their homes. They are walking and playing as families six-feet away. They smile, wave, and nod at Ella (my yellow lab mix) and me. The world–once a blur of motion– has slowed down for many and the value of health, relationships, connection has come sharper into focus.
Several of these ingredients are used in more than one dish. I shop multiple groceries–especially now when some shelves are bare–but have linked to Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh organic products for health and convenience. Those with Amazon Prime can get groceries delivered free–important to many during self-quarantine but also a reason why they may be out of some of these products periodically and locations/terms of delivery may change.
Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from an Amazon link in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost but helps a bit to keep this blog going.
One more thing…I’m also a big believer in improvisation. While living in Morocco without a car and some ingredients I needed for recipes, I learned to substitute or do without. When I wanted to make clam chowder, one of my go-to comfort foods, I couldn’t find clams. No worries–I used shrimp which were plentiful and inexpensive. Thankfully my grandmother taught me that cooking isn’t an exact science. It’s “a little of this, a little of that.”
With the right music while cooking… a dance in the kitchen… and a pretty place setting (pun intended), we can exhale calm. We can taste escape… and hope.
Playlist: Music to wake you up and want to dance on Amazon
My first trip to Europe was with my students in the early 90s, a Grand Tour of England, France, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Standing on my balcony in the Swiss Alps between snow-capped peaks and Lake Lucerne, I drew in a long breath of cool, clean air to the jingle of cowbells. I wondered later as I climbed under the crisp, white down duvet if I’d stay warm enough–it was so lightweight!–but I did and have slept under nothing since. I met the group in the regal dining room the next morning where sunlight streamed through large windows spotlighting a sumptuous spread. We’d been told we’d have only “continental breakfasts” on our tour so not to expect eggs, bacon and biscuits, staples in the southern US. In London we’d had dinner rolls every morning, in Paris croissants served with butter and jam. But in Switzerland at a hotel/hospitality training school, waiters in white served fresh fruit, marmalade, and plates of delicious cheeses and cold meats– sausages, salami, hams. It was the beginning of a love affair I still have with charcuterie served anytime of day.
Spanish Guitar and Pablo Segovia Gardel on Amazon Music and Soundtrack of Vicky Cristina Barcelona on Spotify
Above: Sangria with lunch here
If you have shifted to a later sleeping/waking schedule, you can imagine you are in Spain. There breakfast starts around 10 AM, lunch at 2 PM, tapas (appetizers) and drinks late afternoon/early evening, and dinner at 10 PM. I love the food culture, climate, people from Vigo to Madrid , across Andalusia and Catalonia … everything about Spain.
Cut brussel sprouts in half and place on a roasting pan. Sprinkle with minced garlic (3-4 cloves), salt, and paprika, then drizzle with olive oil. Back at 400 degrees about 20 minutes or until tender. Pair. with Spanish wine or sangria (recipe below).
Playlist: Morocco, Traditional Music Around the World and Berber Musicians of Morocco on Spotify
In Morocco, I taught at the American School of Marrakesh which had no cafeteria. Students’ hot lunches were delivered by drivers or they packed cold ones as I did. All produce was organic and sold in the grocery markets, hanuts (Moroccan form of minute markets) and on fruit and vegetable carts. Fresh produce coupled with having no car and walking everywhere made me feel more fit than ever. Lunches were salads and clementines ( peeled and eaten like candy or sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon). Oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and mint for tea (or for expats, mojitos 🙂 were available year-round.
(Left) Strawberries in season, avocado, and balsamic vinegar
(Right) Sliced Tomatoes, Green Peppers, and Cucumbers with Vinegar and Olive Oil.
These guys are ubiquitous in Morocco, found in bowls on restaurant tables beside loaves of bread. At school, the elementary teachers loved the shade of the olive trees at recess but had to keep watch over students tempted to pelt each other with olives. I’ve thought a lot lately about a Thanksgiving spent at Peacock Pavillions when Maryam Montague decorated the table with olive branches, symbols of simplicity and peace. She spoke about another global crisis–that of refugees and displaced people groups.
