B.T.W. (Breathe. Travel. Write.) Yoga & Writer’s Retreats may just be what you need to get inspired! I’m excited to announce my next retreat: May 23-30, 2020 in Tuscany, co-led with Literary Agent and Author Paula Munier. Retreat location is near Lucca and Cinque Terre at the estate Il Borhino. Interested? We have 18 spots. Send me a note and I’ll provide pricing details. You have plenty of time to save miles for a flight! After an initial deposit, payment plans are possible for this intimate retreat that includes daily yoga classes, all meals (vegan & gluten-free on request), writing and publishing workshops, as well as the opportunity for consultations and chapter reviews. Lets do this. You are worth it. XO
… So, what are you waiting for? Hope to see you soon! 🙂
Where is her heart leading her? Is she listening? A path emerges from the depths of her despair. Will she follow it? When she hits rock bottom and has nothing left, she has nothing left to lose. No one to please. No one to worry about. Will she follow this path? Or will she stay safely stuck, tucked away in her narrowing mind of grief that closes all doors, folding her further into darkness.
This is her pivotal moment. This choice can change everything. Will she choose it? She has an inkling that it just might make everything that happened—every God damn shitty thing done by those who loved her most—almost make sense.
But only if she gets on that plane. Only if she follows the nudging of her heart. It feels like running away. It is. It feels like giving up. It is. It feels terrifying. It is.
Finally, when she can no longer get up in the morning in the same house decorated with sinister smiles peering behind photos in every hallway, she’ll know what to do. When she’s finally had enough of being left with the mess; being left to walk alone past the empty nursery; being left with the trinkets of 15 years of betrayal and longing mixed within memories pushing her six feet under, she might muster up the courage to go.
A path is unfolding. And because she no longer cares whether she’ll live or die, she may just get on her first international flight and leave everyone and everything she’s ever known behind.
The Living Yoga Retreat in Santa Ynez, Calif. this past week, was a soulful, simple, beautiful journey. I say simple, because it brought me back to the beauty of the basics. We all know the simple truths that ring true if we stop to acknowledge them. These truths, if followed, allow us to live by what tunes us into the beauty around and within us. For me, this retreat, led by the beautiful and talented yogis Linda Baffa and Chelsea Welch, allowed me to embrace my inner rhythms. Waking at 6 a.m. every morning, doing a netti pot, going to 6:30 yoga and meditation classes, assisting with cook and cleanup, required dedication, effort and focus. The salt water cleanse and whole, fresh, organic vegan diet—cleansed my body and mind. I felt buoyant, yet grounded with focus. This coffee-drinking, chocolate-loving gal, felt free and pure and happy. I found myself walking through pomegranate fields and just smiling. And like good witches of the West, we all meditated and flowed—focussing on our intentions and manifesting our dreams. Dream boards were made. A day of silence required inner reflection, painting, giggling, hiking. For me, I was able to determine what voice to start the sixth chapter of my book with. I had vivid, inspiring dreams. And, just as important, I connected with soulful, kind, fun, inspiring women.
Now that I’m back, what I have taken from this trip, (which I also felt when in Tuscany) can be boiled down in simple thoughts and pictures. Enjoy:
Slow Down. The Journey May Inspire You as Much as the Destination.
Be Grateful for whats around the corner. Even bumps in the road provide valuable lessons for growth.
Pay Attention. Hidden Gems Can Be Found In Your World.
Embrace What Inspires You.
You Can Make a Difference: Small Efforts Blossom.
Pay Attention to the Signs:
Your Legacy Matters. Pass Down Traditions.
Listen To the Wind, Breathe Deeply and Tune into Your Truth.
In every yard of field, you’ll find gorgeous, plentiful gardens.
Apricots dangle temptingly down a local wall.
And many of the fruit and nut trees, bushes and plants I photographed during a recent morning walk through our Tuscan village were found along the roadside or in ditches or over walls. It’s remarkable the sheer amount of fresh fruit and nuts that I found on a one hour stroll!
Fig trees like this grow along the roadside with plentiful fruit almost ready to be picked.
It seems that walnuts, almonds, apricots, figs, plums and artichokes (carciofis, my favorite!) grow like weeds in this area of the world.
Yummy plums along a dirt road.
A walnut dropped on the road from a plentiful, old tree.
Mysterious blue berries in a ditch near an abandoned field. They weren’t our blue berries, as we tasted them! Perhaps ripening black currants?
As we looped back around from town and through the surrounding fields, we then, of course, came across the staples of Tuscany: grapes from vineyards with champagne grapes, semolina wheat fields and olives.
