Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Playing with ideas and the sense of community

In this new year, I'm embarking on a new learning adventure.  In addition to my language lessons, I've started a year-long training program in women's wellness with Lisa Grace Byrne.  So curious to see where this experience will lead!  Right now, the training is in week one.  I'm already a bit behind due to a minor sinus infection that moved into my chest and knocked me down, but I feel recovery in progress (thank you, feisty immune system!).  My enrolment was prompted in a few different ways.  I have participated in other courses with Lisa, and her words resonate with me; however, I'm remiss on implementation.  I feel ready to change that, and I wanted to buckle down for a year and really focus on the details.  I also really enjoy teaching and sharing.  I see women in my current community facing a lot of the same self-care needs, and I believe we could all benefit from wellness training face-to-face rather than online or from a book (which as I can attest are too easily discarded when needed).

In the meantime, I've been trying to figure out just how I want to go about blogging.  I miss it too much when I'm not blogging to just stop completely as I had done in recent months, but I know the modern concept of blogging -- creation of fully functional, picture-perfect website and branding -- is simply not me.  It's not what I enjoy creating.  I blog to write, share, and connect.  As a person who moves every two to four years, I find it fulfilling to be a part of an online community that thankfully does not have to be reinvented with such frequency as my physical community.  Yet so many of the blogs I have enjoyed for years have also dropped off in the past months.  It's like the old-school web-loggers all collectively threw in the towel, surrendering to those who grew tremendously and became successful brands.  I don't say this bitterly (hats off to them! so wonderful to find success doing what they love!), but it has been disappointing to watch my online community dwindle and fade.

Lately, I find myself very inspired by the blog style by Erin of Design for Mankind.  The site is clean and fresh, and the posts are in the format of personal essays.  She includes pictures, but only a few per post.  While we haven't met so I can't really say for certain, her posts come across to me as personal and purposeful, written with intention that is hers.  Even if the posts are sponsored, I still feel as though I've visited a friend who is sharing a find and a why.  They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I hope she won't mind if I experiment with her style, if I try it on and see how it fits.  I really want a new site too.  It's like buying new school supplies at the beginning of the year (I always love that!).  For a truly fresh start, it feels so good to get everything new and shiny.

So…just some ideas I'm playing with these days.
Are you pondering any shifts or changes in your year to come?
Hooray for doing what we love!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A visit to Provence and learning about Santons

For the last week of December, we took a train down to Provence to visit with friends through the New Year's celebrations.  Provence is every bit as beautiful as you've heard…and possibly even more beautiful than that.  I knew Provence was famous for the lavender fields, but there is so much more to it.  The countryside, villages and homes gave an impression of Italy or Spain (or both) blended together with France.  The landscapes are varied, marvellous and breath-taking.  We wandered the town of St-Remy-de-Provence, played on the seashore and climbed onto the church roof in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, explored the Pope's Palace in Avignon (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and climbed the fantastic ruins of Chateau des Baux.  Almost daily, I asked Hubby when we can move there.

In the church in St-Remy-de-Provence was the most unusual Nativity I have ever seen.  The scene was forested with a windmill on a hill.  No stable in sight, the Holy Family were placed in a rocky cave.  This was no separate story with only shepherds and the Three Kings to witness.  All around, there were peasants in brightly coloured clothing looking on at the scene.

I began to notice similar Nativity scenes in other churches and shop windows.  Often, the peasants did not seem to notice the Holy Family at all.  Women would be posed for gossiping.  A man had fallen asleep on sacks of grain.  Many shops sold these figures in stunning variety, and I was charmed and captivated by them.  Thankfully, my dear friend read up on them in (far-better-than-mine) French and taught me all about them.  These brightly-colored peasant figures for Provencal nativities are called "santons."

