Since the loss of my husband, Brian, in September, I’ve given myself a break from a lot of things – including my blog.  The ability to maintain a blog requires energy and the ability to concentrate – two things that I have been very much lacking over the last 13 weeks.  But now, as we approach the beginning of a new year, and as I find myself more “frazzled” than ever, I felt like it would be a good time to reboot the project.  Brian absolutely LOVED my blog and the potential that it has to be of service to other people, like me, who are HAPPY, but who find themselves in the midst of chaos and overwhelm and feel like there MUST be a way for things to be just a little simpler.  And, of course, it’s a fantastic creative outlet for myself – and now, more than ever, I can really benefit from my own advice.

Very shortly after we lost Brian, I decided that, when the time was right, I would need to dedicate some time to reflect on the events of the last few months, to collect my thoughts, to be kind to myself and to chart a course for moving forward.  That time is now.  On Saturday, December 8th, the date that would have been our 4th wedding anniversary, I’m embarking on a little retreat to a fantastic resort in Ojai, California, the place where I became certified as a GTD trainer.

I chose the Ojai resort for a number of reasons – it’s very beautiful and somewhat secluded.  It’s a place where I will feel comfortable being by myself.  Once I arrive, I won’t need transportation – everything that I need is right there at the resort – restaurants, a fitness center, a spa, and an artist cottage.   Situated in Ventura County, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Ojai is a unique little town that is very health-and-spirituality-focused.  They call it “The Shangri-La of Southern California.”

As soon as I made my reservation at the resort, I was contacted by the resort’s “Experience Planner.”  Her name is – no kidding – Sommer Day.  How adorable is that?!?  All joking aside, Sommer has been absolutely fantastic!  I responded to her email letting her know the purpose of my trip and she was more than delighted to put together a wonderful itinerary for my “little retreat.”  I let her know that I would like to do a little pampering each day and something creative each day.  And, of course, there will be plenty of time to work out, to read, to write, and to think – whatever my heart fancies.  Sommer even made arrangements to have a mini-fridge in my room – so that I can store my coffee creamer and a couple of breakfast items in my room.

I’ve also made an important decision – one that is a little outside of my “comfort zone.”  I’ve decided to unhook my work email from all of my electronic devices and to avoid social media (with the possible exception of Pinterest) during this time.  My sources of news will be Feedly, The Today Show, and nothing more.  My media will consist of books, magazines, blogs, iPad games, and the TV in my room (crap-TV only – nothing heavy).  And, of course, my friends and loved ones can contact me as needed by phone and text.

So, I’m sort-of excited, but I’m not looking at this as “a good time”, necessarily.  I don’t expect it to be “fun” so much as “what I need”.  It will be a difficult, but essential, experience in my healing process – not “closure”, but the beginning of that “new adventure” that I promised Brian.

Friday, December 6th

5:00 AM
Well, we seem to be in the path of a major ice storm this weekend.  They’re predicting a round of prolonged power outages . . . yikes!  At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll make it out on Sunday.  It’s beginning to look like I’ll need to reschedule my retreat.

5:00 PM
We spent the entire day charging every electronic device in the apartment and praying that the electricity would stay on.  I braved the elements and went to the office.  At lunchtime, I skipped out to pick up some tasty soup from Olive Garden and to test the roads.  At that time, drizzly rain is all there was to deal with.  In a fit of complete and total optimism, I booked a town car to pick me up at LAX on Sunday,  By 3pm, we had just barely begun to hear the clickity-clicks on our window that let us know that the rain was turning to sleet.  At that point, we closed the office for the day and it seems that nobody had a difficult time making it home safely.  I whipped up a Biscoff pie while catching up on the latest Young and the Restless and, for dinner, Gavin and I shared a bowl of Zuppa Toscana.  I munched on salad and he snatched up the breadsticks.

7:00 PM
Not knowing whether or not I’d make it to California, it really didn’t matter – I was officially on vacation.  The next 9 days had a very important purpose and I had work to do.  Be present.  Be intentional.  Be mindful.  And pamper myself like it’s my job.  After dinner and a phone conversation with my mom, I drew a bubble bath, brewed a cup of peppermint tea and crawled into bed with my iPad.  I checked the power outage map every 45 minutes or so – there were some outages, but the utility company seemed to be making progress.  I decided to go ahead and read one of the books that I was determined to finish on my vacation – A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis.  One of my business colleagues sent it to me along with a gorgeous leather journal embossed with my name.  I truly can not imagine a more perfect expression of sympathy.  I decided to shell out the 8 bucks to download the book onto my iPad.  I wanted to be able to use the electronic highlighting and annotation features.  Something told me this was a meaningful read and it absolutely was.  I’ll summarize my thoughts in a separate post, but I finished the book – cover to cover – in less than an hour.  It’s not a long book, but it is beautiful and brilliant.

