Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hello Friends, Readers and Travelers,
It has been awhile since I posted on my blog, but then again I write everyday and somehow it just stacks up on my desktop. Daily life is consuming at best – but with good health and attitude we forge ahead to pursue what brings meaning and purpose to our lives.

With that said, I start again and hope you’ll enjoy my upcoming posts. I have some exciting news to share about the journeys I have launched this fall. One in particular is a Culinary and Artistic Journey to Umbria, October 8-20, 2012.  And no culinary talent is required…you can just enjoy the benefits of dining. It is however, the only small ‘boutique’ journey being offered by Traveling Matters and is the only year it will be offered.  If you are curious to experience a journey in the Umbrian countryside off the beaten track, this is the journey for you.

Living here in Sonoma, California I am reminded everyday how many locals travel to Italy, have Italian heritage or know someone in Italy.  Anyone can get to Italy, and with the help of travel blogs and glossy brochures you can arrive at your destination with many things to do. However, as a friend recently reminded me, “your journeys offer a journey beyond all of that. With heart and soul you offer something magical and personally transformational." that's true, I try to focus my journeys as the vehicle for travelers to rediscover something missing in their daily lives – perhaps the spirit of laughter and play while also learning about a country’s history, culture, food and families across the globe.

If nothing more has kindled my inspiration to continue group travel work, it is this knowing that my travelers have lingering memories of their experiences of having traveled on a journey with me. The Journey is the vehicle and the expansion of one’s life is the destination. Traveling to foreign countries gives us the opportunity to take the inner journey in a way like no other. I give the highest priority to the details for your care and comfort – so that you can open yourselves up to total joy.  I cannot wait to have you join me!

If you are attracted to all that defines Umbria, Italy...its breathtaking landscape, dotted with small hill towns; its regional cuisine, dark Sagrantino wine and Perugian dark chocolate...all steeped in ancient intact traditions and secrets handed down through generations - then there are not enough words to describe to you the vision of this journey. It will open your eyes to art everywhere and gracious friendly people honoring the importance of community, evidenced by the daily ritual of gathering around the table and eating and conversing as time stands still.
The lure of the simple life through culinary experiences draws travelers year after year to the region of Umbria. If the mention of rare white truffles, strangozzi  (the regional pasta), crescia (typical style of Umbrian bread)  sound enticing to you as you read this, and you find yourself tasting, sensing, hearing and feeling the words as you read... imagine yourself in these Umbrian towns with every decision and detail meticulously provided for....are you ready to start packing now?
I know you're the kind of traveler I would like to have join me on this journey and hope you can participate and explore with me this region of Italy with its sensory delights.
If you wish more information or to enroll in any of our other Italy offerings, contact me through the website:  
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Unexpected Journey: Tanzania Africa

An unexpected journey has boldly made its entrance…Tanzania, Africa.  My friends, family and clients keep asking, how did this journey come to be?

As a travel planner who has spent the better part of my career leading journeys – connecting people and place, this is my first group journey to make as a participant.  The tables are turned on me! I am not leading nor making any of the arrangements. I am gifting myself this journey to step into being among fellow travelers taking guidance from our soon to meet Tanzanian guides and drivers.  And a birthday present as I cross another threshold of living.

For years many clients have asked if I would plan a journey to Africa and I have typically referred them to search out expert tour companies that specialize in Africa. For many years, I was fortunate to assist in planning, researching, writing and fulfilling journeys to Ethiopia, Bostwana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Morocco for members of Noetic Sciences through Cross Cultural Journeys organizations. I would bid travelers safe travels from the comfort of my desk, maps and books, anxiously awaiting stories upon their return.  Paying it forward… here I am, March of 2011 packing my bag (YES only one Duffel) that is allowed on this overland journey.

This journey manifested from my affiliation with a group we call Big Ideas and Rich Conversations with Women.   If you click to the right under the older meetings posts in 2010, click on July 2010 and read about Sue Rickert.

