Violently Happy – The Sedona Syndrome

“Violently happy
it will get me into trouble.
Violently happy
I’m driving my car
too fast
with ecstatic music on” ~ BJORK

The rush of emotions I felt while staying in Sedona was very real. And very intense. I can’t imagine living there and EVER getting used to it. Take a place like that for granted? Never! It’s funny…there was much talk about the vortexes that could be found there. But it seemed to me that the entire place was one big vortex of energy…and it made me feel in-sync with the everything in a way I had never felt before. I felt violently happy.

“Sedona spiritual vortexes are powerful and transformational energy centers that are located at specific sites throughout Sedona, Arizona. Vortexes are the intersections of natural electromagnetic earth energy, also known as ley lines.” ~ From the website SEDONA RED ROCK TOURS.

Day 5 – THE GRAND CANYON

It was a two-hour car trip from our place in Sedona to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. And it was a beautiful drive, filled with insane mountain twists and turns that brought us to a dramatically higher elevation. And with the top down in the early morning hours we came to understand just how cold it got in Arizona when the sun was not up!

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My first real glimpse of the Grand Canyon. South Rim from a lookout we came to after parking the car and walking towards the trailhead. This must be the place!

We set out fairly early in the morning, as we knew it would be a long day of hiking down into and up out of the canyon. To think I didn’t think I wanted to do the Canyon. I don’t know what I was thinking…having the red rocks of Sedona on my bucketlist, but not having the greatest hole in the history of holes on the same list?! From the moment I knew I was going to see the Canyon, my thoughts on it began to change. Of course I should want to see something so incredibly beautiful. As we put it on our list of attractions we would visit on the trip, I added it to my bucketlist…feeling slightly guilty that it wasn’t already there.

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I would say WE chose Bright Angel Trail for our excursion down into the Canyon, but if I did I would be lying. I chose nothing…I only thrilled at the trails that were chosen for me. I remained blissfully unaware of the paths chosen for me until we arrived each day at the various trailheads. Each one was perfect! Including BRIGHT ANGEL…

I’m not going to lie…GOING UP was difficult. But it wasn’t TOO difficult. I’ve been hiking and walking and jogging and running for a couple of years now…so I was ready for the hike up out of the Canyon. But it wasn’t a walk in the park.

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This sign kind of says it all. Go down only as much as you think you can climb back up. No further. And there’s no shame in resting along the way back out of the Canyon.

This was one of the longest treks we took and by far the most populated. There were a lot of people on this trail. I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Is there anything more beautiful?

The Bright Angel Trail was probably also the most well-formed of all the trails we were on in our week in Arizona. The trail was wide and clearly indicated all the way to the bottom…with two rest stops along the way for water and bio-breaks. It was quite impeccable and user-friendly, as trails go.

And I never tired of looking up, down and all around me. Every glance gave another gift to the eye and the soul. So much beauty…and to think I almost said no to this incredible force of nature.

The vastness of the Grand Canyon makes one simultaneously disappear into oblivion and feel more vital and alive and big than ever before. It’s the equivalent of a spiritual enlightenment if ever there was one…

DAY 6! BELL ROCK AND THE COURTHOUSE BUTTE! Our final HIKE day. We originally decided to have Thursday as a day of rest before our Friday all-day trip back home to Toronto. But I couldn’t imagine being there for a day and NOT hiking. There were two trails fairly close to home and side by side with one another that we decided to try on our last full day in Sedona. They were easy…so it would be sort of a rest day. (-;

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There were many places along the perimeter of Bell Rock where you could climb and explore. Such a beautiful place! This was only a skip and a jump up on a ledge near the bottom…nowhere near the top.

Probably one of the easier hikes we did in our week…it was a trail that circumnavigated the two attractions. One big circle of a hike with two beautiful formations in the middle…or so I thought. There was a third, much smaller formation that was no less beautiful. I never did find out what it was called, but it took my breath away…

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Is it weird that I saw these as four little witches having a little huddle? I swear, I felt their scheming and heard their cackling…

As with the notion that going down is voluntary but coming up is mandatory at the Grand Canyon, one should never bite off more than they can chew on ANY trail in the desert like conditions of Sedona and the surrounding area. On this trail (We actually did the BIG PARK LOOP TRAIL—which incorporated the two other trails on the site) we came upon someone in clear distress…someone who misjudged his ability to complete the trail. We stopped about a quarter of the way along the trail to help a man rise to his feet…with the assistance of his friend. And I scoured the brush just off the trail to find them a walking stick to further support him until they made their way back off the trail and to their car. It’s never a good idea to take to the trails if you’re not one-hundred percent certain you can finish it. This man was clearly in deep distress. I was glad to see them heading straight for the exit and not redoubling their efforts to push forward.

