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!