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No one wants to hear me drone on about Paris. They don’t say this, of course, because most of the people I know are (sort of) polite. But I can feel the inward roll of the eyes when I start talking about it yet again. I think they’re tired of me yammering on about its magnificent beauty.

Jardin Tuileries

I fell in love with a city. You know that feeling when you fall in love with someone and all you want to do is talk about that person? And no one wants to about hear it, again? And again. And yet again. That’s me, currently.

For a long time I didn’t want to hear it, either. I thought of Paris as something too far out of reach, unattainable. I didn’t feel fancy enough for it.

IMG_0585Lounging in the Tuileries

I was sitting in my apartment on a cold January day, fully in a funk and having a hard time pulling myself out of it. So I started asking questions. What experience did I need to have? What dreams haven’t I fulfilled? Where could I go???

Paris came to mind. It’s always been on my list of dream places to visit, but I never thought I’d actually go. Friends would try to convince me I should go, but I would poo poo the idea. I don’t speak a lick of French, and all the clichés about the French had settled into somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain.

I realize now how much of my trepidation came from other people’s notions and someone else’s fears.

And so when I felt excited at the prospect of going this time around, I booked a trip for early spring.

Cherry Blossoms in Paris

I arrived in full New Yorker mode, all wound up and wearing my self-protective attitude. This meant immediately challenging the taxi driver about the fact that he didn’t have a taxi light on the top of his car (my internet research warned against getting in cabs without one), and then about the lack of a meter once I got in the car (which turned out to be on his cell phone). Being New Yorker means being perennially paranoid, and acting accordingly.

Is this your first time in Paris? he asked.

Yes, it is.

Ah. That explains it.

I still don’t know what that meant, but it made me chuckle.

By the end of the hour-and-a-half long ride—which was almost an hour longer than normal because a rail strike forced more people into their cars-—we’d become fast friends. He showed me points of interest as we passed them and gave me tips on navigating the city. We had interesting conversation about politics and our leaders, and we talked about our families. When we reached my hotel, he kissed me on both cheeks, told me I was hilarious, and thanked me for the fun ride.

So began four days in the city of love.

Love locks

It had been a while since I’d explored a place on my own, without a friend (or five) with me. I’d almost forgotten how to do the thing of learning a place through my own lens. I’d forgotten the freedom of setting my own agenda.

Freedom, I think, is the thing that travel gives you. It frees you from the daily routine, the list of have-tos, the endless rounds of meetings and conference calls and brainstorms. It releases you from responsibility.

And when you travel on your own, once you get past your own discomfort of being alone, it puts you in touch with what lights you up.

So I wandered more than I have in years, to the point of exhaustion. I loved every second of it.

Lest you also begin to roll your eyes as I wax poetic about Paris, I’ll pipe down a bit and show you some pictures.

Door detail

This was one of my favorite places.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre-Coeur Basilica, in the Montmartre hilltop neighborhood, sits at the highest point of Paris.

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If you venture up the 300 stairs that lead to the top of the dome, you are rewarded with the most spectacular views of the city.

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Love is everywhere. Especially in this city.

I explored the bridges along the Seine River. This one, Pont Alexandre III, is a masterpiece. A Parisian later told me the bridge had been a gift from Russia to France.

Pont Alexandre Trois

I don’t have many photos of it for two reasons. 1) I couldn’t get over how ornate and intricate and beautiful it was, so I just stood on the bridge for a long time trying to take it all in. 2) There were so many people—wedding parties in particular—it was hard to take the pictures I had in my mind.

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What you can’t see is another bridal party on the other side of this couple.

By the way, if I’m patiently waiting to take a picture and you insist on planting yourself for a personal photo shoot, I’ve now decided to just make you part of the landscape. For example, these girls.

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They stayed like that for so long. I bet they are still there. But I digress. 🙂

I visited a handful of museums, and YOU GUYS. The buildings were just as awe-inspiring as the art.