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We decided to bring our shadows with us on this trip. It’s always comforting to find them either trailing behind us or showing us the way!

Although this was an easy trail to walk, there were certainly a lot of things to climb and explore along the way. It was absolutely a FUN trail to do…and I would highly recommend it!

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This is the formation I mentioned earlier whose name I couldn’t seem to discover. If you happen upon this blog and know the name of this formation, please let me know in the comments!

 

I called that unknown formation THE MUSHROOM…for obvious reasons. My one desire, once it came into view, was simply to TOUCH it. I thought, ‘If I could just touch that awesome formation, my day will be made.’ The closer we got to it, the more I realized my wish would come true…but I had no idea just HOW thrilled I would eventually become!

As you might be able to see in the collection of photos above, I was not only able to touch THE MUSHROOM…but I was also able to climb to its very pinnacle and look out at the vastness of the area from its tippy top stepping stone right smack-dab in the centre of it! This little formation became one of the highlights of the trip for me. It just sort of took my breath away when we walked around the corner of Courthouse Butte and saw it sitting there all by itself all pretty and mushroomy and whatnot. ❤

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At the end of our trail when I heard, “If you want to climb Bell Rock, I’ll wait down here for you.” I jumped at the opportunity  and practically flew up that rock! If you see little specks of people down below me in this pic, they are actually ON bell rock…there are several layers of it below them and I’m several layers above them. It was such a fun climb…I just jumped from rock to rock, slope to slope until I reached the point I wanted to get to. What a beautiful vista down below. As I walked around up there, I was able to take in everything else in the area…including the highway and all the buttes and hills strewn about…

What an amazing day Day 6 turned out to be. A day of rest morphed into one of the most memorable days of an incredibly memorable trip!

After that incredible hike, we had one last afternoon at the pool followed by one last evening out on a beautiful Sedona restaurant patio. It was a revisit to THE HUDSON…one of the first restaurants of the week. We loved it so much, we rebooked before leaving the first time.

If you ever go to Sedona and you’re looking for a place to eat…please make sure that wherever you go, you ask for the patio! I’m quite certain wherever you land, you can’t go wrong. The town is literally surrounded by mountains.

Well, that’s it. Sedona and Arizona in a nutshell. It was literally one of the hardest places I have ever in my life had to leave. But I will definitely carry it with me always and forever. In fact, I’m quite certain I’ll be back. One day…

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This is 50! (x 2 = 100!)

On the Occasion of my 50th Birthday! Sedona at its Best..

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September 13, 2016 – A Milestone Birthday Celebrated in Paradise! THIS is 50!

Day 4 – West Fork Trail at Oak Creek AND Thomas Point Trail!

BUT FIRST! Huevos Rancheros! Before setting out to hike the West Fork Trail, we went to a little restaurant I saw down the street from where we were staying. I LOVE huevos rancheros! And with a name like HUEVOS, this restaurant spoke to me immediately!

I was NOT disappointed. Their huevos were incredible!

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When in Sedona, Arizona, do yourself a favour and stop by HUEVOS – A MORNING EATERY. Their huevos rancheros are top notch!

After an amazing breakfast, we were ready to really begin the first day of my 50s.

Sedona has so much more to offer than red rock. It really opened up to us on my birthday. The West Fork Trail was lush and beautiful. If you do the whole trail, to the end and back, you get to cross the meandering creek a couple dozen times. Sometimes, this is done on strategically placed rocks, and sometimes it is done on logs and branches.

While walking the West Fork Trail, you’re down in a valley of sorts…and it doesn’t matter in what direction you look up into, you will find the beautiful mountains and rock outcroppings that Sedona is famous for. They’re everywhere. But the trail is simpler and more relaxing than a lot of the other trails…because of the way it’s nestled in the forest valley. If you do this trail, it will give you a nice variety of scenery AND a pleasant cool walk.

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On our way out of West Fork Trail, I decided to leave a little something behind…a token of Canadiana. Just like the ones you will see alongside any highway or byway in our own country. An INUKSHUK!

After the pleasant trail in the West Fork on Oak Creek, it was time to cross the street and see what Thomas Point Trail was all about. For a 50th birthday, I’m pretty sure it was one of the best on record. I don’t know how it could have been better…

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One thing to point out about Thomas Point is that the trail was hard to find. We almost gave up on it. You are led to believe you’re on it, and then the path you’ve taken leads to exactly nothing…but dead-ends. I was just beginning to feel a sense of relief that we weren’t going to climb the almost 1000 ft to the top when we discovered our wrong turn and found the right path!

