It’s been a while, I know. But between buckling down to study for an online course I’m taking with IIN – the Institute for Integrative Nutrition – helping my mom out after a surgery, getting away for my fabulous, long-awaited for vacation, and traveling for work in between… Whew! It’s been a hectic eight weeks.
Some days flowed effortlessly. Others started out the worst days EVER (First World problems). Yet, every time I thought I saw a negative, I held fast to my old belief that “everything happens for a reason.” I simply had to find out that reason and look for the signs to turn in a better direction, and invite that redirect to occur. Fast.
I went from being on the verge of failure for non-participation to taking a proactive stance in my career future and being told I’m a natural at coaching others toward good health and wellness. When I sort of declared my unrequited love for someone and had it go unreturned, I didn’t look at it as rejection. I saw it as the impetus I needed to get my head out of the fantastical clouds and realize my true worth that someone, someday will truly appreciate, while allowing myself the freedom to finally invoke that perfect partner to come into my life and (re)connect with my heart. And then, as I was denied board on a flight through fatigue and neglect, blaming myself for missing a special opportunity to hear a treasured music play… one for which I’d pre-paid… the artist wrote to suggest I attend a personal sound healing with him, instead; an experience I’d wished for but previously thought impossible. Moments later, like fairy dust sprinkled on a dream, an appointment was scheduled at the magical hour of 2:22 pm, and I walked on air.
If there’s a moral to the story, it’s that we cannot always control what happens in our lives, but we have absolute control over how we react to those circumstances. What seems like the worst thing in the world one moment can free you up to receive the most amazing gift in the next. Just let go. Let go and acknowledge that there is a divine plan, and there are plans within plans of which we have no idea, but be open to the truth that Spirit/God/Allah/Yahweh/Source only wants you to be happy. Let go and create a space for that happy-ness to squeeze its way inside and light up your whole world. And since Light is Information, you will receive that inner message, that wonderful opportunity, or that amazing prize you truly deserve.
I would eat kale chips and truffles every day of the week if I could, but I digress.
During meditation this morning in my hotel room in São Paulo, I prayed again, as I often do, to bring people and experiences into my life that inspire and assist me in moving along my journey as a fully conscious human being.
What does prayer mean to you? My agnostic and atheist friends would say it’s bunk. Speaking to an unseen, unproven entity while pinning all your desires onto this force is outright crazy-talk to them. Me? I see prayer as a simple case of semantics. Whether I’m praying to an individual that represents perfection of spirit or sending out a request to a universal Source of energy in the All That Is makes no difference to me as long as my intent for change and living my own truth is pure. That said, in all things, one must be careful not to always “wish” for something. As Universal Law of Attraction teaches: you will be given the perpetual experience of wishing something to come true, rather than living that desire. Verbiage is critical here and I can’t stress it enough. Everything happens for a reason.
So, days later, it occurred to me that because I called out for these people to come into my life, it’s no wonder I sat in the Portland airport one early Thursday morning, a nervous wreck, wondering whether I’d get on the flight as a standby passenger, only to feel that sigh of relief, like I won the lottery or something, when the agent called my name and gave me the middle seat to LAX… saving me from missing my next work trip that afternoon. One of the last two people to board the airplane, I found my place in 11E between two women, one of whom immediately greeted me with a friendly ‘Hello’.
“Oh, jeez,” I thought to myself. “This one’s a talker! I’d better tell her how I’m operating on only two hours of sleep and need to rest before I get to work…. Where are my ear buds?”
Fortunately, in this particular case, my instinct for kindness was stronger than my instinct for survival, because Gwen C. and I ended up talking from the time I sat down till the time we stepped off the aircraft in Los Angeles, and it was one of the greatest conversations I ever had in my life. Gwen is a lovely, vivacious 73 year-old with an amazing attitude and she’s totally dialed in to the collective universal consciousness. We covered everything from the state of our current educational system to the care of aging parents; from needing to grow our own vegetables to finding our life’s purpose. Currently, she lives in Mexico but imagines a life traveling and meeting people while exploring new cultures. She’s well-versed in current affairs, dabbles in real estate, exercises, and eats healthfully to maintain her endless energy. Heck! I want to be like Gwen when I grow up and she’s interested in reading my blog. (Hi, Gwen! And thank you.)