During the French Revolution, traditional religious nativities were banned; decorating your home, however, was not.  Artisans began creating hand painted terracotta figures depicting typical local life.  Scenes would be created mimicking local landscapes with village people, animals, and yes, a baby.  In this way, people retained their nativities during this time of enforced secularism.  The tradition survives to this day, with the only real change being a definite Holy Family and Three Kings added in.  We saw santons for sale ranging in size from tiny (4 cm) to that of typical dolls (around 30cm or so).  The doll size santons were typically dressed in clothing and carried tactile accessories (baskets with flowers, straw hats, etc.).  There was a shop in Baux that sold paint kits with plain terracotta santons.  On our last day, I could resist no longer and purchased seven 4cm santons for our home.  Being after New Year, the Holy Family figures had all been sold, but there were the Three Wise Men/Three Kings.  This morning, we set them out in honour of the Epiphany and will finish the day with a Galette du Roi, another French tradition we are excited to embrace.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year 2016

Happy New Year 2016!

I love the enthusiasm for fresh starts and change that comes with New Year's Day, but I am the only one who feels like you are meant to have it all sussed out before the ball drops on December 31?  Well, I say boo to that!  Here's a new year's resolution we can keep: permission to grow, adapt and change whenever.

While I'm not one for resolutions, I do have some ideas big and small (daily meditation, return to photography, focus on wellness) that I'm excited to implement.  Before I do, I'm going to take this week to hit the reset button.  I don't know about you, but the past year felt really intense!  It was a year in which "I can't remember the last time I felt on top of things" felt like a mantra, and I am not a person who buys into the culture of busy.  I don't like feeling overrun by daily life, yet that's where I quite often found myself all year long.  2016 does not have to be a repeat of that, and it won't be if I can help it!

During the holidays, I started listening to some of the many fantastic podcasts out there.  One in particular resonated with right where I am now: The Good Life Project episode called "Close the Books".  The nutshell version is you make the time to thoroughly examine the past year--the positives, the negatives and the neutrals.  What worked?  What didn't?  How can you learn from your experiences?  What is the take-away?  Then, once you've gone through the whole year with mindfulness and care, you "close the books" on it, allowing a fresh start for the year ahead, applying what you have learned and feeling ready to continue to move forward and grow in new ways.  Have you heard of this before?  Have you applied it yourself?  Who's with me?

Warmest wishes to you, wherever you may be!  Happy New Year!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Le Tour de France

July has been a strange month for weather.  We've suffered through two heatwaves in a city that cannot handle heat, and yesterday we were hit with a cold spell just as strong on the other end of the temperature spectrum (from 100°F a week ago to 50°F in the wet wind).  The grey skies didn't give us pause about finding a spot to watch the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris yesterday...but then those grey skies opened up, a strong, cold wind kicked in and the weather became completely miserable...just in time for the Tour de France to begin its final day in Paris.

Yesterday afternoon, we tried three different viewing spots over the course of two hours before waiting it out between Porte Maillot and the Arc de Triomphe.  We were soaked and shivering, but we didn't give up.  When the moment came, it was so exhilarating, watching the pack fly past us as they geared up for the lap portion of the race.

The moment they passed us, we bustled to the metro and hurried home for hot showers and dry clothes, hoping we all don't catch colds in the name of Le Tour.  Hubby turned on the TV so we could watch the rest, but after about 10 minutes of watching, I couldn't stand being so close but not actually being there.  I bundled up to fight the autumnal weather and rushed out again to catch whatever I could on the Champs Elysees.  I made it in time for the final two laps.  The sun even came out for the end of the race.  Watching the Tour de France in person--what an incredible experience!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Well, hello there!

In case you've been wondering about my lengthy absence from this space, I've been out testing the hypothesis that one needs at least six months to recover from a major transition like an international move.  I ran a controlled experiment, tested on myself and my little family of four.  We repeat and compare results every 2 to 3 years.  We observe multiple factors, and I have once again reached that conclusion that yes, living a nomadic life abroad requires at least 6 months of adjustment time when settling into a new country before one begins to feel "normal" again.  If it's a place where you don't speak the language and the locals don't speak yours, bless you for trying.