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While getting slightly lost and turned around on Thomas Point Trail, we were momentarily pummeled by a short freak hailstorm.

After finding the proper trail, we made our way up the rather big hill or small mountain. At first, prior to coming out into the open, we criss-crossed our way up the forest. This was difficult but not too difficult…strenuous but not too strenuous. It was when everything opened up that we felt a little more vulnerable. The path narrowed and it suddenly felt like we were no longer climbing a hill, but a mountain side. And the edge was right there beckoning to us with every footstep. And cacti appeared and other desert flora.

Yes, it was steep. Yes, it was incredibly windy at the top and it felt like the mountain was fighting to kick me off, and YES! I did wave my hiking towel over my head in victory. THIS IS 50!

Word of advice if you ever find yourself looking for the trail on Thomas Point Trail…LOOK. Once you find it, you’ll be glad you did. The vistas that open up to you once you get up and out in the open are heart-stopping and breathtakingly beautiful! SEEK AND YOU SHALL FIND. And if you don’t find it, go back across the road to the person on duty at the parking and ask. It really is a must see (sort of secret-ish) trail.

After a long day of hiking, climbing, creek-crossing, laughing, loving, running, walking, and inukshuk making, we were ready to head back down to Sedona proper.

I found it very difficult not to take pics from the car for the entire duration of  our holiday. Everything was just TOO beautiful. The 5000ft elevation sign on the roadside was posted on the way down the enormous hills that took us to the trails…so I’d estimate that we were somewhere around 6000ft while hiking…although we were down in a valley. Elevation was pretty mysterious in Sedona. We were HIGH!

After a long day of trails and mountains and driving, we were ready for dinner. And with a creekside table, L’Auberge de Sedona was ready for us! I will never forget the day I turned 50…and I will never forget the meal I had at L’Auberge that day. We were both celebrating 50…so it was a combined 100-Celebration, as it were. (-: The restaurant was fabulous…every plate was a feast not only for the mouth but for the eye. The fois gras was the best I’ve ever had. Even the dessert was special. Who gets pearls on their dessert? And the waiter was fantastic. He even handled our Scared-Canadians grilling about the upcoming election with finesse and aplomb.

This was a birthday I couldn’t even imagine being around for at one time. I’m glad I made it. And with any luck, it’s just the beginning. I mean, fifty is still young, right? It’s the trailblazing and mountain-climbing age. We have a few good years left in us.

(The rest of the trip will be covered in a third post.) And, yes, dear reader…these posts are just as much for me. When I’m old and grey(er) I’ll be able to find out what I did on my 50th birthday, simply by reading this post. God willing.

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Driving back down into Sedona with the top down on the Camaro. This is 50!

This Must Be the Place – Sedona, Arizona

 

I always found the song This Must Be the Place by the Talking Heads to be so incredibly ethereal. From the first chords of the song, I can feel myself welling up. The definition for ethereal is truly the way I feel about that song– “extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world.”

“Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me around
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
Guess I must be having fun…” ~ This Must Be the Place by the Talking Heads

It’s a delicate song…flawless and light, even effervescent. It seems too perfect for the bold brashness of this world.

“There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be…” ~ This Must Be the Place by the Talking Heads

I believe I have found this song’s doppelgänger in PLACE. I didn’t know what to expect when we recently headed down to Sedona for a hiking vacation. I just knew that the red rocks of Arizona were always on my bucket-list. And that it was a place I had to visit before dying.

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I was taking pictures before we even finished our two hour car ride from the Phoenix airport to Sedona…

“Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It’s okay, I know nothing’s wrong, nothing…” ~ This Must Be the Place by the Talking Heads

 

From the moment we landed, I knew that I was coming home (one of the many ‘soul’ homes I have discovered around the world, I should add). Once I had my feet on the ground–and my head in that sky–I knew it would be the most painful thing to leave there. From day one, Sedona was a breathtaking beauty I have yet to discover anywhere else in the world.

I have to confess here that I did absolutely zero of the heavy planning that was involved in this trip. I simply gave the vague idea that hiking red rock and desert and Arizona was high on my bucket-list. Here’s the itinerary as I remember it (Not including the day we arrived):

Day 1 – Guided Trolley Ride that included the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The trolley driver and tour guide was amazing! A Vietnam vet with a thousand stories. He had been everywhere and done everything. He was as entertaining as the scenery was beautiful. If you go to Sedona, a great way to begin your journey is by easing into things with a Trolley tour. SEDONA TROLLEY

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Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona (a church built into the buttes)
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The church was gorgeous inside and out.
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As with most days, Day 1 was capped off with an afternoon at the mostly abandoned pool. The last stop prior to an evening of dining amidst the scenic views of Sedona’s restaurant patios.