I left that flight feeling jazzed and ready to go about my day, a luxury I’ve been able to re-create every time I think of her. I asked for this, right?
My 2 hours and 20 minutes with Gwen capped off an excellent few days of long flights, driving through the most gorgeous, natural landscape in America, meeting up with the newly dubbed ‘French traveling hippie’, eating raw chocolates, and listening to some Beloved music.
Back in the day, I was known to travel for good music. If my favorite band was playing within 500 miles, I was in the car on the road to see them. Now as a flight attendant I can stretch that distance a bit further, so when my friend Brandy sent me a flyer of Elijah Ray playing in Ashland, Oregon, I couldn’t miss out on yet another opportunity to see him perform live and rearranged my schedule to fly over from France. Around the same time, a friend on vacation from Paris, Cécile, contacted me on Facebook to say that while traveling through Canada via the Trans-Canadian, she discovered she liked “hippie things”: yoga, meditation, nature and music, and that she would soon be trekking from Vancouver down to California on her way to see some giant trees. Wow! A girl after my own heart! Growing up in Detroit, I’d dreamed of taking the train across Canada and exploring the wilderness as Cécile was doing. And suddenly I felt ashamed to have lived so close to the redwood forest in San Francisco and never visited those majestic trees. Even though I’m a tree-hugger at heart, had I been that lazy ambivalent? I was a different person then. Although I practiced yoga and liked to putter around in the garden, I was caught up in the vicious cycle of television and shopping, living a superficial life at best. Cécile was living it, and traveling alone in a country where they didn’t speak her native language… an achievement I wished I’d acquired many years earlier than I did. I was proud and happy for her. We hoped to find a place to convene and see a familiar face while away from home. Perfect timing! Enter Elijah and the Peace Village music festival.
An in-flight road trip was born.
After landing in Boston, then Portland, and then Eugene, I picked up my rental car and headed for a little motel to crash for the night. It was nearly 10:30 pm, and I had to ring the doorbell to get service. A disheveled, middle-aged Indian man eventually appeared behind the glass in a pair of plaid boxer shorts and flip flops, buttoning his short-sleeved shirt over his tank top. I felt bad for possibly having waken him. Maybe it was the jet lag and sleep deprivation, but I wanted to snicker, too. A long way from Paris, I felt completely out of my element at this roadside stop in the middle of logging country. This called for a sense of adventure and humor…. He gestured for me to hold on a moment as he disappeared back into his apartment behind the counter, then the innkeeper’s vivacious daughter came out and took over the transaction. I hefted my bags up the stairs and squirreled away for the night. In the morning, I’d see exactly where I was.
It was lovely.
Incredible groves of tall pines, as full as any picture-perfect Christmas tree, swayed in the wind along the road on the drive from Eugene to Ashland. I could see how the famous vampire and werewolf families would use them as thick cover to hide their secrets, but we’re not vampires and werewolves. We Are Human: a term used to describe this physical condition we’re in, as part of the great race walking the earth, connected and yet lost in the quest for self-discovery. We Are as invincible as we are vulnerable…. The opening set of music from the artist who calls himself Human was just that: touching on our vulnerability while embracing our aptitude for life experience. (Regrettably, I did not purchase one of his CDs while at the show and cannot find him on YouTube, so if you know how to get in touch with his music, please let me know.)
