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Archive for July, 2009

Door detail

Door detail

We are in Oxford, England where Kristi is teaching for the third year at Oxford Summer School. She is teaching “I am a Woman Who” an altered fabric book, and “It’s All Inside: A Toolkit for Creativity.” She loves the long 3 day courses allowing her to really work with her students.

I have been tagging along with her these past years, so I know this city pretty well by now. It is a beautiful place, and the colleges are amazing in their variety. I have hundreds of photos of the absolutely drop

Simpl, cahrming doors

Simpl, cahrming doors

dead gorgeous quads and squares and cozy little spaces in the different colleges. The city is absolutely aswarm with tourists. It feels like a museum, like Old Sturbridge Village, where I used to work. This is not my cup of tea, but I know the town well enough to be able to skirt all the tourists who gather like bees to honey in the very center.

But here is what I absolutely adore about Oxford. We stay south of downtown in a fantastic neighborhood. It is a working class place with street after street of adorable row houses. The ones lining the main roads are bigger and fancier. The ones away from these roads are varied levels of smaller and humbler. Yet they have wonderful details and the small front gardens are gorgeous. So the architecture and human scale are embracing and pleasant.

Sweet Garden

Sweet Garden

Then there is the amazing diversity. The number of languages spoken in our neighborhood, the different colors of people and native garb is fabulous. And of course there is a match in the different types of foods offered. We ate at a Nepalese restaurant last night. Kristi, who’s Dad raised sheep in Colorado said she has never had better lamb. I, growing up with Middle Eastern roots and eating rice all my life, have never had a better dish of rice then the one I had flavored with turmeric, saffron, mustard seeds, sauteed curry leaves and God knows what else he didn’t tell us about.

You just can’t find this kind of diversity in the US unless you are in a very big

Wndows bright and airy

Wndows bright and airy

city. Oxford is a small city. It really is such a treat to be here.

Ok, last thing I love is the pubs. We read coming over that 3 pubs a day close in England. I hate that, because they are such a piece of this country and such a wonderful institution, if you can call them that. There are many left in Oxford. They are warm, cozy, friendly places full of fun people. We have found one in our neighborhood that you wouldn’t know is there unless you lived in the neighborhood. It is the lone commercial building among blocks and blocks of row houses. We were in Saturday night

Fir Tree Pub

Fir Tree Pub

and it was poker night. Tables of poker being played. This pub has a playground in the back and big yard for kids. It is so clearly a neighborhood place to gather. This weekend they are celebrating their birthday with 16 varieties of ales and ciders, and activities for the entire family. I just love it, and we plan to attend!

Another Garden

Another Garden

This is one of the joys of travel. You experience new things, get insights you normally don’t have. For us, seeing Oxford reminds us to live life richly, to embrace your neighbors no matter their color or origin. It is about being human together. Wonderful lessons to be had here, and, we believe, on our Adventures in Italy trips. Cheers!

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OdeCoverOde is an alternative magazine that we enjoy. Their latest issue, August, 2009, is all about laughter. There is lots of good information here, but there was one thing that struck me since it relates to our Adventures in Italy trips.

We do two kinds of trips. One is strictly cultural exploration: food, wine, coffee, customs, olive oil, Orvieto history, etc. The other trips are what we call creative exploration. With the latter, we engage top notch teachers, usually in some kind of creative endeavor. Regardless of the trip, they all involve learning. Whether it is culture (which we do on all the trips) or creative exploration, there is a learning element to it.

So what struck me  was an article on laughter and it’s impact on learning. In it the author, Jos Houben of the Jacques Lecoq International Theater School in

We have fun learning!!

We have fun learning!!

Paris, described the times when people learn quickly and easily. He says, “Without exception, people said they were on holiday, in love or otherwise having a great time. In other words they were doing something that made them smile. This is why children learn so quickly. They engage with the world through curiosity and play. They learn to walk and talk without having to take an exam.”

Well, this sounds a lot like our trips! People traveling with us:

  • Are on vacation – or holiday, as others in the world say
  • Are having a great time
  • Are with us because they are curious
  • Are truly playing
  • Don’t have to take exams!!!