Day 1 Restaurant Choice was THE HUDSON. It was so good, and the views were so amazing, that we secured a reservation for later in the week before we left. The pics below show the views from our patio table, the butcher’s block (charcuterie), and, a statue we encountered just prior to entering the restaurant. There’s a couple art galleries in the same mall parking, and there are plenty of beautiful sculptures and statues throughout the area. This one, of a boy lifting a frog up out of a pool of water, reminded me of my grandson Edward and his lifetime love of all things FROGGY and GREEN! I mean, that statue IS him.

Day 2 – Airport Loop! This was a fun hike. Just a short walk from where we were staying, we got to add a couple miles to the hike just by walking there. What surprised me about the Loop, right at the onset of the hike, was how seemingly dangerous it felt. You were CLOSE to the edge right away. Rather thrilling when I was expecting an EASY hike.

The prickly pear cactus (Seen in the pick above, with the red berries growing on them) is quite beautiful, as cacti go. And they can be found all through the hills and valleys of Sedona. Our trolley guide explained to us that he picks the berries and his wife makes prickly pear jelly with them.

The restaurant patio of the day was SALTROCK SOUTHWEST KITCHEN. It had a lovely view and an amazing martini that was as spicy as it was boozy. The food was delicious and our waitress was awesome. There was one little hitch I noticed, but it didn’t take away from the overall experience, really. A visitor to our table seemed uncomfortably awkward each time he appeared (Once dumping bread on a fly-by and telling us it was free and to eat it). Other than that, it was quite lovely.

Next up? Day 3 – Chuckwagon Trail and DEVIL’S BRIDGE! Devil’s Bridge was one of the extreme highlights of the hiking tour, which I’m sure it is for many-a hikers.

Chuckwagon Trail was so indicative of the Western movies I grew up on in the 70s. It was down in a valley filled with rock and dried creekbed and cactus and dessert shrubbery…with 360 views of mountains, mesas and outcropping. Marvelous beauty…a perfect film set!

Even with all the wonder and beauty offered to us hiking through Chuckwagon, we were not prepared for what we were about to encounter!

DEVIL’S BRIDGE!

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The bridge was dangerous and thrilling…exactly what I was expecting from a medium hike in beautiful Sedona. It was heart-racing to be out on that ledge far above the valley below. Absolutely loved this entire day…it was a great mix of landscapes and scenery!

I’ll cover day 4 and onward in a separate post, as I’m afraid this one is getting too long. Must get it all out before the details blur together and become not day after day after day, but rather THAT trip to Arizona. (-:

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE!

Goodbye to My Beautiful Camino Friend…

Sometimes people come into your life for such an incredibly short glimpse of time that it’s hard to imagine they could leave a huge lasting impression. And then they do.

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Nick, Danielle, and Connie…taking a break at a stop along the way.

And then, sometimes, you get to walk the journey of the Camino de Santiago…and every path you cross is significant, every person you meet is a brother or a sister. Just like how you are called to The Way, you are called to meet and walk with those you discover along the way.

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Every step of the Camino has beauty to offer. The trick is keeping yourself open to it. It is, at times, a tough journey.

My Camino journey was with a group. Sue Kenney is a friend and Camino guide who takes groups to Spain twice a year to walk a portion of the Camino together. She is a kind heart and an amazing Camino guide. When I went with her group in May, 2014, I had no idea what it would be like.

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A bridge on the way out of Portomarin, Spain.

On day one, our group discovered each other…we made friends with one another. We were filled with anxiety, excitement, jet-lag, hope, longing, fear, curiosity. The electricity was palpable! We were giddy! As we set off on the journey to the church in Santiago, we found our pace and we walked together, and in smaller groups, and alone. It was constantly shifting, changing, evolving. We walked with one another and we walked with strangers from around the world.

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The bridge into Portomarin, Spain…

The person I covered the most miles with, by far, was Connie. At first, perhaps, we walked together because our pace was the closest match. Though, truth be told, Connie actually had a slightly faster pace than me.

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The famous church of Portomarin, Spain. It was moved from the riverside up a hill…one brick at a time. They numbered each brick so that they could re-assemble it at the top in the proper order.

Right from the onset, Connie felt like a good friend from far away. We just hit it off instantly. She was wise and giving. She came into my life at a point where it was very much in flux. She was exactly who I needed to talk to at that time. Her no nonsense approach to life was amazing. She offered life advice, relationship advice, and surprisingly, even advice on how to walk properly.

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Did I mention that beauty could be found at every turn?

