Design Your Next Chapter – Debbie Travis

I have been a longtime fan of Debbie Travis. Here in Canada she was on the leading edge of the decorating show craze beginning with Painted House, a show about faux. She went on to develop several other decorating shows, some she starred in, some she produced with her husband Hans.

Life took a turn for her while she was on vacation in Thailand. On her last day, shedebbietraviscomposite decided to have a detoxifying sauna. After only eight minutes, she recalls in Design Your Next Chapter, she was “deathly bored with my own company.” In an effort to distract herself, she started reading a paperback someone had left behind. It was about finding personal happiness.

Travis knew she had many things to be grateful for but “The book had asked one simple question: Was I happy? It rocked me to the core.”

Travis couldn’t stop thinking about the question of personal happiness.

I’d realized what made me truly happy were just three things: being with my children, being with my priceless friends, and being with my beloved husband. On the plane home, I had to admit that I was not spending enough time with these precious people.

Serendipitous perhaps, but Travis was seated next to a monk on the flight home from Thailand. Seeing that she was still visibly upset, he asked if he could help and Travis poured out her confusion and distress.

His advice was simple: “Change your priorities, change your attitude – focus on what makes you happy before you run out of time.”

And that, in a nutshell, is what Travis has done, and is offering to help readers do in Design Your Next Chapter.

A spontaneous meal with a family while on holiday in Italy with Hans, had “lit up in [Travis’s] head like a beacon.” You know the rest of the story, but if you don’t, it’s documented in a six-part series called La Dolce Debbie. Although it didn’t happen overnight, she and Hans eventually found a Tuscan property which they renovated over five years. Now she hosts groups of women (mostly) who are looking for a way to redesign their own lives. Read more about that here.

I read Design Your Next Chapter  while sitting on my back deck on a beautiful summer afternoon. Although Travis doesn’t profess to be a self-help expert, she is a woman who has been successful at a great many things. Her advice, and she does offer some, is mostly common sense, but I think the best advice often is. We may know what we need to do to fix what’s broken in our lives, but we sometimes lack the impetus to make the necessary changes. Travis offers practical suggestions for taking meaningful steps towards personal happiness. You really can’t argue with that.

I’ve been to Italy twice with my three dearest girlfriends. It’s a magical place. Many of the examples Travis uses in her book come from the retreats she offers at her villa. In the evening, the women gather with their Prosecco and share their stories. There’s a lot of power in that, I think. Although I like my life and my job, I have hit a few bumps along the way and I know that I am sometimes my own worst enemy. I’d give anything to sit under Travis’ olive tree and listen to people share their own stories. This is a bucket list item for sure.

Design Your Next Chapter is not quite the same as what I imagine the experience of being in Italy with Travis herself might be, but it’s definitely worth the virtual visit. So, pour yourself a cold glass of Prosecco and let your  journey towards personal happiness begin.

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This is Michelle, me, Sheila and Diane on our first Italian adventure in 2012. We were in Cortona.

 

 

 

Mabel Murple – Sheree Fitch

“What if there was a purple planet with purple people on it…?

mabelHow many times did I read those lines, the opening words of Sheree Fitch‘s children’s book Mabel Murple to my kids? About a billion. Fitch ranked right up there with Dr. Seuss when my kids were little. They loved her clever rhymes and I loved reading them aloud. (For me, Mabel might have just been edged out by There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen. That book uses the word Gorgonzola, so come on. ) We could happily read Toes in My Nose every night before bed. I’d like to think that Fitch is a staple in Canadian households, but if you haven’t heard of her I can highly recommend her books. They are classics!

On Sunday July 7, my son Connor and I were heading home from visiting my daughter Mallory in Halifax. It’s a straight shot on a twinned highway between Halifax and Saint John and on a good day you can do it in under four hours. But it’s a journey I have made several times since my daughter moved to Halifax to attend NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) a year ago. It’s quick and it’s boring. Connor and I both love to drive and we both love to get off the beaten path. We had music (my choices excellent; his not so much) and it was a perfect day. My brother had mentioned the Sunshine Coastal drive to me before we’d headed to Halifax and so we decided to check it out on our way home. When we hit Truro we headed towards New Glasgow instead of Amherst. We picked up Hwy #6 in Pictou and it was so worth the detour.

So, we’re cruising along, windows down, ocean to our right, green as far as the eye could see and right before River John I see the sign (had I blinked I would have missed it) for Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery

Truthfully, I was as excited about this discovery as I was about entering Shakespeare and Co. in Paris last summer. I knew about this little oasis and it has been on my book bucket list, but I didn’t know that our spontaneous detour was going to take as right past it. Yet, there it was. I think my shriek of delight scared Connor half to death.

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If there is a more idyllic spot, I don’t know where it is.  It is literally down a dirt road, a burst of colour on a gorgeous plot of land. I can only imagine how little fans of Mabel Murple must feel upon arrival because I was practically giddy.

After peering into Mabel‘s adorable house, and wandering the grounds visiting horses, a donkey, a couple goats and some chickens, we made our way into the book shoppe. It’s a delightful place. I am – no surprise – of the opinion that all book shops are delightful places, but this one is extra special. Mabel Murple‘s is geared towards children and carries a lot of Atlantic Canadian literature and I wanted to buy all the books. Of course I did.

fitch10As if that weren’t  enough, Ms. Fitch was there! She happily read (well, recited more like) Mabel Murple to a delighted child  (and all the adults who happened to be standing there, too) who seemed to know the words almost as well as she did. 

