and next week will get back to a regular posting schedule.

The Fairmont Empress at night. Great place for high tea!

Book Tuesday: La Seduction

Today’s post is later than normal. Our car arrived in Tacoma! Yay! We drove to pick it up and drop off the rental car at the Seattle airport, so I’ve been in a car all day and have the sore behind to prove it. It felt so wonderful to be in our own car again! Anyway, sorry I’m late, but on to our regularly scheduled post…


I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that truly captures the essence of France for me. I’ve read travel narratives intended to entertain that fall flat with cultural stereotypes. I’ve enjoyed the Peter Mayle books the most, because he writes about Provence with such affection and delight, but even they do not convey my experience of France. I’m always a sucker for yet another book on French culture, though, in the hopes I will find someone whose vision matches mine.

La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life by Elaine Sciolino approaches France, particularly Paris, from the “charm offensive” point of view. From dress to food, perfume, and even politics, Sciolino attempts to bridge the gap between our two cultures by explaining the French need to infuse beauty and sensuality into all aspects of life.

Whenever I read a book like this, I am interested not only in the content as it stands on its own, but its relevance to my own life. Is there information that is useful for me? To that question, I can answer yes. Over time I have learned to create a more aesthetic life, racing less from task to task and focusing more on quality of life. I’ll never dress like a sophisticated Parisian woman, though I have learned a bit more about combining scarves and hats (more on this tomorrow) with my hiking pants and sweat-wicking tops. I don’t mind the occasional vase of flowers to dress up the house, and I look for little ways to add “plaisir” (pleasure) to my day. Sometimes the small touches bring great joy!

One thing I do not learn from any of these books is what the poorer French, especially those living on the outskirts of Paris, have to say. No one seems to ask them what their lives are like. So we tend to get a distorted picture of the French from its upper crust, and this book, which details interviews the author had with high muckety mucks, including Sarkozy, is no exception.

Still, Sciolino has plenty of fun stories to tell, and she doesn’t hesitate to share her reactions to what we American women would consider sexism or even harassment. She delights in her dealings with a local butcher, learns to not run around in sweat clothes (you might bump into someone you know and have coffee), and revels in sublime French food. She reflects on changes occurring in France — fewer farms, for example, and the second highest consumption of McDonald’s hamburgers behind the U.S. (I’ve been inside a French McDonald’s, and it was so jammed that even my laid-back hubby freaked out a little.)

La Seduction seduces, to a degree. If you’re a francophile, you’ll probably enjoy it, and reading it made me a bit “homesick” for a visit. Sciolino shines best when she’s talking about her interviews over the years. Other reviewers have called her to task for describing a dinner party (they called it boring), but I loved that segment of the book. For this party, Sciolino prepared as best she could, trying to follow the intricate rules of protocol — only to find that the French themselves often broke the rules. To me, it described, in a nutshell, the impossibility, no matter how hard one tries, to truly understand French culture.

A Nod to the Holidays

A lot of bloggers are filling pages with tales of holiday shopping, decorating, and food preparation. As someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I can’t really add to the discussion…but a recent day trip to Victoria, B.C., at least left me with some photos to share! Whether it’s gingerbread houses or teddy bears, the good folks of Victoria are geared up for the season with plenty of fun stuff.

We’re back in Houston, and I have the snifflies and sneezies today, so I’ll keep things brief. Enjoy the photos, and I’ll be back tomorrow!

The pendulum actually moves!
Paris and Gingerbread! Two of my favorites!
This Way to the Gingerbread Houses!
Prince Bear
The Bear Formerly Known as Prince
Grandma and Grandpa Bear

Goosebump Moments – Or, “Holy Sh#t!”

All this meditating, resting, and breathing has gotten me to thinking about things…and this, in short, is why we often don’t slow down! When we get quiet, we start telling ourselves the pesky truth, and sometimes that means making changes. Big changes.

Recently, as I think I mentioned, hubby and I started talking about where we might want to live. I’ve lived in Houston for 30 years, and he’s been here even longer, so these thoughts cause us to sit up straight and perk up our ears. Sometimes he backpedals — “Maybe we could just leave Houston during the summer” — but then we realize that a) summer is lasting longer and longer here, and b) the ties that held us here are gone. Joe and Sarah, my stepkids, don’t live here anymore. Henry’s folks are gone. He still has a sister here, but we don’t see her that often, either. Plus, we do have the freedom to travel and visit.