Connie was the group photographer. And she took incredible pictures along the way. She joked that the hundreds upon hundreds of pictures that I took were always blurry and out of focus. I joked that I was capturing my shots with an amateur eye and I didn’t have the pressure of taking the perfect shot every time because I wasn’t a professional. She took beautiful shots…breathtaking. I was lucky to find one good one in a hundred. But I was okay with that. Often, I didn’t even stop walking to take a shot.

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Mountains and fields everywhere. It is the most breathtaking journey to Camino de Santiago…

We would lose each other along the way, walk with others in and out of our group, catch up with one another for breaks…it was all utterly organic. No plans beyond WALKING TO CAMINO DE SANTIAGO.

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One of the beautiful signs that others have come before you is the many ribbons you’ll find in the trees. Most with messages of hope and wonder…most in different languages. The world walks the Camino.

Each night the group would meet up and break bread together and sleep together at the same albergue. Other than that, we were wayfarers walking our way across Spain.

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There is a lot of graffiti along the journey to Santiago, Spain. It seems to warn you to LIVE YOUR LIFE NOW.

Connie and I had some extremely deep conversations while we walked. We divulged secrets to one another…shared wisdom, laughs, jokes, tidbits of our lives outside the journey. The connection grew quickly, as it does for all who take this magical journey.

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We discovered the long and winding road of song. It’s in Spain…on the journey to Santiago…

By the time we got to Santiago, I felt such a strong bond with Connie. As a whole, the group definitely bonded. It was filled with wonderful people. But there were also smaller groups within the group. Myself and Connie being one of them. She was fearless, headstrong, a smartass, courageous, funny, serious, irrelevant, relevant. I knew I would love her forever. I hated that she lived so far away from me back home. She was in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. I’m in Toronto.

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You meet SO many people on the journey. This is Connie saying hello to a horse. Its rider was from Germany. We met up with him a few times. He was a wonderful man. We struggled to communicate, because of the language barrier. But we made do. Hugs are universal. So are smiles…

Connie came into my life, and became a huge part of it for just over a week. Such a short amount of time. But such a relevant and profound time it was. It was thoroughly life-changing.

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The man who owned the beautiful horse. He was showing off for me in this shot. A quick gallop as he passed me by. This was our 2nd last meeting. We were able to share a few minutes in a cafe a little later that day…

The journey changed me. Our group changed me. Connie changed me.

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Walking up the hill outside of Portomarin, Spain…where our group had a beautiful picnic at the top of the world. A picnic I will cherish for as long as I shall live! Connie getting JUST THE RIGHT SHOT…while I snapped a hundred random ones on my way up the hill.

It was not long after our return from Spain that Connie contacted me and let me know that she had cancer. She was confident that she was going to kick its ass. And because I had come to know the strength and resilience she carried with her throughout her life, I had no reason to doubt her. No reason whatsoever. She was a warrior. I struggled our entire journey to keep pace with her. She was the first person I ever met who walked faster than I did. There was nothing she couldn’t do.

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A great number of people pick up walking sticks along the way to Camino de Santiago. Some decorate them. Some keep them. But most stack them into a corner outside the office where you receive your Compostela certificate.

I will never forget my Camino journey, nor any of the people I walked with (both inside and outside of the group I began my journey with). I hold the magic of the journey close to my heart.

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CONNIE

I will never forget the RAIN, and how we often forgot it was even falling.

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Catching my shadow on an ancient road…

I won’t forget how grateful we were on those rare moments during our walk when we actually cast shadows and the sun brought us much needed warmth.

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Claudette, Julia, Connie – Three friends walking THE WAY…

I will never forget the snow. And I will never forget seeing Claudette and Julia walking together (shown above)…and often with Connie and I. Julia with her scary blister near the beginning and her impossibly painful knees…and her trucking through come what may. I was on this journey with a group of Goddesses, truly!

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Connie and Sue as we see our first glimpse of the church in Santiago. A beautiful moment captured forever in my heart. The prize at the end of a long journey!

I will never forget our group. Sue, Nick, Danielle, Tanya, Claudette, Julia, and, Connie. Camino peregrinos forever.

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Our last night together in Camino de Santiago, before heading our separate ways back to our lives…changed forever. Myself, Connie, and Marielle (from the Netherlands)…who walked some of the journey with us (the honorary 9th member of our group!).

There are so many people I will remember from my journey. People from all over the world. None were more memorable than Connie. All were amazing!

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Connie, having fun on the Juliet balcony…inside the restaurant of our hotel in Santiago. I did it first. Because I’m silly by nature. It made me feel so great when Connie did it…because she was not silly by nature. It meant more when she did it.