I can’t seem to tire of the Tuscan landscape. I have been here for two and a half weeks now and am still in love with the rolling hills, the textures and the vibrant colors of this region of Italy. Deep greens, golden fields and silver wisps of leaves surround me. As you drive, or walk, throughout Tuscany you see amazing landscapes such as this, that have been manipulated by man for centuries.
The curved rows of plowed, mustard-yellow fields are of the semolina wheat used to make pasta (that I am eating too much of!). By the end of June, most fields are plowed with bales of wheat rolled and waiting.
I adore the ever-present groves of olive trees, like these just outside our window. The Frantoio Franci olive oil company is in walking distance to our vila. These are younger trees that are not producing usable olives just yet. Off in the distance, are older, more rugged trees with darker leaves, that are being harvested.
We are awakened each morning by the sound of tractors and the yips from the workers’ dogs who accompany them. The red ladders and three-wheeled mini pick-up trucks are often back in the fields after siesta—when the temperatures drop again and it is easier to work. Siesta, which is approximately from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., is completely understandable to me now. With temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily, it’s critical to slow down—especially when working outside. Most businesses, except restaurants, are closed during this period as well. There seems to be no option but to take life slowly in Italy. When we first arrived in the province of Siena, I was concerned by the fact that there was no wifi in our villa and it was hard to come by in the village. I had an article to finish about Autism. I managed to do it on a dialup modem—but it was a looong and frustrating process. I couldn’t Skype with my boys. Email was hard to check. It felt like I was adrift. Once the story was in, I relaxed and started to breathe deeply and became more in tune with the rhythms of this world that are intrinsically linked with its landscape. My siestas became endearing to me. Here’s a typical siesta:
I sit in the local piazza. I notice a grandfather making amusing faces at his grandson as he buys him a gelato before heading home. I hear the adorable singsong voices of children who say papa! as they run home. A woman smiles and makes fun of me, calling me an “Alaskan” since I prefer ice cubes in my drink. I notice a momma bird feed her baby bird bread crumbs on the piazza floor.
I see a momma cat and her kittens hide in the shade of chairs.
I watch bees harvesting nectar from the potted lavender bushes and hear the bells chime from the convent on the hill above the village. A Vespa whines in the distance. I take a bite from my panini of prosciutto di Parma and Fontina cheese and think how marvelous it is that I haven’t once looked at a cell phone text or read an email. This won’t last, of course. But I am so thankful to have been given this temporary taste of freedom from my addiction to the Internet and with the need to keep up with all things and all people all the time. I give in and tell myself that my boys are just fine without me for a brief time. I pull out a map and start to plan a day excursion to another village. I begin to think about dinner—the obsession with food is quite contagious in Italy. And by the end of an hour, I head back home. Perhaps boring for some, but for me, being in the moment and present in my surroundings is a gift. I want to bottle it up and take it home.
When we arrived at the end of June this was just another green field with rows of leafy plants. Within two weeks, like so many of other fields in this region, it literally burst overnight with bright yellow and brown heads beaming up towards the sky. Driving past later in the afternoon, I shot this picture from the car window. I didn’t have time to stop with another car close behind me on a winding two-lane road—but I couldn’t resist the urge to capture their newly emerged faces. These proud, tall sunflowers seemed to scream “Smile, Damn it!”
I took this picture just before sunset last night, July 4th. I felt such a pang of sadness just before taking this shot—as I miss my boys tremendously. The night before, I woke up at 1 a.m., dying to talk with them, and went outside and tried to call my oldest. When there was no answer, I sat on the steps and listened to the insanity of the loudest cricket orchestra on the planet. Tuscan crickets remind me of hecklers at a Yankees game. They seemed to be screaming at me: ‘Suck it up! Be a big girl!’ Anyway, it worked. I said a prayer that my boys are happy, lifted it up to the heavens, and went back to bed.
I’m learning that letting things go is a process. It doesn’t just happen when one day you decide that it’s a good thing to do. There are habits of behavior and longings and regrets that just don’t die away the moment you want them to. The boys and I will no longer have in-tact family vacations. Mommy and Daddy, after 2.5 years of separation, are nearly divorced. And as I spend time with my boyfriend’s children, who are adorable, I recognize their own longing and sadness that they try to hide. Family vacations always brings up the past. My goal is to be able to fondly recall past memories of our in-tact family holidays, and to be able to create and embrace new ones with a multi-family dynamic. I’m striving to move towards acceptance of my situation and to make peace with where I am. With each picture I shoot, and with each family dinner, I wish I could share it with my boys. But I have to let it go. I’ll be back with them in August and thank God I spend most rest of the year with them!
Tuscany reminds me, in some ways, of my summers in the South. I know, there are no olive tree orchards (like you see here) or cypress tress or fields of sunflowers or lavender and rosemary bushes the size of small trees. But, with that said, one has to slow down here. It’s so hot, for instance, that you really do need a siesta in the afternoon. Stores and restaurants shut down from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s completely understandable. There is no air conditioning, anywhere. So you close all the shutters and windows during the day, walk very slowly when out, seek lemonade and gelato and try to find spots in the shade.
