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."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Do You Want To Travel?

How Do You want To Travel?

Creating group travel with purpose, mindfulness, and leisurely rhythm, while still not missing the essential sites…is artful traveling.  Then gathering a cohesive group of travelers to engage and be curious together about the country and each other is what fuels my spirit to seek out interesting people, places and then craft an itinerary to match.  Just as an artist who at first may not even know the palette of colors he or she will choose – it is much the same for special focused travel. 

One spends long days and nights creating and crafting an itinerary that will hopefully contribute to the temple of memory…long after the return of a journey.  And sometimes all of us, who are wrapped up in the constant changes in our lives, just need someone to guide us, if only for a week or two.

I have learned that one does not need to travel to such unusual places to discover what matters in life.  Where ever we go… all of us have the same longings and common wish – to be content and to know that our lives matter. Group travel is a full immersion experience. Unencumbered from the details travelers can explore the inner and outer boundaries of themselves… And sprinkle fabulous food and wines to nourish and embellish the stories – it is a fine recipe.

Travel Agents and Tour Companies have queried me on why don’t I just come up with a ‘cookie cutter’ recipe? That would not be as much fun. My methodology for the way I choose to organize my travel planning – one trip or one country at a time is far more adventurous and at times challenging to put all the pieces together. It may not be the best well thought out business plan, nor the easiest path to greater financial gain. However, it has become my way, giving attention to each traveler that chooses to travel with me and the lessons I learn makes the return “priceless”.

As life begins to become more complicated with daily decisions, a journey can be an opportunity for time well needed for reflection and pure joy embracing a quality of time that cannot be carved out in our daily lives.

My travelers come from all over the world and have all become part of the fabric of my life and teaching.   What a privilege to recall a name connected to an experience that draws a smile – or the loss of someone once part of a journey.  Journeys can be a collection of memory like a deep sparkling spring that one can draw from and
stoke remembering a time not so long ago…

Take the leap… experience the fear… and then thank those that take the leap with you. That is the magic of what a journey is all about….

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Art of Travelling

Greetings Travelers and Friends.

It is a beautiful Friday morning on July 2, 2010 here in the Sonoma wine country where we live.  Thank you for your overwhelming response so far to Traveling Matters News and your encouragement for my new venture with a Travel Blog.  Yikes…so much to learn.   I trust you will be patient as I fumble and navigate around the blog world and find the best sources to bring to your attention and write my travel experiences – the agony and ectasy of it all……

Today I awoke to asking myself once  again about the meaning of the word travel and why I continue to care so much about my desire to offer travelers more than just a trip.  I was thinking about my own journey with what seduced me toward making a majority of my life's work about connecting myself to others through the art and ritual of travel. Always having a curiosity for cultures starting at a young age reading National Geographic magazines - my world formed larger than the small town I was raised in.  In 1993 after a significant career change, I woke up one morning to an awareness that I wanted to 'travel with purpose' and began a few solo sojourns around the world... So here I am continuing to organize journeys with meaning and mindfulness, with of course large daily sprinklings of FUN and LAUGHTER too!

Anyone can buy a guide book, maps and get to any place I offer travel to but the question of inquiry is to ask yourself: How do you want to travel and who do I want to travel with?  

If you explore the word travel, it has many meanings; some metaphorically and spiritually defined through pilgrimage and often we take a trip just to 'vacate' ones hectic life, schedule and to vacate the mind of the chatter, right?  Here are few interesting words to play with around travel and might assist you when you are thinking about even taking a journey. 

To Travel - A passage.  And if you travel light, you travel without taking much luggage (except for all those different style of shoes that women must pack).  However, metaphorically we may be traveling heavy from an inner perspective and the act of travelling with purpose can open up those unanswered questions, nourish and renew us for our return home.  

I enjoy knowing the origin of place names and words and incorporate this in my journeys to the countries we visit.

The Latin word for traveler is Viator.  Sounds pleasing to say I am a Viator

And did you know that the Latin phrase for travel is:  eo ire itum - To go, advance, progress  toward.......

For today consider this  Irish musing:

As you journey through life
choose your destinations well, but do not hurry there.
Wander the back road and forgotten paths
Seek out new voices, strange sights,
and ideas foreign to your own.
Such things are riches for the soul.
And may happiness always be your companion wherever you go, 
Whatever you do.  

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Let The Fun Begin: Join Me in Writing and Sharing our Stories

Today I'll start my blog. Ummm, what shall I say? I like to write, write, and write.  I dream about writing and long last..with the encouragement of many friends and family I have dared to expose myself to express my words and stories.  I understand that a blog is about spontaneous thoughts and feelings - and then find a few words or more to convey meaning, imagination, and perhaps evoke memories, happy and sad - but mostly to invite all of us to share what we most have in common - learning to truly embrace this one life we have to live... through common stories and support, encouragement, and of course, my journeys of connecting all of us  through the handcrafted journeys I will continue to be inspired to plan.

I will share my experiences through travel, relationships, poets, authors...and I just might dare to share my own musings - along with  some of my favorite friends' art and photography through my blog.

I attempt to live by my word and truth..sometimes having to dig deep to get to it..but have a deep spiritual core and concern that I can live my life in a full and contented way.  I often get my inspiration to write through poetry, landscape, cultures and traveling with the many groups I have been privileged to take to many places in the world.   However, I am learning that inspiration first must come from one's own self and anywhere your feet, ears and eyes land.

Recently, a friend shared a wonderful quote with me: 

"If you want to build a ship don't drum up people together to collect wood and assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea"   - Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry.

Keep your journeys open and wide.  Expect a surprise each day!