Almost six months to the day, my crafting mojo returned (if you don't craft, just skip this paragraph entirely).  I hadn't wanted to knit for longer than I could remember.  I tried a few times to knit by rote, to feel the wool in my hands and to create something lovely…but my heart wasn't in it and each project was quickly returned to its bag.  A few months ago, I found and started to regularly attend a knitting group at a wonderful yarn shop here in Paris, but I only knit when I was there and even then, I knitted only a row or two while I listened and chatted.  Then, just a couple of weeks ago, boom!  It was back!  I finished two projects in three days.  Tempted to add to my stash (Aimee, why do you stock so much pretty?), I started to dig in my closet and discovered even more UFOs (that's unfinished objects for you sane non-knitters), and I wanted to finish those too!  I carted a half-finished child's sweater along to the knitting group last week, only to have everyone question my sanity, knitting with chunky thick wool during another hideous heatwave (oh Paris, you don't do heat well).  They were right, of course, so I bought a new skein of thick chunky wool to knit a cowl for my big girl and cast on for that over the weekend.  Hey, I never said knitters make logical decisions.

As soon as my crafting mojo returned, I became hyper-aware of my lag in communications across the board.  Normally, I try not to miss sending birthday and anniversary cards, but I realised I haven't done so in many months--including, I'm ashamed to say, close family.  Oh dear.  I'm not sure many of our friends and family even have our new address.  I don't actually know our landline phone number.  Remedy, remedy, remedy.  I'm considering sending out Christmas in July cards to get everyone in one fell swoop.

Which brings me to this blog.  Hello!  I've missed you too!  Over the past months, I've been taking pictures on my phone and sharing many of them on Instagram if you'd like to see.  I would like to return to this space and resurrect the joy of the big camera too.  In the meantime, we'll be soaking up summer and enjoying the freedom from scheduling that I'm sure helped make my return to normalcy possible.  I hope you've been well!  Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gratitude cleanse

The "Rekindling the Fire" workshop I attended this past weekend was co-led by a wonderful children's author, K.L. Going, and a life-and-wellness coach for moms, Lisa Grace Byrne.  While I most certainly benefitted from the wit and wisdom Kelly shared with and organised for us, it was Lisa's presence that spurred me to enrol.  I have read her blog for years, following along as she has built her business.  I have attended one of her online courses and was a pre-reader for her wonderful book, Replenish*.  I sound well-placed not to need a whole weekend with her, right?  Wrong.

Particularly as an overstretched mother in a time of major life transitions, I know it has been my habit to treat self-care as one more item on the big plate of my responsibilities and obligations--an optional piece that is often neglected.  Meeting Lisa and sharing her wisdom with other fabulous women experiencing similar life patterns and professional longings was balm for my soul and, hopefully, a kickstart to actually using some of the incredible, simple tools Lisa shares.  One key insight she impressed upon us was to approach self-care as a lens through which to view your life.  No matter what else is added or taken away from your plate of responsibilities, the self-care lens remains in place.

Starting tomorrow, Lisa is running a (free!) seven-day Gratitude Cleanse.  Simply commit to 10 minutes each day to refocus that lens of self-care.   You can sign up by clicking through the link, and Lisa will send the daily meditations right to your email inbox.

*I definitely love the feel of a book in my hand, a book I can return to time and again, so I keep a copy of Replenish on my nightstand.  A little secret is I also have it in my car: Lisa read her book in a podcast format.  In this way, she offers her entire book as a free audiobook!  (Didn't I mention how awesome she is?)

Friday, November 14, 2014

A full day

The workshop day started at 6am when my alarm went off in time for a (wonderful)(optional) morning yoga session and concluded after 10pm with a (wonderful)(optional) session about publishing.  It has been a day of fantastic information, learning and inspiration.  Now, my brain is full and I am ready to put this day to bed, but alas, I opted for a coffee after dinner, which means I'm still awake as the hours roll by.
Will I ever learn? 
(apparently no)
For anyone else up too late and seeking fun finds online...

Have you seen this artist's work?  Incredible.

All right, this just made me happy.

After hearing much hype about this new podcast, the first 5 episodes of Serial made my extra-long drive yesterday very interesting.  I'm not sold on the subject (I don't care for crime stories), but the story-telling is excellent.

This font for dyslexics really impressed me.  I taught dyslexic kids once upon a time, and I do believe this font would be a welcome tool.

I would like to try making these with the girls.

Lasting relationships hinge on kindness and generosity.  The studies analyse couples, but the lessons can be applied to all important personal relationships (with your kids, parents…).

Have a lovely weekend!  Keep warm!

links found via chookooloonks, swiss-miss, naomi bulger, and designmom