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The Picasso Museum. I don’t have much to say, except—Look. At. This.

Picasso Museum

At the Musée de l’Orangerie, Monet’s water lilies circled two rooms.

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And of course, the Louvre.

Louvre

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And, as one does when in Paris, I made the pilgrimage to Mona Lisa.

Mona Lisa

The French people were, for the most part, kind and full of good humor.

Wine Shop and Strangers

And, the food. Because, Paris.

Of all the drool-worthy food I ate, I think it’s slightly hilarious that one of my favorite meals was a small plate of fried chicken. Though, to call it a small plate of fried chicken is to undersell how delicious it was. In my research before my trip, I’d read that Ellsworth had arguably the best fried chicken in the world. It’s something I rarely eat, but I immediately felt the need to try it.

It didn’t disappoint. Served alongside a buttermilk dipping sauce and house made pickles, the chicken was crispy, succulent, juicy deliciousness.

Ellsworth Poulet Frit

I’m mostly gluten free at home, but there was no way I was going to France and not eat everything.

Like this chocolate-pistachio escargot. It’s the thing you are supposed to get at this particular bakery, which of course meant I wanted something else. (Insert emoji eye roll.) Please hear me when I say this: if you are ever in Paris, you need to go to Du Pain et des Idées. Get this. Full stop. And yes, I am bossing you around.

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You’re welcome.

Also, aren’t these asparagus gorgeous?

White Asparagus

Probably the most magical moment was on my next to last night. Sitting in my hotel room, legs throbbing from all the walking I’d done, I felt to pull to go back out.

So I did.

Eiffel from Afar

As soon as I walked out of the metro station, the skies opened up.

Eiffel Tower

It didn’t matter. The rain only added to the drama.

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Sometimes the touristy thing ends up being the most majestic.

That’s the thing about this city—magnificence is everywhere. It wasn’t until I visited that I realized how colorless my life had looked. How mundane everything had begun to feel. Paris woke me up. It made me feel alive again. It embodies beauty, and the spirit of why beauty matters. Because the world is a vibrant, glorious, enchanting place.

It’s why I don’t mind if no one wants to hear about how I fell in love with it. Renewed in spirit, I returned home able to see my own city with fresh eyes.

It was a good reminder that life is beautiful, and so are we.

Life is beautiful, and you are like her

xo, with goodness and grace.

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Listen, are you just breathing a little, and calling it a life?  — Mary Oliver

Taking a late summer stroll through the winding streets of Panarea—a magical island north of Sicily—I was talking to my friend about my writing.

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She’d asked me why I wasn’t blogging anymore. My goal had always been to maintain a positive outlook in the blog no matter what was going on, but that had begun to feel inauthentic. I was thinking about this when she asked her question—and instead I blurted out, “Since the election, I haven’t been feeling very positive.”

Now. I don’t share that to get political. Like, at all. I share it because it startled me, and I’ve been trying to make sense of it ever since. I’ve voraciously consumed the news over the last year, thinking I was merely staying informed. What I hadn’t realized was how deeply the rollercoaster of events was altering my worldview. I hadn’t understood how much it changed me.

When we’ve lost our way, how do we return to ourselves? 

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I have always been someone who feels deeply.

The page has always been my safe place for processing all those feelings. I don’t always know how to express them in person—if I’m quietly thinking, I can be seen as aloof and withholding; if I’m vocal and opinionated, it can come across as overbearing. But on the page, they find meaning and hope.

Until now. Now the words are stuck. The emotions feel big and complicated and aggressive in my body, but they won’t work their way out into the world. They just sit there, stuck in sludge, unmoving and unable to find a way out. So instead of writing, I read the news. Endlessly. And then I watch it on TV.

A few months after that Sicilian conversation, it occurred to me that I was in an abusive relationship with information. Too much of it isn’t helpful; it can actually feel toxic. But I like being informed, so I wrestle with balance. How can you stay connected to the world around you, while somehow managing to be completely disconnected?