During intermission, Cécile and I wandered around the campsite venue in search of refreshments and found chocolates, instead. Kristina Pescatore is the delightful maker of Kilikina’s Chocolate, the lovingly created, silky smooth, raw bon bons in delicious flavors like hazelnut truffle, raspberry and lavender. (You can have them delivered!!) She is truly turning her creative passion into a living, where work is no longer a job and inner peace is the payoff. Cécile jokingly offered her to teach us how to make the chocolates so we can eat sell them in Paris, but we may have to settle on a visit and more samples. Not a bad thing, as this girl rocks feminine laid-back cool and I’d be happy to call her “friend” any day.
Kristina is also the other half of flugelhorn specialist, Max Ribner, whom I recognized from Medicine and the People, but now plays with Elijah in the +Band of Light-. Munching on whole grain bread with avocado, Max declared our tribe “clean hippies” (❤️) and excitedly told us how he and Kristina would love to visit Paris; take his music there and live the dream, traveling. He was speaking my language! Music, clean living, chocolate, traveling… Max gifted me his latest CD, ‘Leap to Flame’ which is fun, upbeat and full of talent, just like the man, himself. It was an honor and a treasure to meet this couple, both living from the heart in service to their fellow brothers and sisters. At American Airlines, they form what we call TeAAm, with two As and an eagle in the middle. This beautiful pair will be a welcome addition to the City of Light.
If you’ve read my posts before, you may have noticed Elijah is my musical crush, and to be included in his +Band of Light- family is a blessing. The man exudes grace and Love, and I’ve thanked him in return by sharing his tunes whenever I can (and will continue that tradition today). Often, I refer to him as an Ascended Master, as I believe he is definitely one of the angels among us, with his lyrics encouraging us to ‘Give Thanks’ and honor what we have today while consciously creating the space for a brighter future. I think he’s deserving of a much bigger following, but those fans who know of him are wonderful and true; their contact with him genuine. Beginning the set with a sound healing meditation, we gathered round the stage and let the vibration carry us where it may. Once the official concert began with Elijah’s +Band-, Cécile found herself in Hippie Central, grinning from ear to eat as everyone rose to dance and gyrate around us in front of the stage. Much as their parents did, little children danced with joy and abandon, the atmosphere supercharged with L-O-V-E.
I would’ve taken more photos but I was too busy singing and dancing, figuring it was far better to be in the moment than to record it for all time, so you’ll just have to make it to one of the band’s shows, yourself. 😉
As all good things must come to an end, though, the concert was forced to wind down as the curfew hour arrived. Even our raucous applause was too loud to warrant another encore, so the event organizer encouraged us to give silent appreciation and we chose… wait for it… JAZZ HANDS!! In return, we were treated to the celestial voice of an angel: Tina Malia in her precious duets with Elijah.
Life is what you make of it, and our time in Ashland was short but sweet. After the show, Cécile and I make our way back to our motel, where we’d only get three hours sleep before heading out. Loaded up on provisions from the Ashland Food Coop (vegan “Heaven”, she called it), as I headed for a flight out to LA where that divine reroute would have me meet Gwen, Cécile rented the same car and drove on to see some really big trees. Seated on the plane in front me: the incredible dancer I’d seen at the concert the night before, Elijah’s girlfriend, Amber. Reminding me of a more peaceful warrior, I imagine her the goddess of the Amazons, it’s no wonder they make a perfect match. (Reminder #2 – Google ‘ecstatic birth Amber Hartnell)
So, prayer. The power of intent.
When I left the familiarity of San Francisco fourteen years ago for the complete unknown in Santa Monica, it was to surround myself with people who were where I wanted to be in life. At the time it meant learning how to be a better writer by being around those who worked on screenplays, so I took a course and became a script supervisor. It lead to some eye-opening, fun, stressful, wouldn’t-trade-it-for-anything-in-the-world adventures. Am I a better writer? Only the reader knows, but I met some amazing people that taught me a lot.