Connie and I both talked of one day going back and walking the entire Camino journey, all the way from France. She saw it as a part of her future. I imagined myself doing the same. But now I know I MUST walk the entire Camino sometime in the future. I wanted to walk it for myself. Now, I want to walk it for Connie.

Connie passed away on the first day of spring. I write this with tears in my eyes and a profound sense of loss.

I will remember you always, Connie. You gave me so much in our one brief week together. You were a beautiful soul and I was blessed to have walked some of your journey with you. I can’t believe you’re gone. It is a profound ache to know that you have left us. I had you for such an incredibly short time…but you have changed me forever. Rest in Peace, my beautiful Camino friend.

Kenya, Six Years On…Life Itself Is a Moveable Feast!

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast” in his Paris memoir A MOVEABLE FEAST.

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He was right. By God, was he right. But he also touched on something with that now famous quote…something in my soul. A truth. He was right in saying PARIS was a moveable feast. It is a rich city of love and light. It has come to represent the beauty of life itself. That’s why those cowardly inhuman bastards who like to think of themselves as a STATE (which is so completely laughable) took aim on our (the world’s) city. Those creatures are the least of the least…pathetic losers. Call them DAESH…because they hate the derogatory term. Don’t call them ISIL or ISIS. That’s what they want. They are DIRT. They are less than dirt. They are heathens and unholy dirtbags who are attempting to hijack a religion and destroy the world and the love within the world. Call them Daesh or call them nothing. I should not compare them to anything…because whatever I could possibly compare them to is BETTER than them. The puckered asshole on the back-end of NOTHING is better than these cowardly nothing pieces of shit (Oops…shit is miles above these creatures). What they don’t know is that the whole world is laughing at their sad pathetic asses and their attempts to destroy the love and joy and peace they can’t begin to understand. They are uncouth imbeciles, from the leader to the smallest of them. Religion?! Ha. Mayhem, destruction, apocalypse whores with Daddy issues. Losers.

OOPS! Me and my tangents. That’s not even where I was going. I didn’t mean to write that. I guess there’s no denying the fact that I have so much disgust for these creatures…as I love life and they abhor it. I think I’m just gonna leave that here. NOW…where was I?

Hemingway said that Paris was a moveable feast…but the more countries I’m fortunate enough to explore, the more I realize that the world in its entirety is a moveable feast. There is beauty in every corner. There are beautiful people in every corner.

It was six years ago today that I boarded a plane and took off for Kenya. I fell instantly in love with the country. It’s hard to believe it was six years ago. Hard to believe in a SIX WHOLE YEARS sort of way AND a ONLY SIX YEARS sort of way. I may have discovered a host of things in Kenya, but I think one of the most important things I stumbled upon while I was there was myself.

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Masai Market – Lamu Island (December, 2009)

From Nairobi to Lamu…from Ngong Hills to Masai Mara…the country took my breath away. Its beauty and its people.

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Captured while sitting at a sidewalk cafe on Lamu Island.

I went there with Summer Literary Seminars and I studied writing while simultaneously discovering the country.

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I was fortunate enough to take a safari in Masai Mara, while staying at Keekorok Lodge.

I met amazing people, saw incredible things. I even kissed a giraffe.

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Seeing Kenya made clear Hemingway’s words well before I stepped foot on the sacred soil of his beloved Paris. Everywhere we go, if we look, we will find a lovely and breathtaking moveable feast. The more we love, the more we take back the world from those who seek only to destroy it. For evil lurks in dark places…but love…love can be found everywhere. Love itself is a moveable feast…

Walk in Hemingway’s Footsteps! PARIS is calling! The 2016 Left Bank Writers Retreat – Holiday Discount for the Writer in Your Life!

In June of 2014 I treated myself to one of the most remarkable journeys I have ever been on. Yes, it was Paris…and that’s always an amazing journey. But what made it special were the people that accompanied me on the journey. When you participate in the Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris, you instantly become family with a handful of writers as you traipse together through the same Paris that Ernest Hemingway knew and loved. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to see Paris through the eyes of the LBWR facilitators.

And they are currently having a holiday discount!

Now accepting registration for summer session of the LBWR, June 19-25, 2016

Holiday Discount, register before December 31, 2015 and save $200

As a past participant in the LBWR (June, 2014), I can tell you it was one of the highlights of my traveling/writing life. We lunched at amazing sidewalk cafes frequented by Hemingway, we wrote in the Luxembourg Gardens and in the Tuileries, we visited many museums, we took the Metro to Montmartre. We did it all. And the organizers–Darla Worden, Sarah Suzor, and, Travis Cebula–were absolutely incredible. There is not a thing about Paris that Travis Cebula does not know. He is just a non-stop wealth of knowledge. This is important when you have your evenings to yourself and you’re new to the city of lights. Travis was there with an answer to all inquiries when it came to mapping out our evenings in Paris. The three of them went well beyond all expectations, making my first experience in Paris a truly memorable one I will carry with me forever.