I don’t know. But if you’ve figured it out, I want to hear about it.

Aside from that, life just feels so complicated. And exhausting.

Shopping in Whole Foods a couple of months ago, I found myself trying to pick up a dozen eggs on the way to the cash register. I stopped and stood in front of an entire wall display of eggs. There must’ve been 50 different varieties, each labeled with one of four classifications. Cage free. Pasture raised. Outdoor access. Mobile houses on pasture. (Wait…do chickens have mobile homes???) I was confused. Which was better for the chickens? Who had the best quality of life? What’s the difference between a pasture and the great outdoors? I wanted to be a good person, to make the right decision.

But. There. Were. So. Many. Eggs.

I became overwhelmed with indecision. I began to breathe heavily, and perspiration started to bead on my forehead. I felt ten seconds away from the onset of a panic attack. So I walked away, egg free.

Our lives are so complex. We have too many choices. I’m not sure this multitude of options is adding quality to our lives.

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Even my relationship with food—long my simplest and easiest partnership—is complicated. I’m allergic to everything. (Okay, not everything. But, so many of the things. How can you have creamy coffee when it seems you are allergic to dairy, almonds and coconut and aren’t supposed to have soy?) I took a break from my beloved cup of caffeine for two weeks and then, craving a steamy hot latte, I returned to it one Sunday morning. It made my heart race so fast I thought it was going to pound right out of my chest. I took a break from coffee and, in return, coffee quit me.

I find new gray hairs every time I visit the office ladies room, and a new wrinkle greets me each morning in my home bathroom mirror. Who is this person reflected back at me?

Can you return to yourself when you no longer recognize yourself? 

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All of this left me overwhelmed and wondering how I could ever feel hopeful again. I seek to make meaning in my writing, but sometimes I question whether it’s possible anymore. Did the optimistic l part of me move on, as people we know sometimes do? Or is she still living in me and just on a break, off somewhere recalibrating?

At the resort in Panarea during our Sicilian excursion, there was one young woman working in the cafe who took care of us every morning. Her joy was palpable, infectious. I asked her what her secret was—why was she always so joyful? Her eyes widened. She stretched an arm out in front of us.

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“Look where we are! How could you be anything but happy looking at this every day?”

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She had a point.

Months later, sitting at my desk, feeling spectacularly grumpy, I emailed a friend to discuss the foul mood I couldn’t seem to shake.

She wrote back, bossy with instructions. She ordered me to take my camera and go outside—that very minute—and to not go back to the office until I’d documented something beautiful.

All I can say is, I hope you have friends like this.

I did as told, ending up in Central Park for a brisk walk. The heavens did not part; rainbows did not magically appear in the sky; Moses did not part any sea. But on a cloudy and cool day, I found a respite from city life, if only for twenty minutes. My mind calmed down as I took in the fall landscape. Trees letting go of their auburn leaves. Birds swooping and soaring. Lake water flowing in a singular direction.

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Life moves on. The seasons change, and so do we. And we can focus on chaos and nonsense, or we can search with another purpose.

And so I am left with this: I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know who I have become or are on the road to becoming. I don’t know when hopeful words will once again flow on my laptop. But there in the midst of the uncertainty and the rage and the questioning, beauty is lurking. It may be right in front of me at every turn while on vacation, and it may lay hiding in the dustiest of corners. But it is always there.

Beauty persists.

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And as I make my way back to myself, I persist, too.

 

I have inspiration block.

It’s like writer’s block, but worse. I don’t really want to write. I don’t really want to snap photos. If I were honest, I just want to pick up my phone and aimlessly swipe. Swipe. Swipe. It’s mindless and strangely meditative. And it’s exactly what feels good right now.

Now, ever the picky Pollyanna, I’ve become swipe selective. Facebook is too full of political opinions and missing children and awful things you don’t want to know about your friends. Twitter, with all the news in my feed, reminds me of everything I don’t want to think about. All those dating apps? I literally can’t even.