Later, I’d call in others who could provide with guidance when I strayed off the path. I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing much. Financially and spiritually broken, I physically broke bones when I repeatedly said I needed “a break.” Words, thoughts, deeds, and actions are powerful entities, each with its own capability to manifest into something life altering. Choose them as wisely as you’d choose your friends or lovers. Trust in the Universal Law of Attraction that you will be given all that you desire, as well as be provided the tools and people who can help get you there. Be very clear in your request! When you are ready to make that call, the Operator will provide what you need. If you seek inspiration, ask and look for the signs. Suddenly it will be all around you. With any luck, it will come with a smile, a bear hug, and wisdom, all wrapped up in a delicious raw chocolate maple truffle with some fabulous music playing in the background.
If I had begun and ended my trip in Victoria Falls, I’m sure I would have walked away satisfied I was fortunate to have experienced such a wondrous site so personally, but the adventure had only just gotten underway. At 07:15 the next morning, I hoisted on my backpack and met my taxi driver from the previous day (the car mats dried overnight) and we departed for Livingstone airport. Two puddle jumpers later, I arrived in Mfuwe.
Battered, bruised, and slightly worse for wear with cuts and scratches from falling into the river, I was nervous beyond all reason that I would step off that plane in the middle of nowhere and find no one to greet me. Months had gone into planning the retreat but I hadn’t heard from my (very handsome) safari guide in two weeks. What if he’d forgotten? Who was going to meet me? Would they know I was there on that day? All thoughts ran through my head as the propeller plane taxied into the tiny airport. I worked jumbo jet within huge operations, so I felt a bit of trepidation.
I need not have worried.
My (very handsome) guide had arranged things exactly as he should, as if there had been any doubt. Pff… The friendly, kind face belonging to a man called James stepped forward to greet me with a, ‘You must be Elaine,’ and it was the start of a fast friendship.
The ride to Shenton Safari’s Kaingo Camp took about three hours through South Luangwa National Park. As we passed through the town of Mfuwe, neighbors shouted out and all manor of children jumped and waved to James as we drove past. His house was nearby and I was sure he knew everyone in sight, since he waved a friendly acknowledgement in return to each soul. I wish I had taken photos but my point-and-shoot camera sat in a bad of rice and I was too timid to whip out the iPhone. At any rate, I was too busy absorbing every moment.
General stores, fruit stands, and bicycle shops soon gave way to a more rural setting. As we reached the outskirts of Mfuwe, I noted many bush fires smoldering. The air smelled strongly of smoke. The children, James explained, started wildfires as a rite of passage without understanding the damage they caused. Several grass fires burned close to mud brick, thatch-roofed houses where women sat outside, some selling fruits at makeshift stands. The potential for catastrophe seemed real and inevitable without awareness and education against playing with fire. I worried for their safety. I wondered for their futures.
As we approached the park’s entrance, James explained that he was the Daddy who made sure all his children were safe and I was his child. He asked me a few questions and disappeared inside an office to register my stay with the authorities. You know, in case that lion my mother feared would eat me. (It didn’t.) A baboon stood at a sign posted just inside the gate into the park which read, ‘ANIMALS HAVE RIGHT OF WAY’. James and I had a good laugh. Yes, sir! Before I left France, I promised myself to go on safari with no expectations of which animals I’d see, except for the giraffe, my favorite animal in the whole world since childhood. Not five minutes inside South Luangwa, I saw my first giraffes. One of the graceful giants gazed at us with mild curiosity before crossing the road. And you know what? We gave him the right of way. Beyond my wildest dreams and so soon into my trip, my first wish came true for a spectacular trip. It was a good omen.
All along the drive, James pointed out various species and told me their indigenous names: the puku, the kudu, the bushbuck… I clung to every word while trying to take the advice of my (very handsome) guide to ‘slow down to the land.’ Midway, we stopped to lunch on ham and cheese sandwiches, lingering by the Luangwa river, listening to hippo snorts and laughter. Accompanying all this in my head was the song that remains there to this day, ‘Give Thanks’ by +Elijah-. It sounds almost mystical to think my life had already changed in a matter of a few hours, but it had in more ways than I could even express then. I didn’t understand that with each mile I pushed forward, I left an old way behind. I opened my heart to new experiences and ideas and am continually rewarded. I hadn’t even reached camp! Wow.