A tagine is a traditional dish named for the the clay pot in which vegetables, fruits, and meats are cooked on a stovetop or open fire. It is loved for its savory-sweetness in modest homes, restaurants, and palaces throughout the country. I ate lamb, chicken, and vegetarian tagines with friends from Marrakesh (where our favorite waiter at Chez Joel and favorite manager at Riad Mur Akush uncovered the dish with ceremonious flair) to the Sahara desert gathered on the ground family-style in a Berber tent.
While living in Marrakesh I made only one tagine because my housekeeper, Sayida, made the dish for me often. I did enjoy the lesson at the La Maison Arabe Cooking School, and when a former student and friend visited me, they enjoyed learning from the ladies at the Amal Center. Last week I craved comfort, so I made my first tagine unsupervised. Sayida would probably roll her eyes at me with a grin, but I spiced it up and loved it.
Spray or rub lightly the inside of the crockpot with olive oil. Layer vegetables in the bottom of the crockpot. Place meat (optional) and prunes on top. Mix seasonings with garlic, tomato paste, and broth, then pour over all.
The best couscous I’ve ever had was at Riad Hikaya. Making it like they do is on my Cooking Bucket List.
Playlist: French and Italian Cooking Music (one of my favorites of all time) on Sptofiy
Boil the pasta. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in hot, melted butter and oil in a saute pan. Cook for 2 minutes and add 2 Tablespoons of pasta water. Add tomatoes and cook until they pop. Drain pasta and mix with other ingredients in a saute pan. Add shrimp and red pepper flakes (if desired) and parsley until all is heated through.
*For another easy, super-fast pasta dish, mix a jar of pesto and 8 ounces of pasta. Eat hot or cold.
Heat 1 T olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion until soft for about 2 minutes. Add carrots and celery, then garlic. Add a splash of wine if desired. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, and stock. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender (about 10- 15 minutes).
If the only recipe or ritual you take from this post is to peel an orange and let its juicy goodness run down your wrist while sitting in a spot of sunlight… mission accomplished. From Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman who inspired me to make the leap and live abroad… a word on the art of cooking and eating from her Eat, Pray, Love…
There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi—the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich…
I walked home to my apartment and soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for my lunch. I peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of the asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn’t need to be cooked at all). I put some olives on the plate, too, and the four knobs of goat cheese I’d picked up yesterday from the formaggeria down the street, and two slices of pink, oily salmon. For dessert—a lovely peach, which the woman at the market had given to me for free and which was still warm from the Roman sunlight. For the longest time I couldn’t even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily newspaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule.
And as Easter, time of rebirth, nears, my prayer for us all is…
May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!–Romans 15:13
Posted on January 14, 2020
Reflect, then project. For those of us who thought we’d be farther along in 2020 in some area(s) –education, career, relationships, health, finances, savings, freedom, peace–think again. Rather than be discouraged, let’s look back with gratitude at how far we’ve come! Make a list of what you did accomplish in the last decade. Identify steps you took in the direction of where you want to go and what you’ve learned along the way. Just as important as getting to destinations/ outcomes for the lives we want is moving closer to the people we want to be.
What words best sum up your last ten years? For me they were change, journey, faith, and let go. Before 2010, I spent 17 years in the same house 3 streets from the school where I taught/my children attended K-12. After 2010, I fled my too-silent, empty nest; lived in 2 countries abroad; traveled to 15 more; taught at 7 schools; and became a travel blogger, writing coach, and full- time university lecturer. During this time of transition, I thank God most for relationships; for my time in Morocco; and for other travels–Christmas with my children in Marrakesh and London, New Year’s Eve in Venice, Easter from Prague to St. Petersburg, and springs and summers in Spain.
Our Maker customizes journeys each of us need for seasons of life. Whether they require us to cross continents or make discoveries in our own backyard, all lead home– to the people we were uniquely created to be. God gives us the desires of our hearts when we delight in Him (Psalm 37:4) so He can fulfill them. He delights in giving us good gifts (Matthew 7:11). What dreams has He given you? In ten years, where do you want to be? What’s your word for 2020 that expresses what you most desire to be or do? Is it a noun–courage, strength, laughter, vulnerability, hope–or a verb–enjoy, explore, create, focus, dream?
I share some lessons I’ve learned/relearned/am still learning over the past decade as invitations to reflect on your own. Please share in a comment what life has been teaching you on your journeys and where you hope to still go in the new year and decade ahead.