No. I want Instagram. Pretty pictures. Pretty posed pictures pretending to be snapshots of a real life. Pretty pictures move my mind away from current events and crazy people.

So I swipe. Swipe, swipe, swipe.

But here’s the thing. When inspiration is napping, it’s important to keep moving. All of you, not just your fingers. You may want to give up, to think this is how it all goes down, that creativity and grace and beauty are gone for good.

Instead, find the courage to walk and walk and walk, and little clues suddenly litter the pathway. Answers—and inspiration—maybe, just maybe, find the way to the rightful owner.

Maybe they were always there, waiting to be discovered.

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That’s my goodness of the week.

xo, with goodness and grace.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes there just are no words.

When the unimaginable happens—as it did in Paris, and Beirut, and Baghdad, and Kenya, last week—sometimes all you can do is to fall to your knees and ask for mercy for the whole of humanity. Sometimes things don’t make sense.

So, there are no words.

When I first heard the news of the Paris attacks, in the early stages of its unfolding, I was horrified. On my way to a workout, I thought of a picture I’d taken the evening before on my way to an event with a friend. I posted it on my personal Instagram page, with a caption that was heartfelt, and then I went to class.

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After class, I began to worry I’d gone wrong in posting that. Even now I feel awfully vulnerable posting it here. It was how I felt, but I began to wonder if it wasn’t appropriate. Perhaps it was too soon to try to see the good in something so clearly not good. The perils of social media—sometimes your heart is in the right place, but you don’t always hit the right note.

I left it up anyway.

Because, here’s the thing. I choose to believe life—in all of its complexities and awfulness and heartache and things we cannot ever understand—at its core is beautiful. The outpouring of love and concern and support around the world demonstrated the good in spite of the bad. It is not right we have to witness parents explain what happened to their children, but there is an inescapable hopefulness in watching a father tell his young son the flowers people were placing on the sidewalk were to combat guns. Flowers fight guns.

Sometimes goodness is complicated. But in spite of it all, I do believe there still is beauty in life.

And, somehow, the next morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that, the sun comes out again.

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That is grace.

xo, with goodness and grace.

I err on the side of being a Pollyanna. It’s my nature, to try to see the positive in everything. And sometimes, I know, it can be annoying.

But, this year. This year has been hard, y’all. When you are being stripped down to the core, when you are sitting in the muddiest of mud pits, let me tell you, it’s hard to see the world through those rosy lenses.

Still, it happens. I’ve been blessed with moments, in the middle of darkness, that help me to see there is always light.

This week, I found beauty in the unlikeliest of places.

Basically, everything I need to know about life, I’ve learned on a SoulCycle bike. Things like…the hill makes you stronger; keep climbing. When you need to sit down, let yourself recover. When you lose your way, just move to the beat. When you think you cannot turn up the resistance higher, try a little more. When it gets too hard and you think you can’t go any farther, keep going. And when you keep going, you will be surprised at your own strength.

And so on.

I tend to take the same instructors week after week, mainly because I love their energy. Energy, I’ve learned, is the key to so many things in life.

Before class at the end of the week, I chided myself for not canceling it. I was tired and wanted nothing more than to go home and hang on my couch. But I showed up anyway. SoulCycle taught me that.

As class started, I found myself worried about keeping up. I became concerned about not having eaten enough. I felt a vague hunger. I was mentally exhausted.

And then, my energy shifted. Suddenly, I was happy to be there and in my body and in that moment. The music was loud, and as I cycled and moved with the choreography, I felt grateful for it all.

I had one of those moments where everything felt right. I felt happy. Genuinely, deep into my core, happy. I looked around and could feel the joy pulsating through the room. I thought, life can be so beautiful.

And then the disco lights came on. Seriously.  I mean…you can’t not be happy with colored disco lights spinning around the room.

There, in the middle of 60-something sweaty people, I found my center.

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And it was beautiful.

xo, with goodness and grace.