Shenton Safaris focused on small details. Upon pulling into Kaingo Camp, I was greeting by the friendly faces of the staff, including Noelle, a fellow American and safari manager who gave me the run-down and told me that if I was up to it, we could quickly catch up to Brent (yes, he has a name), who had spotted a pair of mating lions while out on the morning drive with my group. Within ten minutes we were tearing down the road in pursuit of real live ‘Animal Planet’ action. Our two vehicles met in a clearing where I exchanged hugs with this long-lost, amazing soul and he introduced me to what would become our little ‘famiglia’ for the next eight days. Barbara and Lorenza were a mother-daughter team from Bologna, Italy. Every year since Lorenza was eight years-old, they’d gone on safaris and this was Lorenza’s eighteenth birthday present. My mother and I just went to the Ice Capades every year. These two went on safari! Another wow. It was their second tour with Brent. Jealous. Noelle parted company and next thing I knew, we were right up in it. Lions. Mating. I was inside the pages of every ‘National Geographic’ magazine I’d seen as a girl.
Caution: Lion porn ahead!
I learned interesting facts, like lions mate every twenty minutes until the female begins to ovulate, and then they mate every twenty minutes until she conceives. Incroyable! They stopped and hunted for food occasionally, of course, often with the help of family members within their pride but, just like clockwork, twenty minutes passed and they were back in motion. Fascinating. As days passed, we’d witness many more incredible events from other mating pairs to lionesses protecting her cubs; from ‘Go Away’ birds and puku calling out signals of warning against predators; to a female leopard killing an impala twice her size and dragging it to shelter; to an innocent family of squirrels in a tree; to the elusive honey badger… supposedly one of the rarest of all savanna creatures to witness, but of which Brent and I counted a total of six sitings during my stay. So much of animal behavior mimicked our own, or did we mimic theirs? Security, shelter, survival, respect, even love, are all traits common throughout the species. What we want for ourselves, we must want for others. Respect the one who gave its life to serve you. Support the earth as it supports you. We are all connected. I slowed down to the land in Africa, disconnected from the world of ringing cell phones and high-speed internet access, and I didn’t miss it one bit. I found comfort in a small bush camp. I found home inside myself. I gave thanks.
Days started at 05:30 with a drum beat. We met for tea or coffee by six, and were out on the drive by 06:15. Breakfast at 09:15 gave us strength for afternoon activities, another drive or quiet reflection at one of the ‘hides’, observation hideaways perfect for photo opportunities or wilderness walks to commune with nature. Lunch was served at your personal chalet, where you could snooze or (in my case) do a bit of hand laundering of the lady garments. A long evening drive was invitation to view the nocturnal creatures or the twinkling carpet of stars in the expansive night sky. For a solid two days I had NO IDEA what the heck what I was looking at as it was pointed out to me. By the time I adjusted my new binoculars, the group had moved on to something new. I can’t remember exactly when the light bulb came on, but I came to recognize a genet versus a civet; a striped mongoose from the tree squirrels; and all manner of bee eaters from lilac-breasted rollers (those are birds). Brent and our ranger Maxwell pointed out animal tracks and taught us the difference between hyena and leopard prints, as we took 6 km long treks through the wilderness. Sometimes we’d follow tracks with no results only to turn a bend in the road and come up on the very cat who’d eluded us for days on end. Evenings finished with a lavish three-course meal and recollecting the days sitings, the little family laughing and joking about our lives, before collapsing contentedly in canopied beds.