Honestly, beyond the tours of Hemingway’s haunts and the writing exercises in the most beautiful parks of the city, we all just connected. And it was certainly implied that every year makes up another special familial group of Left Bank Writers. With Darla, Sarah and Travis serving as the glue that holds each year’s group together…you really can’t go wrong.

If you’re a writer, allow the LBWR to show you a Paris you have never seen before while simultaneously kick-starting your writing to the next level. You won’t regret the experience. If there is a writer in your life and you’re looking for the perfect writing gift to help encourage their path…THIS IS IT. Give them Paris and Hemingway and Darla and Sarah and Travis! It’s a combination like no other. Beautiful City + Beautiful People = Unforgettable Awesome

Here’s the latest missive from the LBWR…you can read more about the program in their words:

Holiday Gifts for Writers: Paris Tops the List

Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris announces holiday sale plus top-5 book suggestions

 Denver, Colo. – Nov. 10, 2015 – The Left Bank Writers Retreat, a small-group six-day writing workshop and literary tourism experience held in Paris each June, has some great gift ideas for that writer on your holiday shopping list. “Of course you can’t beat a chance to find writing inspiration in Paris firsthand,” says Left Bank Writers Retreat founder and director Darla Worden, “so we have to suggest that as a starting point.”

As a holiday gift-giving incentive, anyone signing up for this summer’s retreat before Dec. 31 will receive a $200 discount off the $1,999 tuition for a reduced price of $1,799. The Left Bank Writers Retreat will take place June 19-25, 2016, and tuition covers all daily expenses during the retreat from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (breakfast, lunch, admissions fees and transportation around the city, as well as writing instruction). Writers are responsible for their own airfare and lodging.

Open to all levels of writers, the Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris includes morning writing sessions, coaching and one-on-one time with the instructor for a maximum of eight writers, as well as lunch each day, admission to museums and area sights and a picnic on the banks of the Seine. Recommended by the Los Angeles Times as a chance to follow in Hemingway’s footsteps and cure writer’s block, the workshop includes a literary tourism experience that treats attending writers to many of the sights featured in the Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris” as well as some newly opened and off-the-beaten-track literary landmarks.

“If a trip to Paris is larger than a shopper’s budget allows,” says Worden, “books about Ernest Hemingway and Paris also make excellent gifts.” She recommends the following list of titles, old and new, to add to shopping lists:

1.    Hemingway in Love: His Own Story by A.E. Hotchner

2.    Hemingway’s Paris: A Writer’s City in Words and Images by Robert Wheeler

3.    Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties by Noel Riley Fitch

4.    Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

5.    The Nick Adams Stories (Audible Audio Edition) by Ernest Hemingway, read by Stacy Keach

The Left Bank Writers Retreat is named for the now-famous writers who lived on Paris’s Left Bank during the 1920s. Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald are some of the expats who wrote in Paris, congregating in the city’s cafes and bars to share ideas. During the June retreat, participants experiment with many of the Left Bank writers’ techniques.

Applications for the June 2016 retreat and registration information are online at www.leftbankwritersworkshop.com/register

Darla Worden is a writer who lives in Jackson, Wyo., Denver, Colo., and Paris. Worden has written widely for magazines and authored several books. She writes the popular blog Frenchophile and is currently working on a book about Hemingway’s Paris.

Now in its seventh year, the Left Bank Writers Retreat takes place on the historic Île Saint-Louis in the heart of Paris. Writers arrange their own lodging and transportation to Paris. For additional information, visit www.leftbankwriters.com.

Media Contact: Darla Worden, WordenGroup Public Relations, darla@wordenpr.com, 303.777.7667

Make a decision that will change you or the writing loved one in your life. I promise…it will be incredible!

Some pics of my Left Bank Writers Retreat adventure!

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In the evenings, participants are free to visit the sights of the city either on their own or with fellow participants. I discovered this beauty with fellow participant, Nina.
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Left Bank Writers Retreat creator Darla Worden, with fellow facilitator Travis Cebula and participant Nina Welch. We wrote in the Luxembourg Gardens most mornings!
The Left Bank Writers Retreat faculty take writers to these magical steps, where Gil was whisked off into the 1920s in the movie Midnight In Paris!
The Left Bank Writers Retreat faculty take writers to these magical steps, where Gil was whisked off into the 1920s in the movie Midnight In Paris!