“Why would you want to stay?” I ask. It’s a fair question. The answer could be, “We like the house and the neighborhood. We have our regular restaurants that we enjoy. Rice University is nearby, and they have a lot of fun things to do.” The real answer, though, is “inertia.” That doesn’t sound like a good reason to me!

Problem is, life is unpredictable. Why spend it in a place that no longer works? Sure, we have both loved Houston, but more and more we gravitate toward mountains. And Henry likes the water, though I can take it or leave it. We have traveled enough to discover that we don’t want to live anymore in a flat terrain where an evening stroll to the wine bar makes us sweaty and stinky.

We have scheduled a trip to Washington State in December. First, it’s a trip to celebrate my birthday. Second, we want to see the area in a less-attractive time to see if we would still like it. It will be colder, rainier, and darker. We picked Port Townsend because the town seems to fill the bill for what we’re looking for: the right terrain, an emphasis on local and organic food, and a plethora of artists and writers to hang out with.

Since we’re “interviewing” Port Townsend, I want to meet as many people as possible. It’s a small town, so it’s important to find people that we wouldn’t mind hanging around. I Googled the local yoga studios to see if anything was going on. Turns out that one of my favorite yoga teachers, Angela Farmer, is doing a workshop the weekend of my birthday. She runs many of her trainings in Greece, but is visiting little ol’ Port Townsend on the first weekend that I’ll be there.

Here I am, on the cusp of menopause, on the eve of a new year of my life, and in the process of making a big decision, now with the opportunity to work with someone who has a way of pulling the deepest truths out of her students. And what better way to get to know some of the locals than to spend time in such an intimate environment?

It was a goosebump moment. You know them, right? I used to always affirm that “I am always in the right place at the right time, successfully engaged in the right activity.” But in a goosebump moment, I really BELIEVE it.

Goosebump moments can remind us that maybe something else is at work in our lives besides our mundane, mental existence. I am giddy. I am scared. Like many women, I have feared my own power for too long, so I hesitate. I remind myself of all the logical reasons not to do the workshop. Then, I stop, I breathe — and I write the check. I want to honor all the goosebump moments of my life and to jump in full-out. Maybe all that pesky stillness is not only opening me to change, but giving me the courage to go through with it.

Good Morning, Monday! Heading Home

Our return trip home from Switzerland didn’t go exactly as planned. We landed at Dulles Airport in D.C. early but got stuck on the tarmac due to a thunderstorm. After a long walk to immigration and a lost bag that took another hour or so to turn up, we missed our connection to Houston. We stood two hours in the customer service line at United — our attempts to solve the problem by phone didn’t work out. Many were in far worse shape than we were. A number of people were connecting through Montreal to get to Europe, but the Montreal flight got canceled. One cute couple behind us had a trip to Rome planned, and they were going to have to wait two more days to get there.

United put us up for the night at the Hyatt (not a bad thing) and covered our cab fare to get to the hotel. They also fed us. It all worked out, I think, because had we made our flight we would have been driving home from the airport with little rest and plenty of jet lag. We’re heading back to Houston on a 7:00 a.m. flight, so we’ll be back in our little house this morning.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, evacauees from the fires are starting to return home, some sooner than expected. They are coming home to some damage, but just the sight of home is causing them to be giddy with excitement.

This week, I think we’ll look at “coming home.” In particular, since we’re relaxing and flowing this month, we’ll start with coming home to ourselves and to our breath. On Tuesday I’ll talk about one of my favorite breathwork CDs, and on Wednesday I’ll share my perspective on using the breath to center, energize, and heal us. When we come home to ourselves, we are at home wherever we are.

I love Switzerland, and I feel sad to leave it. We had such a wonderful time, and we’re starting to build relationships in the little village of Sils and nearby St. Moritz. I guess it’s starting to feel like home, too, in its own way. We’re going to practice our German and try to communicate better in the local language when we return next year.