 

Words are lyrical for me.  They carry deep meaning and wrap their way into my soul and become intertwined with every fiber within me.

The poem Spring Giddiness came to me this week, and it was like it was speaking directly to me, especially this first part:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

— Rumi

Let the beauty we love be what we do. 

It’s a beautiful way to live a life, isn’t it?

I hope poetry finds you this week.

xo, with goodness and grace.

I made my way home, exhausted from the day.  Whenever I think life cannot get any more crazy, life ups the ante.

This is when the little things save you.

As I walked slowly to the subway, I paused to look at the architecture.  I realized I hadn’t really seen this part of town in the daylight.  I hadn’t left the office while there was still daylight in quite a while.

I looked around, surprised at how European the lines of the buildings seemed. The moon nestled itself in the curve of the building ahead of me.

The sight of the moon always makes me feel calm.

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I took my time getting home, deliberately looking around, seeking something—anything—that seemed beautiful.

Once I got home, I stepped off the elevator and walked down the hall towards my apartment.  As I approached my front door, I began to smell something.

I’d bought flowers a few days before, because the cold air has lingered much too long, and I longed for something evocative of spring.  Tulips and hyacinths.  The scent in the hallway reminded me of my hyacinths.  They are one of the first flowers to be planted around the city this time of year, and their fragrance makes me happy.

When I got to my front door, I realized the fragrant scent was coming from my apartment.  My hyacinths had perfumed half of my floor.  Before I turned the key in my lock, I closed my eyes and inhaled.

I opened the door, and the heady scent of my flowers greeted me.  It was good to be home.

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May small things of beauty welcome you home this week.

xo, with goodness and grace.

Transitions are hard.

I remember this every time summer merges with fall and the weather starts to play with my emotions, teasing me with lingering heat and then shaking me awake with a bracing chill.

But, no matter the season, I like to go for long walks when I have the chance.  On these excursions, I’m reminded of the beauty of the moment.

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Here is where the difficult transition is eased.  Sometimes all you need to do is look down.

xo, with goodness and grace.

Sometimes a day with a good friend is an excuse to get in the car and and discover things you haven’t seen before.

Like this, from the top of Bear Mountain in New York:

On Bear Mountain

I wish for you a week with people you love, discovering beauty all around you.

xo, with goodness and grace.

Every year around this time I commit to giving something up in the spirit of Lent. I am not particularly religious, but I like the idea of ritual and of committing to something bigger than myself.  (For those who don’t know, Lent is the 40-day period prior to Easter where Christians give something up as a means of reflecting on and honoring Jesus.)

This year I struggled with what to give up.  Should it be cheese?  Sugar?  Potatoes? It all felt frivolous and not at all meaningful—and one more thing to beat myself up about.  Then, as I was out with some friends on the first day, I decided that I was going to be dedicated to taking care of myself, whatever that meant.

I started by posting a picture on Instagram of the pomegranate margarita I’d ordered with the hashtag #40daysofselfcare.  Because sometimes self care means having a cocktail with your friends.

Pomegranate Margarita

An old friend saw my picture and sent it to a radio station he works with in Charlotte, North Carolina.  They loved the idea so much that they wanted to talk to me on air about the rationale behind my 40 days of self care.  I hesitated on the inside, but said yes anyway, because self care sometimes means pushing yourself outside of the comfort zone.  The DJs were fun, kind and genuinely interested in what I had to say.  It was five minutes of fun, and I’m glad I did what I wouldn’t normally do.

Self care breaks through the boundaries you’ve set for yourself.

Day 2: I came home exhausted. PJs on and a snuggle with my pillows while I watched Scandal was all my tired self needed to feel cared for.  (By the way – are you guys watching Scandal?  If not, you must jump on the gladiator bus immediately!)

Day 3: I’m lucky enough to live in New York City, and every day I walk by some of the most majestic sites that people travel halfway across the globe to see.  Sometimes I don’t see them because I’m so focused on my thoughts.  And then I turn a corner and something snaps me out of my head and commands my attention.