We are a group of women mostly living in the Sonoma Valley and fourteen (14) of us from this group are heading to Tanzania.  We gather once a month anywhere from 35-80 women attending.  We have prepared topics of interest circling around conversations about our individual work, dreams and threshold leaps of change in our lives.  We seek to live inspired lives with our gifts and talents.  Our mission is simple: to be kind, open and flexible as we explore the journey of living the best life possible for ourselves while asking the question: What can we do for making this a better and safer world to sustain us all?  Our biggest surprise has been the inclusion of young teens into our meetings and hearing and seeing the enthusiasm and dreams they have for their future.  We hope through including them in our conversations that we are inspiring them that anything is possible!

I did not have Tanzania on my list to visit.  However, when Sue Rickert from San Francisco came to speak to our group last fall in 2010, we were in awe of her sharing how her ‘Big Idea’ came to be and how she has manifested her work in Tanzania.   We had no idea that this would lead to a journey to Tanzania.

In Sue’s words, her Big Idea came as a "pivotal moment that changed my life!" When Susan visited the Bashay Primary School in the Karatu region, she saw a wing of the school that had a dirt floor and no windows, doors or roof.  She was so moved; she collected the money for the new roof on the spot.

Susan has been collecting money every since. She has traveled each year to Tanzania for ten years and each time, she arrives at the local school with two questions: "What do you need?" How can I help?" Once the villagers select the project, she pledges to raise the money and return in a year to see how it is progressing. "Most of the time, the work is finished and I'm able to cut the ribbon," she says.

Over ten years, Susan has raised over $300,000 and funded new classrooms, schools, roofs, kitchens, dining halls, first-aid clinics and scholarships for thousands of children.

Susan's focus also shifted to another part of the world. Visiting a primary school in the village of Las Palmas in Peru, Susan discovered the need for a first-aid clinic. Within a year she was cutting the ribbon on first-aid stations in two separate villages and creating funds for emergency short-wave radios, solar panels for lighting and refrigeration of vaccines as well as soccer equipment for the school.

Our journey now includes a camera coming along with us to document stories and gather stories from the youth in Tanzania, and specifically in a school Sue supported being built. We will compare this with the short videotape that has been made here in Sonoma with local teenagers asking them similar questions such as, what is the world they envision for their future? Kathleen Quinn, our resident Big Ideas Videographer has overseen this project and will be editing the entire project once we return. You can see her work at

I do not know what dreams and stories I will return to share – but I do know I am in deep gratitude for the support of my beloved husband, family and friends that I am able to take this journey with this group of women that I am getting to know.

We will be in Tanzania camping in The Serengeti Plain during the Great Migration and that in and of itself – is too vast for my imagination. We will visit several schools, clinics and the nomadic tribe in a Maasai Village. 

Whether you travel to a far away destination or take a journey to tune into your inner voice.... oh yes that voice that silently directs your every action…. it may just lead you to a place that you never dreamed of…. Or did I?  It may come when you least expect. Seek out the invitation that is worth accepting.  Listen and observe how your asking of what gives meaning and contentment is shifting in your life.

For anyone who dreams of a journey – there is one waiting out there for you to just say YES! Even if you are not certain WHY – just say YES and the path will begin to illuminate and guide your journey.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Waking Up In Time

This morning I awoke very early and heard the voice…. Don’t go back to sleep…The Universe has something to say, don’t go back to sleep.  The wisdom of the words of Wayne Dyer allowed me to place my feet upright before the Sun….

I sit here lingering over my cup of coffee and Mac keyboard in the still of the blackness outside my atrium window.  I am pondering the words -Waking Up in Time? Waking Up for What?  We are all watching the world waking up, especially Africa. I recently read that 70% of Africa’s population is 30 years and under. They are surely waking up and claiming a life they deserve.

For this moment I am awakened to catch my breath in time. I have another day to wake up.  I am giving thanks for the profound movement of breathes. I think this is worth waking up in time to catch.  

Listen are you breathing just a little?  It can make a difference.  If you can always find some simple way to smile at life, life will always smile at you.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Moving Forward In 2011

Welcome to January 2011! I am finding myself starting out with great enthusiasm for connecting with friends, family and new business alliances. I am busy planning trips for this year and beyond and I hope you will consider traveling to join a group of fabulous travelers. Take a peak at our adventures and look for updates soon!