Wuxi, China…

Just a few picks of our Thursday in China…

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This Buddha was stunning. It stands 88 metres high. Inside the base is a beautiful shrine filled with thousands of foot high Buddhas, a museum with different Buddhist statues and a souvenir shop.

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Wuxi (pronounced Wooshie) is another city of beautiful canals. The circle on the top of the building is a Starbucks sign. (-:

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Wuxi is a small city of only 3 million. In the downtown core there is a protected area of older houses that now serves as a shopping street. It’s beautiful… filled with lanterns, discos, restaurants and lights. With a canal running parallel behind one side. Between the houses were beautiful canal views, each worthy of its own picture…

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Friday! Today, a pearl factory and then a three hour bus drive to the next city…

Finding Focus in Nairobi

Nairobi

(The following piece originally appeared in WORD WEAVER.)

FINDING FOCUS IN NAIROBI – Part II of III

Polepole (rhymes with—and means—slowly, slowly). This is the method by which Kenya moves. I first experienced this when I boarded the 12‐seater for my return to Nairobi. The pilot promised a non‐stop flight. Ten minutes in, however, he announced a change of plans. He said those three words no airsick mini‐aircraft; neophyte passenger wants to hear: “We’re going down!”

Our Plane, Landed on the Siana Airstrip

It was Independence Day in Kenya. The celebratory air show at the Nairobi airport meant “no fly zone” for us. We had to land at Siana Airstrip and stay grounded for an hour. As we touched down, I saw a herd of gazelle leaping across the runway, mere feet from the plane’s nose! It was a horrifying, heartbreakingly beautiful sight. After narrowly avoiding the herd, our pilot assured us we could have safely crash‐landed to the side, if need be.

As a peppering of Masai emerged from the surrounding trees, I forgave the air show that kept us from our destiny. We were having a moment! Every day in Kenya carries with it a magical moment. To see it, all you have to do is surrender to the beat. Pole, pole.

After an hour of sharing stories with the generous Masai, it was almost painful re-boarding the plane. But we said our goodbyes and took to the air once again.

Navigating the country on my own was wonderful, but I was excited to be back in Nairobi. It was time to meet my fellow writers and begin the SLS fiction program.

My instructor, Catherine Bush, made me realize the importance of focus in storyline, something I never contemplated while writing. She broke down the process and explained how the writer should consider the reader’s expectations. If you give them one strong thread to follow, they see that thread as your storyline…throw in too many and confusion ensues.

Catherine assured me I could do this and carry on writing in the freefall style that I love. I was afraid I would have to sacrifice my “NO OUTLINING” rule but all was good. With her guidance, specific to my own manuscript, I was able to retackle my story, find the strongest thread—the story’s essence—and run with it. Catherine equipped me with the tools to help me do this. It was as though she came into my windowless house, created windows and then helped me to fling them wide open.

Our classes were held on the outside patio of a hotel in the heart of Nairobi…with fragrant breezes swishing our pages and intoxicating our lungs. If Nirvana is a place, it’s filled with writers, acacias and yes, even shouting taxi drivers. The outdoor classroom had its limitations, but they only added to the vibrant atmosphere.

You can live concurrent lives in Kenya. We were steeped in words but we also inexplicably saw everything in and around Nairobi. We took in the Rift Valley, the Ngong Hills, the Giraffe Centre (complete with sloppy giraffe kisses), an elephant orphanage, a reading by some of Kenya’s top literati, a chaotic downtown Nairobi Masai market, museums, parties and barnyards.

Daisy, the giraffe. Kisses were free!
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The Beautiful Ngong Hills – Outside of Nairobi at a lookout on Uhuru Highway

I cried while our bus travelled the Uhuru Highway en route to the nearby Ngong Hills, as I watched a shanty-town blur by. Children played in the dirt, inches from our tires as we whizzed by at 100km per hour; goats bleated; vegetables collected poisons from black exhaust bursting from every vehicle; thousands of rusted ‘n shacks—strung with uncountable lines of miraculously pristine laundry—crowded together like rotten teeth in a mouth too small to hold them.

My sadness at seeing the crumbling shantytown was double-edged, though. Every face held a smile, every life a beat you could feel. My heart ached during the entire trip…but with what? I couldn’t quite place it. The melancholy I felt…was it for the people of Kenya or for myself and the people back home? People who have not yet surrendered to the comfort of a ‘me no clock could hold. Polepole…slowly, slowly.

After a long week of writing craft and exploration, we were ready for the last leg of our journey…Lamu Island. I couldn’t imagine it topping Nairobi…but I was about to discover there were no limits in Kenya.