Grand Central Terminal in all her full glory.  Self care is stopping and taking a moment to just look at the beauty around the corner.

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Day 4: Taking photographs is something I’ve loved for as long as I can remember, but I rarely give myself the opportunity to spend the day snapping away.  I spent the early afternoon in the New York Public Library, which is not only a peaceful oasis in the middle of midtown Manhattan madness, but is stunningly grand in its architecture.

I found myself mesmerized by this ceiling in one of the rooms, full of beautiful chandeliers, bronze moldings and breathtaking murals.

NYPL Ceiling

As I sat and looked up, I remembered how important it is to fill yourself up with beauty and take in what’s around you.  I can’t wait to go back.

On Day 5, I rested.  And that was enough.

Join me in doing one nice thing for yourself every day.  Share below what you do to care for yourselves!

xo, with goodness and grace.

Last night in a taxi, I looked out the window and took in all of the beauty in New York City.  The full moon that hovered over the wintry city made me gasp, quite literally taking my breath away.

It reminded me of how the moon charmed me a few days earlier in Bryant Park, of how lucky I’d felt all week to stumble on beauty no matter my mood. I thought about the words of wisdom a friend gave me when I first moved to New York.

Remember to look up.  That’s where all the beauty is.

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A few days later after an early morning workout, I witnessed the streets of Manhattan being bathed in the glow of a sunrise.

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Of course, sometimes you need to look down, too.  Surprises are on the sidewalk as well.

Sidewalk Heart

Signs of love – and beauty – are everywhere.  Look up.  Look down.  Look all around.

xo, with goodness and grace

When I got to New Mexico, that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air—it’s different. The sky is different, the wind is different.

— Georgia O’Keeffe

Inspired by the paintings and life of Georgia O’Keeffe, I’ve had Santa Fe on my list of places to visit for the longest time, and finally had the chance to see its charms during a long weekend for a girls’ getaway.

Santa Fe surprised me with unexpected treasures at every turn. The sky is brilliantly blue— no descriptor could adequately convey how mesmerizingly transformative it is, particularly as a backdrop for the southwestern landscape. With the adobe buildings against the sky, I felt as if I was seeing the world through O’Keeffe’s eyes.

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Santa Fe is an art lover’s paradise, with galleries abundant throughout the city. But beauty isn’t found just in buildings with white walls, it is embedded in everyday life.

Murals pop up in unexpected places…

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…art hangs out with you on the street…

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…residents express themselves with welcoming doorways…

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…and even mailboxes have an artistic flair.

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But perhaps my favorite art fix of the trip was to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

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The exhibit chronicled a sampling of paintings from her New Mexico days, working from her Ghost Ranch home in Abiquiu, about 50 miles outside of Santa Fe.  As an artist who remained fully herself throughout her life, she is an inspiration for anyone seeking to live more authentically.  At least she has been for me.

Of course, no girls getaway is complete without a spa day. Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-inspired spa, greets you with a sign:

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With a message like that, you know you are in for something special.  Which is confirmed by the buddhas that greet you in hidden corners:

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As we waited for our massages, we soaked our feet in the hot foot bath. Relaxation heaven.

My massage therapist, Gaia, greeted me at the foot soak and escorted me to our private hut for my massage. As we chatted, she told me she was from Minnesota, so I asked her why she moved to Santa Fe.

“It called me,” she said.  You can’t get away with a sentence like just anywhere, but spiritual callings are ingrained in the essence of the New Mexico culture.  As Georgia O’Keeffe said, “the country seems to call one in a way that one has to answer it.”

We talked about energy and how immediately grounded one feels here.  Then she grounded my city-weary muscles with an outstanding massage. Afterwards as I walked back to the locker room, peace had taken its rightful place in my soul.

As one who was called to Santa Fe, I felt embraced by the spirit of artistic beauty and the grace of soulful energy.  Among the vibrant colors and the buddhas and the wind, I left with this unmistakable knowledge:

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