Lesson #1: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”–George Addair
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.
Over the years my friend Sherry, who I visited in Ecuador, and my friend Sally, a nurse who raised her family in Niger, sent me Matthew 11:28-30: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. I wanted that.
I also wanted to be the woman in Proverbs 31:25: She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. In Morocco, like few times in my life, I fully experienced both. Moving solo to Africa sight unseen and trusting my most precious gifts–my grown children and other family members 4400 miles away– grew my faith. I had to trust God with all because (other than our choices and despite our best efforts), we humans control little. Most days, I felt my faith cutting through fear like a lightsaber. Even when blind-sighted, I was able to sing in the dark and when sad, I could find joy.
I thought I’d defeated fear for good. Then I moved to the Dominican Republic. I felt I was drowning in two tsunami waves–one the first month after I landed, the other the last month before I left. After moving home to Nashville, I also felt afraid. The supernatural peace I felt in Morocco couldn’t be sustained. Life is seasonal, and I realize now that this side of heaven, we will never be permanently fear-free. Just when we think we’ve beaten fear like in a video game and moved onto the next level, a stronger version of the monster appears. But with each bout we can grow stronger. Grace enables us to ride fear Queen Daenerys-style. In darker seasons I find peace in the 365 forms of “Fear Not” in the Bible, and test my thoughts with 2 Timothy 1:7: “God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” I trust His character and protection, the One who over the last seven years sustained me through earthquake, illness, a mugging, a van accident, a hurricane, and an assault. We can’t see what lies in wait, but He can.
Lesson #2: Each of us has a life story and gets to be the leading lady or leading man of it.
In the movie The Holiday, an elderly friend and famous Hollywood producer, Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), advises Iris (Kate Winslet) to let go of a man who doesn’t love or respect her.
Arthur: So, he’s a schmuck.
Iris: As a matter of fact, he is…a huge schmuck. How did you know?
Arthur: He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life…Arthur, I’ve been going to a therapist for three years, and she’s never explained anything to me that well.
We are free to live our own story– to choose where to live and how to serve others with the gifts God gives us. I’d taught Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey for years, but it wasn’t until teaching Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist while in Marrakesh that I recognized each stage in my own journey. Like heroes in books– Ulysses, Frodo, Luke Skywalker, Mulan–we real folk are sometimes called to adventures that require us to leave everything familiar. Unchartered territory is daunting and can cause us to refuse the call. Coelho, in his introduction to the 10th Anniversary Edition, gives four reasons why: 1) We’re told since kids what we want is impossible. 2) We fear the defeats we’ll experience on the path. 3) We fear success. 4) Love–for me, the obstacle.
Coelho explains: “We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.” I am forever grateful to my daughter and son who supported me 100% when I told them I wanted to apply for teaching jobs abroad, my sister and brother-in-law who gave me a sendoff party with family and friends, and my Mom who kept in constant touch the three years I was gone.
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…
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…
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.
For 7 More Life Lessons Realized in Venice, go here.
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Posted on November 20, 2019
On three layovers and six proper stays in NYC, I’ve marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, herded students from Central Park to the Statue of Liberty, had tea at The Plaza, took an elevator to the top of the Twin Towers, volunteered after 9/11, celebrated my sis’s birthday in Times Square, found writing mojo at the Creativity Workshop, introduced Manhattan to my daughter when our connecting flight was cancelled, and dashed in an Uber to Queens’ Don Peppe restaurant on a long wait for a connecting flight.
Whether I have just a New York minute or several days, the island’s eclectic energy always recharges me. I love the city for its icons, like the Empire State Building and Broadway, and for its diversity. I love traveling in Europe, Africa, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, but when I don’t have the money or time to go abroad, a quick trip to the Big Apple IS a global getaway.
“I love New York because within its borders you can travel the world.” —Dennis Gonzalez
This fall I experienced NYC in a way I’ve wanted to for years–a stay in the Soho area to relax like a local. I met my friend, Kate, who’d flown in from Morocco. Unlike our previous annual reunions since I moved home from Marrakesh, this one was short– only 48 hours-– so our agenda was no agenda, my favorite way to catch up with old friends.