After making my purchase (a copy of Mabel Murple, of course and A Velocity of  Being, which has been on my tbr list for a while), I asked Ms. Fitch if I could get a picture. She graciously agreed. We stood outside her shop and chatted for a few minutes before Connor snapped the photo.

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A perfect day! Thanks, Sheree!

P.S. Sheree will be reading in Saint John as part of the Lorenzo Society‘s reading series in November. Watch this space.

Bucket list summer

I just looked at the date of my last post: May 25th! Where has the time gone? Well, I can tell you where the first three weeks of July went…to Italy (with a teensy three-day layover in Paris.) I did read a couple books while I was on holiday, neither of them particularly memorable.

My trip began in Amalfi, which as you probably know is the name of the coast, but also the name of the town we stayed in. If you’ve always wanted to go to Amalfi, I highly recommend it. Amalfi town is not as vertical as some of the other towns along the coast, which makes it the perfect spot.  I was with my three best girlfriends and this is the second time we have traveled to Italy together. We walked lots, ate well, visited nearby towns (Capri, Positano, Ravello) and generally had a wonderful, sun-filled week.

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After a week, two of my girlfriends headed home and I headed to Verona with the third. Verona has been on my bucket list for a long time. I’m an English teacher; what can I say?

Verona is an absolutely beautiful city – even without its famous connection to Romeo and Juliet, but for anyone who is a fan of the play (and I am), visiting Verona is a must-do.

I am not ashamed to admit that standing in that little touristy courtyard and up on the balcony gave me all the feels.

Romeo and Juliet is not the only tragic love story to come out of Verona. The Well of Love, IMG_0120just off Piazza della Erbe, tells another story of a soldier who fell in love with the daughter of a rich and powerful man. He would not let his daughter marry the soldier, convincing her that he was only interested in her money. She told her lover that he must prove himself to her, so he threw himself in the well. When she realized what he had done, she threw herself in after him, thus uniting the lovers for eternity. Sad that the motorcycle is in the picture, but you can see the two lovers at the front of the well.

 

Verona did not disappoint on any level.

After three days, we headed to Venice. This is my third time in Venice and while I still think it’s a magnificent city, I am not sure that I will ever return. It was so crowded – not that crowds bother me particularly – and so full of junky shops and bad food. Still. Venice.

One thing I had not done on any of my previous trips was visit Libreria Aqua Alta. It’s definitely a “must-see” for any book lover. It’s billed as “the most beautiful bookshop in the world”. It’s certainly the most ‘fragrant’.  I don’t know how anyone would find anything in this place, but I certainly loved visiting.

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After Venice, my friend headed home and I headed to Bologna. I had made the decision to extend my trip just to see how I would feel about traveling on my own. I mean, obviously I have traveled on my own before…but not for a long time. I picked Bologna because it was a place I had never been, it was easy to get to from Venice, and it was supposed to be the foodie capital of Italy.  Hmmm.

It was okay. I would have been happy spending a day, maybe two there. Three was too much.  I didn’t eat any amazing food, but I definitely enjoy the wine in the north of Italy more than I do in the south.

IMG_0183The library was housed upstairs in this building. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to visit it as a tourist. I actually couldn’t quite believe that. Bologna is a university town and there were bookstores galore. Sadly, I don’t read Italian. 🙂 It’s also a city made up of arcades or porticos…40 kilometers of them to be exact. They are a nice reprieve from the sun.

I stayed in a very nice AirBnB in Bologna, and I would definitely say it’s worth a visit. It’s also very easy to make day trips to other worthwhile spots from here.

After Bologna, I headed back to Venice for one more night. Instead of spending the day in the city, I bought a vaporetti pass and headed to Murano and Burano, two more bucket list places. Murano was a bit disappointing, but Burano was sheer magic.

And then it was on to Paris.

I have never been to Paris. Truthfully, I have never been all that interested in going. I know, eh? I guess I bought into the hype that Parisians are rude and that if you don’t speak French, forget about it. Since my flight home went through Paris, though, I figured what the hell. I should get off the plane. I am SO glad I did. I am totally smitten and am already planning a return visit.

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Paris is like a secret. Every corner you turn offers up another feast for the eyes. I thought I walked a lot in Italy! I walked soooo much in Paris, but I also used the buses and metro a lot and found them super user- friendly. In fact, I found Paris friendly in general. I don’t speak French, but it wasn’t a problem. I ‘Bonjoured’ and ‘merci-ed’ my way along and was always met with a pleasant response…in restaurants, on the bus, in shops, on the street.

Of course, I took a literary tour of Paris because it’s a significant city for fans of  writers of the 1920s, including, most famously, Ernest Hemingway. Gertrude Stein coined the term the “Lost Generation” to refer to the young writers who hung out in Paris (and London) during this period, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound among them.

The tour mostly took us around to look at plaques on buildings (put up by building owners themselves, not the city) and cafes (most famously Cafe de Flore, where a coke will set you back 7 euro) where these writers would write and drink. Certainly an interesting way for anyone literary-minded to while away a few hours.

And, of course, no visit to Paris would be complete without a visit to Shakespeare and Company. Quite appropriately, my literary tour finished here.

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I was so happy to finally be able to visit this store. 🙂

 

So, there you have it. A beautiful way to start my summer and memories to last a lifetime.

I will be back with some reviews asap.