Let January shine upon you with great abundance and dreams of travel.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December: Don't Panic - Make A Wish List

As December arrives in full swing I begin to feel the frantic pace within and all around me. I have been pondering my thoughts and feelings about the month of December and how I might be able to transfigure my own well-worn script about December and slow down the few remaining weeks of the month for a more enjoyable conclusion to the year.

December marks many traditional holidays and rituals - and none more than the urge to spend beyond ones means and 'meaning'.  Imagine that everyone was given the entire month of December off work with pay, and the only task we had was to experience a month of giving to ourselves - nourishment both mentally and emotionally, and then gifting to others kindness and some act of giving.  Well of course, that is a utopian idea, but what if we did attempt to honor the month of December?

What if we all opened our homes to our neighbors, regardless of whether we said hello to them all year?  What if we were able to realize that December represents a time to be reflective and celebrate an entire year that is coming to a completion in our lives? Rather than falling into the same set of feelings we pull out of the closet year after year, only to play the same record: When will the holidays be over?

I have noticed that I have been waging an 'inner protest' with my own set of emotions about wanting a different result for this time of year. I am sitting down and writing down all the names of friends, acquaintances, circumstances, and accomplishments I have experienced this year.  Rather than filling up my month with the 'To Do List', I am making a 'Wish List' and giving  myself the biggest gift this month - to appreciate myself for all that I have lived through and was lucky enough to do this year, rather than pressing myself to do more.  More importantly is having great health and the ability to do the work I do.  I have so many moments in a day to say 'thank you.'

I hear so many people say they wish the year would be over rather than taking some quiet time or some moments of joy to listen to music, read, walk in your own local community, and enjoy the glow of the holiday season. The ultimate joy is to reach out and share the company of a companion or friend.  

I wish that your December like mine will slow down so that the essence of this beautiful time of year will be embraced by saying, Thank You to all the family and friends around me that have watched and supported me near and far through this year.

So many of us that are driven to extremes tend to miss that December could mark an opportunity to silently cultivate a sense of peace - and that  'all is really well.'  It is also a time of year to mark a loss and give yourself that moment of sadness and surprise that the absence of someone in your life can be the portal to let someone else in.

I am often reminded of the statement of the late author John O'Donohue, a friend of mine who unexpectedly died several years ago.  In a workshop that I assisted in organizing he said,  “Imagine you are sitting in front of a great turf fire and you invited all of your 'selves' to join you in conversation around the fire.  What would they all say? What if you had the opportunity to have a conversation with all of them?'' I imagine all of my selves giving me praise and gratitude throughout December...saying ‘you have done enough.'  

I truly believe unless we can get it right with ourselves in December we will continue to wish the month away - only by big expectations for January and miss the magic of something so extraordinary that could happen for us during December.

My December Wish List For Me and You
(And I am Checking It Twice)
  1. Find something simple to reward and nourish yourself this month. Chocolate will do!
  2. Reach out to someone you have not seen or spoken to in awhile and let them know you were thinking about them.
  3. Throw away the "To Do List"  and replace with the “This is Want I Want to Do” this month.
  4. Put on your favorite music (or discover a favorite piece of music) and  dance in your own living room.
  5. Think about all the intangible gifts you have received  this year and write those long overdue thank you notes to friends and family.
  6. Give yourself a hugh gift of Grace and Thanks for being such a faithful companion under all circumstances this year.
  7. Hug the ones you love and continue to keep the faith in yourself.  