We sauntered, savored, and (as Kate calls it in her Australian accent) popped into boutiques to “have a snoop.” We enjoyed slow travel and serendipity in a town that never sleeps and found, truly, that less is more. Here’s how we kept it simple and you can, too.
We decided to venture no farther than Chelsea. (Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment–should you want to stalk the fictional character on Sex and the City and her girls as I’ve done for years— is at 66 Perry Street between Bleecker and West 4th.) Kate enjoyed scouting the neighborhood while staying in this Airbnb before I arrived. She then joined me at an apartment in Nolita, “North of Little Italy,” owned by my friend and former student, a graduate of NYU who became a resident. As she headed out of town, Cayce graciously handed over her keys to her fabulous studio apartment with a list of what to do and where to eat in the area. Laughing, she wished us luck with the crowds at the Feast of San Gennaro just around the corner in Little Italy and gave us alternatives if we wanted to avoid Mulberry Street and the line at Prince Street Pizza. She also pointed us to places to roam and dream… McNally Jackson , Sezanne, and Elizabeth Street Garden. Local hosts are the best!
Cayce’s list included La Mercerie for French cuisine, Baz Bakery, run by a local Italian/Jewish family, Osteria Morini, Rubirosa, Aunt Jake’s Pepe’s Cellar (Italian) and YN Bar (Italian-influenced); La Esquina (Mexican), and Sel Rose (beautiful oyster bar in the tradition of artist salons in early 20th century Paris) for drinks. She also suggested Two Hands, a local favorite for coffee.
Friday night we did join the celebration on Mulberry Street at the Feast of San Gennaro, but as warned, by Saturday we were ready to escape the crowd for a more relaxing Italian dinner. We found it on Mott Street at Pepe Rosso Social.
Discovering two hubs of Spanish food —one like Madrid’s food halls and the other an intimate family-owned restaurant–was a treat. We exited the High Line (see below) at Hudson Yards and checked out Mercado Little Spain, which The New York Times raves “offers more delicious things to eat per square foot than anywhere else in New York.” Chef José Andrés, named twice on their “100 Most Influential People” list and awarded “Outstanding Chef” and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation, has created a delicious gathering space. Inside the connecting mall are cellphone lockers for recharging while you eat or shop.
Serendipity led me to another Spanish haven when I had only an hour before heading to the airport. While Kate packed, I decided to enjoy music at the Italian Fest one last time and hopefully find an Aperol Spritz as delicious as the Spritz Veneziano I’d had New Year’s Eve in Venice . Instead a discovery transported me to another one of my favorite places on earth, Galicia, Spain— seafood capital of the world, final destination of pilgrims on the the Camino de Santiago , and home of my friend, Moni. My only regret of discovering Tomino Taberna Gallega, owned by a family from that region, was that I had no time or room left after brunch (see below) for their Pulpo á Feira (Galician-style octopus ), my very favorite dish on earth. I did enjoy their sangria and tapas and hope to try their octopus on a future trip one day.
Silverware clanging in the kitchen, mahogany floors creaking as waiters weave around guests, coffee gurgling from silver pots into china cups, crystal mimosa glasses toasting to jazz, sunlight streaming through the windows, friends laughing. Sunday Brunch is my favorite meal out, especially in NYC.
It was hard choosing between craft cocktails, cheese plates, oysters, and omelets. We decided on the Nicoise salad with rare tuna, anchovies, and eggs so we wouldn’t feel so guilty about also ordering the Bananas Foster French Toast with Vanilla Ice Cream, Rum, Caramel, and Almonds. About that dessert…no words.
We had a coffee at Balthazar, a beloved French cafe in Soho just to see the gorgeous interior. I found more delicious, diverse options for brunch, like Cafe Clover in the East Village and The Butcher’s Daughter in Nolita for vegans like my son. In the West Village, Seinfeld fans can eat at legendary Katz Delicatessen, loved long by locals and featured by Anthony Bourdain.
I saved Shoo Shoo , an Israeli restaurant in Nolita serving Mediterranean cuisine on a gorgeous marble bar and tables on the terrace, for a return visit. I hope to try their Octopus Alla Plancha (grilled on a metal plate like I had enjoyed here) and Moroccan Cigars, beef and lamb with dry mint and pine nuts served on grated tomatoes, tahini, and tatbila sauce someday.