Lavender bushes outside our kitchen in our villa. The smell is amazing!
Everyone slows down here, especially the cats! (And there are so many wild cats!) This sweet gal hides in our rosemary bushes outside our kitchen with her babies. Of course, we are feeding her…how could we not?
Look closely. Do you see her?
What I love most about Tuscany, is that the minute you arrive, your spirits begin to lift. How could they not? On the drive from Rome, you see fields of sunflowers, or a castle up on a hill, or a Romanesque, walled town off to your left. As we pulled into our villa, I smiled ear-to-ear. How can one not be affected by such picturesque beauty?
Our closest neighbor on a nearby hill.
View from my other bedroom window. The owners of this villa owns the working olive tree orchard and makes their own olive oil. I’m sure we’ll take home a few bottles!
More lavender behind the house. My absolute favorite scent at the moment!
I guess you could say our first day of vacation in Tuscany has been pretty remarkable! James and I decided to venture out of our villa in Sinalunga (the municipality of Sinalunga is in the province of Siena) in search of the rare Tuscan store that is open on a Sunday. Last year when we vacationed in Tuscany, we often travelled to the medieval village of Trequanda and thought we remembered a store or two that might be open. After driving up the walled hill that once marked the entrance to the ancient Cacciaconti castle, we parked just outside a park and the entrance to the piazza. I am shocked when I notice former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich following his lovely wife into the historic church “Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea.” I later learned this ancient Romanesque church with a unique white and ochre checkered facade, dates back to the 13th century.
Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda
Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda
The former journalist in me just can’t believe that the Republican Speaker of the House who recently withdrew from the presidential race—is here in this same remote village in Tuscany attending mass. Even though I’m a Democrat, I admire Newt’s intellect and his ability to debate. As a former Atlantan, I also have heard many stories and arguments over the years from Republican friends who support him. Because of this, I watched several interviews between himself and Piers Morgan this winter and spring while he was running for the Republican nomination and just after he withdrew his candidacy. I got so excited that they are here, I convince James and his brother Tommy to sit on a bench outside of this church and wait for them to finish mass so we can say hello. As we wait in the 95 degree temperature, we begin to get antsy and while Tommy looks around, I also take in the surroundings of this quaint, historic village and it’s piazza.
Piazza near Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda
For a Sunday, it is still alive and well with tourists sight seeing and locals strolling and stopping for a bite to eat.
Cafe across from Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda, whose owner took our photographs with the Gingrich’s. After mass, the former Speaker of the House and his wife had lunch here.
Side steeple of Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda.
I was amazed by this tiny side door of the church and its unique stone carving above the doorway.
Tiny side door of Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda
After about 20 minutes, Callista Gingrich walked out of the church. Dressed in smart Khakis and a pressed blue shirt, she smiled as we stood up to say hello. You really could not imagine a more friendly person. Because of her demeanor, my butterflies disappeared. James said hello first and she immediately held out her hand and introduced herself. We knew who she was, clearly.
“Are you vacationing here too?” she asked while smiling. We told her we were staying in nearby Sinalunga and she remarked how beautiful the remote villages in Tuscany are. She didn’t seem fazed at all by us and brushed off my apologies for “bothering” them while they were on holiday. She later told us that they were vacationing with friends and love to go to mass while on holiday. When Newt walked out, he wasn’t as friendly at first, but then held out his hand instinctively and said hello, asking our names and where we lived. When we asked if we could take their picture, I was surprised by Callista asking for my camera and then walking over to the owner of the nearby cafe to see if he would take a few pictures of all four of us together. When I chuckled and said, “Thanks for this” to Speaker Gingrinch, he laughed and said, “Well, it makes her happy,” and shrugged.
Not only did the cafe owner take our picture, but Callista asked him to take a few more, just in case they didn’t all turn out.
Callista & Newt Gingrich with us: Laura Roe Stevens & James La Rossa Jr.
What a kind and friendly person Callista is! Clearly, while the two of them are finally enjoying some anonymity in such a remote village in Tuscany as this—especially after so many stressful months campaigning—they didn’t have to take the time to chat with us and pose for pictures. I hope the two of them enjoy a wonderful, peaceful holiday in Tuscany!
AloneTogether: Single Moms Support Group (This is a closed group, please say you found their site from me, Laura Roe Stevens, when requesting to join.)
The UCLA Family Commons: http://www.uclacommons.com/
Single Parent Housing: www.SPAOA.org
Pell Grants For Mothers: PellGrants.ClassesAndCareers.com