So while we can argue that our trips are a great holiday and fun, we can now say that people traveling with us will learn more quickly and easily. I like that!

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DianeSmIt is still just 2009 but we are already beginning to line up trips for 2011. We can announce today that Heidi Darr-Hope will be leading a retreat workshop entitled Illuminated Mandalas: An Art and Soul Pilgrimage. A mandala is used in a variety of cultures that is used to lead the mind into introspective meditation or prayer. They can be unbelievably beautiful as the samples here show. Heidi has a very detailed description of how the week will unfold or you can see a more abbreviated version on our web site.

Participants need have no artistic experience. Heidi will lead you in blind contour drawing, drawing, color theory, painting, beading, embroidery, and more.

As always there will be a host of cultural activities woven throughout the week.Helen-McSm These will include a visit to our favorite vintner to taste his wonderful Orvieto Classico wines, a cooking class with one of the many fine chefs in the city, a look at the Etruscans including a visit to caves and necropolis, an olive oil and wine tasting with our friends at an Enoteca, time shopping at the weekly market and more.

Heidi has been using art for years with cancer patients because she believes it heals. In this work she weaves together the act of being creative as a soulful practice into the world of healing. She performed this work through a local hospital and has recently established a nonprofit to continue her work.

What’s wonderful about this for our participants is that she believes art is a process with no right or wrong. So all her students are beautifully supported in their work.

Mark your calendars for May 8-14, 2011 in Orvieto, Italy to create your own personal mandala.

Helen Mc Paper

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We have a dear friend who is a talented artist. She works as an architect and planner, which enables her to use her creative talents. But she also loves to paint and sketch for which there is little time as a working mom.

A few years ago, she decided to concentrate on her painting and do a show. We attended the opening, and Kristi made her a small book full of inspirational thoughts.

Our friend is spending a week at a camp for girls that she once attended and where her daughters now go, teaching the young girls to draw and paint. The camp has a “quiet time” every day. During one of these quiet times she brought out the little book Kristi had given her. She cherished what Kristi had said, particularly since she was doing something so close to her heart, so near to what she wants to do. And she sat down and wrote us a note.

Writing a hand written note, putting it in an envelope and mailing it. It is, in fact, a very simple act. Yet, it is amazingly unusual in this day and age. And it is wonderful to receive such a note, to tear open the envelope and hold in your hands the words from another. It is just different than reading it on an electronic screen.

One reason I so love our Adventures in Italy trips is that it is very much in line with the conditions that led to us receiving a hand written note. That note came about because of passion for what she was doing, for an environment that encouraged the passion, for the conditions that allowed slowing down and truly embracing what was going on around her, for time and inspiration to allow the mind to consider what is important, and for all of that to come together to perform a very simple, yet meaningful act. This is what we and those who travel with us do when in Orvieto. So simple, so unusual.

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Investing in Self

Yesterday I saw a billboard advertising a college that said something like “Perhaps the best investment is in yourself.” I like that because it is how we see our Adventures in Italy trips. Our trips are an investment in your self: in growing, in learning, in developing skills, in learning about life, in enjoying life.

We are schooled in this world to give. It is a good and worthy way to live. But I think we all come to find that you can’t give without stoking the fires of the giver – at least periodically. It is in being full ourselves, that we feel the desire and even need to give to others.

Do we really want to work everywhere?

Do we really want to work everywhere?

How often, however, do we feel guilty or selfish if we devote time to ourselves? Certainly I do. We are not schooled in taking care of ourselves. A few years ago I gave a talk on stewarding ourselves at a national conference for planners. It is a large conference with about 50 sessions going on at once. I really didn’t expect many people to attend – after all you go to a conference to build your job knowledge and skills, not to indulge yourself. So I was shocked to find over 100 people in my session. These good folks loved what they did, but were worn out from the giving. They truly needed to invest in themselves, charge the batteries, get away for a bit.

I think, having felt the same myself, our trips to Italy are a way to enable people to invest in themselves. We can’t convince them they need to do it. But once they decide to do so, they are richly rewarded for traveling with us.

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