Ok, locals we saw Saturday along the Hudson River on our way to the The High Line, a 1.45 mile greenway built along a former New York Central Railroad train track , were sprinting –not strolling. Guess this explains how they stay fit despite Sunday brunches and amazing food available everyday, everywhere in Lower Manhattan. Getting there was a hike, but we took our time through the Village and Chelsea, stopping in boutiques and at farmers’ markets along the way.
Atop the High Line, the pace slowed even more. We passed weekend readers and nappers on loungers as we photographed our way to Hudson Yards.
Sunday after brunch we did more of the same, wandering down shady streets… stopping by Li-Lac Chocolates, NYC’s finest since 1923, where I won their monthly box of chocolates giveaway…and enjoying a very cherished, almost-secret garden.
On another visit I hope to get to this Soho art gallery where Charlotte on Sex and the City worked. What else did I miss? I’d love to hear your favorite places and experiences in Lower Manhattan or any other area that’s a must-stay, savor, and stroll.
Posted on September 20, 2019
Months ago when my friend Kate asked me to meet her in New York City, neither of us had any idea we’d be there for the Feast of San Gennaro. Nor when another friend offered her apartment to us in Soho did we know we’d be staying one street from the celebration. Lasting eleven days, the moveable feast of food, music, and family fun continues this weekend…see details here . If you aren’t in town, make plans to join the event honoring the patron saint of Naples next year. As one who has always loved Italian people and culture, I was in heaven… and when a harvest moon shone over my rooftop, I felt like Cher in one of my favorite movies, Moonstruck.
Posted on July 2, 2019
While living in Morocco I wrote about beauty breaks for the soul—beautiful places and experiences that calm the nerves and stimulate the senses. In Marrakesh when we tired of dodging scooters, taxis, and donkey carts, we escaped into regal riads, palatial pools, and spas as sanctuaries. We watched sunsets from rooftops high above the fray. Nashville can be crowded and crazy, too, these days, so finding a place to rest and relax alone or with friends here is truly a treasure.
Recently I was invited to try a new service at the Westin’s Rhapsody Spa, a CBD massage with eight herbs and pure Himalayan salt stones. Benefits include rejuvenation by reducing muscle soreness and nerve inflammation. From sweating in the sauna to melting into the table to sipping Prosecco in the relaxation room, I savored a perfect afternoon. There and at my next stop, the rooftop, I met people who take pride in what they do. Superior service–making guests feel welcome—truly makes The Westin special.
Bonus was discovering a hotel with design architectural features that remind me of some of my favorite respites in Morocco. On the rooftop at the L27 Lounge (check schedule for live music) I enjoyed a quiet afternoon with a cheese plate and returned on the weekend to toast a summer sunset over cocktails with friends.
Posted on February 15, 2019
Write what should not be forgotten.–Isabel Allende
Travel to have more to remember.–Cindy McCain
Have you vowed that writing will be a priority in the new year? Do you have travel tales you would like to tell? Are you ready to make new memories and create the ultimate souvenir–remembrance–of a time and place you never want to forget?
Whether you are just starting to write or a pro honing your craft…wanting to journal your journey in a an exotic land or transport others with a travel narrative piece… this writing retreat is for you.
Though I’ve journeyed across 27 countries, nowhere like magical Morocco provides me with as much rest, adventure, and inspiration. While living there 2014-16, I fell in love with diverse landscapes, rich cultural experiences, and wonderful people. I returned Summer 2018 to some of my favorite writing spaces to prepare this retreat for 2020 when I can share them with you. I hope you’ll join me for a Beauty Break for the Soul.
Imagine yourself with journal or laptop perched on the ramparts of the Atlantic coastal town, Essaouira , formerly known as the Port of Timbuktu. Anything’s possible here, where goats (not pigs) fly.
Imagine wide, open spaces where you write on the mountain terrace of a Berber village overlooking Toubkal, highest peak of the Atlas Mountains and northern Africa.
Journaling beside mosaic courtyard fountains, writing in the salon and outdoor terraces of a private riad, and reading your work on the rooftop overlooking the medina.