May your holidays be filled with the good company of laughter and restful nights. Traveling Matters wishes to express my gratitude to all my faithful travelers.  See you soon on another journey. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Italy: Discovering The Meaning of Slowly Prepared Food

It all began with a conversation in February, 2010 in Siena, Italy. Not a time of year when leaves are on the trees - but a spell of an unusual snow fall and howling wind!  I struck up a conversation with a young man who noticed I was wearing a Cittaslow button on my coat.  Oh - he said my father heads up Slow Food, Siena.  So - off I began my journey to find a meaningful place to take 24 travelers to engage in a cooking experience. Marco Bechi, who heads up Siena Slow Food diligently held conversations with me through the blessing of the internet and several hilarious exchanges between Italian and English translations.  All made much easier by my Italian co-journey leader, Dorene Lucchesi. Marco got my vision that I was not just looking for a cooking course in Italy - but a place to travel to with a group of twenty-four (24) clients in October to have a rich connection with the people, place and perhaps uncover the deeper meaning of What is all the fuss about Slow Food

In America - the family sitting around a dinner table seems to have disappeared.  Not anyone's fault, just the reality of progress and how families no longer all live in close proximity nor  have the resources to purchase fresh - non processed foods. Perhaps many of us who have picked up the mantel of the deeper meaning of Slow Food are those that no longer have children at home; have work-lifestyles that conflict with the dinner hour - or simply live on their own and find cooking for one person less of a ritual.

Beyond the word catcher: Slow Food, there is a yearning for those of us that desire a method for bringing ourselves, family and friends together to enjoy rich conversations and new found food flavors. So this movement to gather people together for informal dinners is bringing us all back to the table.. a pause in our segmented lives.  The act of choosing to make the time to allow the feelings that arise from just simply gathering friends who cook well or not is a process of uncovering what it means to commune together at the table.  I call it a revival of reclaiming the act of community.  It is  growing one table at a time, one community at a time.  

My vision for our group of travelers was realized with one spectacular day at Fattoria Di Corsignano, in the countryside of Siena.  It became one of the highlights of our twelve day journey throughout Tuscany.  It was one of the treasures we uncovered.  

Elena, Mario and their two children Niccolo and Elisa live on a eco-compatible winery estate of  50 acres outside Siena. The wine and olive estate has been held in Mario's family for generations.  Mario oversees the tradition of growing and maintaining the local vines of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino which he so proudly shared with us and  I dare say quite a few bottles with some to go at the end of the evening. The essence of the fruit balanced with just enough alcohol was by far something my palate keeps searching for since my return home to Sonoma, California.

The estate exists on energy provided by solar panels.  This is not an easy life - but one Mario and Elena are passionate about - and it shows with the glimmer in their eyes as they eagerly wanted us to experience all they had laid out for us that day. The beauty, generosity and hospitality they created for the day together was more than I could have imagined. 

Elena creates the recipes and leads the cooking courses. She has the able assistance of Cristina (an American girl) who moved to Italy in the late 70's and has become their on-site manager that oversees the operations. She is great in understanding the American traveler.

I cannot begin to thank Elena, Mario,  Cristina and Marco from Slow Food Siena, and Cristina for what they did to prepare for our group cooking experience.  The preparation of setting up enough cooking areas and burners for us to chop, cook and stir was sensational.  Everything was what you dream about in Italy: color and simple-elegant country pottery. The kitchen was immaculately prepared for us to begin our lessons.  We were all given aprons and Elena guided us to choose aspects of our menu to team-up and prepare. She was incredibly patient and her instructions were clear and fabulously fun!  We could move between stations to watch, learn and smell the flavors of fresh sage, porcini mushrooms, cippolini onions, tomatoes, all aspects of some of the ingredients in the recipes.  I have never seen so many eager cooks regardless of culinary experience all jump in and learn. Everyone was committed to making our family meal fit for one another.  We laughed and prodded each other through the preparation.. stopping to soak in the beauty of the Tuscan landscape, cypress trees and mesmerizing sunset through the windows.

Elena never had so many people cooking at the same time that were so engaged. She was thrilled with our enthusiasm.  Mario danced between all of this - assisting and then lead us into his wine tasting rooms and cellar to sample his wine.  His passion and commitment to making wine that can be enjoyed today, tomorrow and for as long as his legacy permits - would be a good enough reason to return.  Just being with him and understanding the slow methods for maintaining and producing wine - without all the additives and sulfides have me dreaming of a return in the near future.  Drinking without a headache seemed to be the common response from our group throughout Tuscany, which only lead to being able to drink more wine... 