I absolutely loved every moment. I couldn’t possibly share enough and still convey how I felt, and the pictures… Well, you all know the story of my camera woes but I did manage some photos, thanks to my trusty iPhone. Tears streamed when I left sometime after a male, bull elephant blocked the drive for a while. And James… Well, it was a long handshake, but not a good-bye.
To the Universe and all who made this possible, I give thanks.
When I tell Americans people where I live, I invariably get a barrage of responses.
“You live in Paris?”
“Did you move there for a man?”
“You’re dating someone there, aren’t you?”
“You used to date someone there, didn’t you?”
“Wow, you’re brave!”
“I always wanted to do that.”
“But we’re American. We don’t move.”
That last one always makes me laugh. I’d like to tell it to the thousands of expats living abroad in France, and if I had a euro for every time I heard one of these exclamations, I could buy a nice bottle of champagne to toast such a great personal achievement.
The simple truth is, I moved because I could.
During the Lance Armstrong years, I rediscovered my passion for cycling and fell in love with the spectacular scenery on television while watching the Tour De France. And ze French, pff… they really have a knack for living well. Their food and wine is a wonder unto itself, but they still maintain the daily niceties and rituals that many of us in the States – especially in the larger cities – often forget in our self-absorbed, electronics-obsessed culture. (I’m guilty.)
Yes, it was a dream to live overseas. I had thirteen foreign pen pals as a kid. As an adult, I lived in ten different U.S. cities (more later). It seemed only natural to take it one step further. I’m a flight attendant now and lucky to have the opportunity to travel overseas. Several of my coworkers commuted to foreign lands, so why couldn’t I? Alright, my French was rusty, but I’d taken lessons throughout high school and for a hot minute in college. Not wanting to lose my skills altogether, I began to work to Paris and get to know the city while I used creative visualization, dated a Frenchman in New York and sat on the idea of moving there for two years until I was single and found the perfect home the chips fell into place. Etvoilà! I packed up, grabbed the cat, and left.
It was at once the most difficult and most liberating thing I did in a long time.
French bureaucracy is without a doubt legendary for good reason. Sure, I spoke SOME French, but I had to learn “electric company” French, and “cable company” French, and “I have a leaky hose underneath my kitchen sink” French. For months, I felt like a hamster spinning on a wheel trying to navigate the system but, through the good graces of an angel of a friend, a stubborn streak and perseverance, I now live in a fabulous studio in a desirable neighborhood with a petit view of Notre Dame and I can post this blog to you through my fancy high-speed internet machine. Best of all, when July rolls around, you can catch me wearing yellow and exploring the French countryside as I follow le Tour.
If cycling was the first thing that got me to notice France again, then the food held my attention.
Julia Child commented in her book ‘My Life in France’ that she never knew what chicken tasted like until she moved to the gourmet capital. Baguettes, macarons, cod fish stew and rabbit. Yes, please! I watch YouTube videos. I take a class. I make like Julia… taste every tempting morsel and attempt to recreate many in my small, deal breaker-of-an-apartment-search Parisian galley kitchen. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I make something truly delicious! I do it because I can. I do it because it makes me feel good.
So don’t wait until you’re 80. If you’re 80, don’t wait till you’re 90. Treat yourself well. Trust in the faith of your passions. Go out and do something you thought totally beyond your reach. You owe it to yourself to taste something delicious. You owe it to yourself to feel good.
Meanwhile, let’s all have a macaron!
A multitude of cooking classes await the enthousiastic foodie. You can spend as much or as little as you can afford. You may decide to focus on bistro style menus or spend months perfecting the simplest of baked goods. Websites like Living Social (link) offer discounted single day lessons like the one I found for macarons at Creative Cooking Studio in the Marais. If you can’t make it to Paris for the little hamburger cookie, that’s okay! I’m sure they’re just as heavenly in Paris, Texas. Don’t be afraid to seek out pastry shops and lessons in your home city, study a tutorial for how to make them on YouTube, or order macarons online.
You can live vicariously or live your dream. Find your passion and live your Delicious Destiny.