Truly, Morocco has been a creative hub for generations of artists, each meeting his or her respective Muse there. Edith Wharton, Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles… Josephine Baker, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens … Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas. Here Laurence of Arabia, Indiana Jones, Gladiator, and Game of Thrones came to life. Teaching, writing, and wandering there, my life felt epic, too.
Join me in Morocco for my favorite local experiences from the Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh to the African coast. Choose what your soul needs:
Spots are limited. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a place or ask questions.
Not Included in Package/Paid by Participant:
*Signifies lunches and dinners not included in package price
I live in Nashville, Tennessee where I’m a writer and have taught university writing and literature courses for thirteen years. I’ve led educational trips abroad for over two decades, and my Travel Tales course at The Porch, an independent writing center for adults, has been a best-seller. Please see my portfolio for links to freelance publications and Southern Girl Gone Global collaborations with travel brands and tourism boards. Southern Girl Gone Global was named a Top 50 Travel Blog of 2016 in the UK and has been featured by US News and World Report, Expedia and Orbitz.
When not on the road or in the classroom, I’m spending time with my grown kids, the loves of my life; dancing salsa with friends; storytelling about my travels ; and writing my No-Mom-Left-Behind memoir, Roses in the Desert. More of my story here.
Know someone who may be interested in joining? Please share this post and brochure below.
Posted on September 3, 2018
Summer is my favorite time of year. An invitation to breathe, relax, explore. After living in Morocco and the Dominican Republic, I don’t dread winter as I once did. I appreciate changing seasons. And yet… when the cicadas’ song crescendos from a low hum heralding summer in May to a hiss screeching summer’s end in September, I have trouble letting go.
This is my salute to the longest day of summer where I escaped to a beach house in Asilah, south of Tangier. The ocean is where I feel God’s power most intensely, especially on the northern African coast.
I returned to Marrakesh in June to see students I’d taught graduate, reconnect with old friends, and collapse for a reset. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor at my friend’s place grounded me again.
My first year back in the US had been harder than expected. Everything had changed. I’d come back focused on writing my memoir about the time away, feeling positive about getting a full time university position for which I’d applied, and expecting to buy a home near work and my daughter. When the position didn’t happen, I continued job searching though thankful for adjunct positions in the fall and an interim position in the spring. Housing prices in Nashville kept rising; my kids were busy with lives of their own (as it should be but as a Stage 5 Clinger I felt lonely at times no less); and Mom became ill and moved from Kentucky into my apartment with me. At times we both felt lost (more on podcast), but God, as always, never let go.
Mom made a miraculous recovery and celebrated her birthday in April in a new apartment. We’re all so happy she’s finally living in Nashville. One day after the summer term ended, I boarded a plane. I met my Spanish friend, Moni, in Madrid, then headed to Marrakesh.
After resting until mid-month, I headed north with my Aussie friend, Kate. We stayed in the old city of Asilah, the cleanest town I’d ever seen in Morocco. Whitewashed in preparation for the annual Moussem Culturel International d’Asilah, a mural/art festival, the medina was as quiet, pristine, surreal as a movie set.
Below was the Airbnb respite —a dream writing space. I felt protected within the 15th century ramparts built by colonial Portuguese. I fed on seafood. I felt free. From the rooftop I watched the waves rumble. On the second floor, I wrote as the sun rose and fell with the tide. I didn’t know then that I’d teach full time for a university this fall. That I’d have benefits again and a schedule that would give me time to write. But I knew the One telling me not to fear. I recognized the way He moves–the way He moved me while I lived in Morocco. The unforced rhythm of grace. I remembered a promise that led me here in 2014. A promise extended to all…
“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.”—Matthew 11:28-30
Smoother than Nora Jones, He’d again called, “Come away with me.” I did, and though I had no idea what fall would bring, He knew. And it was enough. I knew my only job at that moment was to give thanks in the summer sun.
Posted on June 21, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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.
I met guests waiting for the sunset on the rooftop, like this gentleman from China who showed me how drones work.
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.
The next morning I found my place on the rooftop. Local honey is loved here by Moroccans, tourists, and bees.
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.
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.
Thank you to Manager Mr. Mohamed and his wonderful staff for their hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.
Posted on June 17, 2018
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.