The menu consisted of stuffed rabbit (that had already been deboned and cut ) that we wrapped in fresh sage and bacon freshly sliced by one of our cooks.  Later the rabbit would be seared in a pan with the estate peppery olive oil.  Others enjoyed stirring the Pappa Al Pomodoro (tomatoe bread soup) - while all of us gathered around the fresh pumpkin and porcini mushroom Risotto!
Happy dining
Estate property

Ingredients for Pappa al Pomodoro

Preparing the Stuffed Rabbit

Dorene, Kathy and  Barbara

Pan searing the rabbit

Stirring the tomatoes

three lovely cooks: Helen, Judy & Mary

John cooking the Squash

Porcini mushrooms and risotto

Beautiful Squash bowls

Marco Bechi, Slow Food, Siena and Elena

Marco, wine maker and Margarita

Vin Santo

Margarita, Helen, Debby

Waiting to be served

A toast to a glorious evening, thank you Marco

A happy group

Robert enjoying the view

And then we began to dine

We had fresh black cabbage (Kale) Bruschette and crowned this meal with dessert of individual apple cake with Vin Santo wine essence!  My simple description does not even begin to evoke the joy of the evening over such a sensational and delicious meal - all perfectly paired with Mario's wine and homemade Lemoncello and Grappa!

We had one mighty happy coach load of contented cooks returning to Siena that evening. 

Their country retreat offers longer stays in their accommodations and many options for cooking and enjoying their surrounding vineyards and even a swimming pool!  You are only a short drive to Siena and other nearby places of charm.

Please enjoy the pictures. I hope they add meaning to this amazing family that welcomed our group with such grace.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Preparing For A Journey

In less than a month I will be co-leading a group of travelers and friends to Italy, exploring several Tuscan towns.  I have been planning and preparing for this journey visually and literally for over a year.  As the days near for departure it is always an interesting introspective journey for myself, and a process that I would like to encourage anyone that is traveling to observe all the challenges of preparing for the leaving, as a gateway to something much larger and yet known about taking a journey.

I do not separate myself from anyone else who is preparing to leave on a journey. We all go through what I call separation anxiety. The leaving our homes, family, work, and mostly what is familiar. We all carry great expectations and anxiety with all the packing and making peace with what we need to lay down and promise to do when we return home.  It is important not to miss this symbolic piece of preparation.

Notice if what you think you need to complete or get done....are tasks that have always kept you from stepping into more joy and contentment.  Taking a journey can represent letting go....

Give yourself the gift of making peace with those things that are gathering too much of your attention. Do not allow the 'The Do List" to sacrifice your wish for how you want to arrive to your destination. A tired body is the natural process of unwinding. But if you can accomplish bringing even a shadow of a nourished spirit and mind the beginnings of your journey will unfold in an unforgettable way.  Imagine bringing an uncluttered mind and openness to new surroundings and new friends.

Many years ago when I took my first group trip to northern India I remember arriving in the dark of the night and offered the group a simple exercise upon arrival to New Dehli. I asked them to write down within the first minutes of arrival every smell, sense, sight, sound and emotion without thinking what they were experiencing.  It was a wonderful exercise and it was astounding to read back how much I was able to write down, just by being fully aware in the first moments of a new destination. To this day I have those writings to remind me of the quality I strive to bring to the beginning of a journey.

I have learned rather than focus on what you are taking... why not ask yourself, what am I bringing? Or what is the best aspect of myself I am bringing on the journey?  Here are a few questions to ponder as your prepare for the 'taking of a journey.

  • What place in me is leading me on this journey?
  • What quality of myself would I like to bring to the group I am traveling with?
  • What kind of gifts or acts of kindness would I like to leave with the countries' people I will be    meeting?
I wish for you to bring joy, laughter, openness, flexibility, wonder, surprise and expect everything different and the same.  May this journey open your invisible eyes to see the immense detail and color around you.

And in the words of St. Augustine - "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."