Beautiful Downtown Sils, Switzerland
View from Final Hike
Photo From Our Last Hiking Day

Book Discovery Tuesday: Let’s Talk Travel

Goats Photo
A surprise appearance on a hike from Sils to Isola.

Before leaving Houston for Switzerland, I dutifully wrote several blog posts in advance. After all, I am on vacation and want to enjoy living in this lovely pastoral setting. However, with each hike, words fly up from the ground and into my brain, demanding that I pay attention. If there is anything I have learned by midlife, it is to respect my inner promptings and let them have their say.

I have also learned that Boomers love to travel, so I’m happy to weave some of my own travel experiences within the context of A Woman’s Nest. It also seemed appropriate as we transition from summer to fall, and to our upcoming September focus on stillness. Since we talk about books on Tuesday, then, I thought I would step away from yet another book about menopause (don’t worry, I’ll come back to it sooner or later!) and talk about travel books.

Peter Mayle has his Provence. Frances Mayes has Tuscany. And Rick Steves, of course, has made a great living letting people know the sights, sounds, and activities to experience while traveling. We don’t agree on everything — he’s fond of Avignon and not as fond of Arles and Aix en Provence, for example, where we lean in the opposite direction. That said, we listen to his podcasts and watch his shows, always gathering the information he shares so generously.

Rick had to learn that sometimes what people want are the high points of a place. For some, a visit to Paris is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so they need and want the “best” art to see in the Louvre so they can zip through it quickly. Rick has met that need, but in one of his books, Travel as a Political Act, we get to see more of Rick Steves. We get to read his perspectives of not how to travel, but why. He shares how his visits over the years have caused his politics to evolve, and explains how we can broaden our own horizons when we travel.

Maloja Mountain
Another day, another breathtaking view

This was the first place I learned the term “roundtrip revolutionary.” I became one last year on a visit to Costa Rica, where I volunteered for two weeks. The term, though humorous, has a serious point to it. We may go somewhere and volunteer for a period of time, but we always have that plane ticket home, while the people we assist are fighting the good fight day in and day out to serve children, fight poverty, and bring needed medical assistance to the poorer regions of the world. I griped because I lived without hot water for two weeks (mainly because I knew that the locals actually did have hot water), but I got to come home to a cozy bed and plenty of food. I had an “off” switch for my experiences.

I think a lot about Rick’s book as I wander through the mountains of this part of Switzerland. One has a great deal of time to think in the hours on the path. I realize that with each trip, I learn more about a part of the world that is foreign to mine in many ways, and that’s a good thing. Here, German, Italian, and Romansche cultures blend together. A lake can be a luc, a lej, or a loggia. Our town is Sils or Segl, depending on what sign you read. English isn’t at the top of the list; it’s about midway down. On the path we greet fellow hikers with “Goetze” (roughly, as I understand it, God be with you), but some say Bongiorno, and we even hear a few Bonjours. In this tiny area, many different peoples coexist with relative ease.

The idyllic nature of this area is broken by the sound of construction. Others have discovered Sils’s charm and want to visit or live here. The locals try to deal with demand vs. the need to keep the charm and purity of the town. As with many tourist areas of the United States, the tension between progress and preservation requires much debate. It will be interesting to see what happens to Sils over the next five or ten years.

As I ponder Rick’s book, I also think about the stereotypes that we have, sometimes unintentionally, that travel allows us to release. One big example is that I learned on my first trip to France that the French are no more rude than any other society. In fact, I find the French to be interesting, engaging, and friendly people. And the Swiss are not dressed up looking like Heidi or the kids from The Sound of Music. I haven’t heard a single yodel. Instead, I see people, more or less like us, who are generous to share their favorite places to hike.

I also recognize that life here is different from, say Zurich or Geneva, where picturesque landscapes give way to urban sprawl, where spaciousness gives way to crowds. I’m far away from the public restrooms of the city with their bluelights that make it harder for an addict to find a vein. Even this gorgeous and prosperous country has its share of problems.

Yet we are here, and we continue to learn. We continue to look at travel as both personal and political. If you also love to travel and want to know more about a place than its highlights, then I highly recommend Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves. You’ll be thinking about it long after you have finished reading it.

A view of Silvaplana.