By 9pm, I switched off my gadgets, made sure they were all on charge – just in case – and settled back to fall asleep to a Modern Family rerun.

Saturday, December 7th

6:00 AM
What a blessing and relief it was to wake up to the sound of the HVAC unit outside my window and to realize that we still had power.  Before crawling out of bed, I performed the slightly uncomfortable task of disconnecting my work email and calendar alerts from both by iPhone and iPad.  My next steps were to brew a cup of coffee, and seek an answer to the question of the day – am I heading to California or not?  What information was missing in order for me to make the call.  I made a list of supporting questions:

  • Will Gavin be safe and comfortable?  Will I?
  • Does Gavin have everything that he needs?  Do I?
  • What would be the implications (financial and otherwise) of rescheduling the trip?

After tackling these questions one by one, determining which factors I could control and which factors were in the hands of fate, I set out to make movements toward a safe and successful journey.  If I’m not able to go, it won’t be for lack of trying.

8:00 AM
I set out to take care of some errands.  First stop, Macy’s in search of comfy cozy-ness.  Yes, Macy’s WAS open at 8am and I think I was the only one there besides the sales associates.  I found a lovely faux fur accented “puffer” coat, fuzz-lined boots and two pairs of fluffy socks.

Next, I stopped at Grimes Tire to show the Chillmobile a little bit of love.  I’ve been getting a tire pressure warning and, despite two stops at the air machine, I can’t seem to make it go away on my own.  I suck at car ownership.  No worries, the kind folks at Grimes were happy to take a look.  While I waited, I decided to download and start reading book #2 - Heaven is for Real.  It’s the story about a four-year-old little boy who had a near death experience and began to tell stories about meeting Jesus, having the angels sing to him and talking about things that he could not possibly have known about – like his miscarried sister.  During my hour-long wait, I made it through about 30% of the book.  Things were starting to get really interesting when my reading was interrupted to let me know that the Chillmobile was good to go – three tires with too little air and one with too much.  I was all fixed up and there was no charge for the service – how lovely!  My last stop was to the bank for some pocket cash – small bills for my trip (tips, etc.) and an emergency stash for Gavin – that I had no plan to tell him about unless there was a need.  I made it back home by about 10:30am and Gavin was still asleep.  Grocery shopping would have to wait until a little later.

12:00 PM
I spent a bit of the afternoon alternating between light housekeeping and reading Heaven is for Real, which I finished in it’s entirety.  I didn’t intend for the apartment to be spotless, but didn’t want to return home to a mess.

After he finally woke up (after 2pm), Gavin and I took a swirl through Target for some groceries (for him) and a few travel provisions (for me).  By 3:30 PM, Gavin was hungry (for breakfast?), so we stopped by Swanky’s Taco Shop for some tasty tex-mex takeout.

Throughout the evening, I continued to monitor the second round of winter storms (this one named Dion), pack my bags and hope that I’d be able to travel safely and without too much adventure.  I downloaded the next book that I wanted to read, When Will the Heaven Begin?, the story of Ben Breedlove, the teenager who posted two very poignant YouTube videos about cheating death and getting a glimpse of heaven before he passed away on Christmas Day of 2011.  I saw those videos in 2011, and they were amazing and comforting (see “This is My Story” Part 1 and Part 2).  Right before I fell asleep, I saw a notification on my iPad that the Nonconnah Parkway was closed due to ice.  This is the route that I would normally take to the airport.  Nice.

Sunday, December 8th

I always have a hard time sleeping the night before a big trip, but I was especially nervous about this one and woke up several times to hear that precipitation was definitely occurring outside my window.  Darn it!  I was really hoping that the weather people were making a big deal about nothing, as they were known to do on occasion.

5:00 AM
I woke up naturally, 10 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go off and was thankful that it had been about 2 1/2 hours since I had last woke up.  I had managed at least a little unbroken sleep.  I turned on the TV and there were a grand total of ZERO local stations reporting the weather.  I was on my own.  I checked the Southwest Airlines website and saw no indication that my flight was delayed or cancelled.  So, as planned, I dressed and assembled my bags and was out the door at 5:45 AM with every intent to travel.

The first order of business was to get to the airport.  I cranked up the defrosters on the Chillmobile and, after they ran for about 10 minutes, pulled out the mega ice scraper that Brian had stashed under the seats.  Scraping ice was sort of Brian’s “thing”.  I took a moment to recall the many occasions that I stepped outside to the pleasant realization that Brian had scraped the ice off my car so that I could go to work with no worries.  And, on this morning, I felt proud and empowered to do so myself while remembering him.

The parking lot looked more “wet” than “icy”.  I honestly didn’t even see any patches of slush.  So, after an adequate de-icing and warm up of the Chillmobile, I set out on my adventure.  I did decide to take city streets all the way, and avoid the interstate altogether.  There is a main road that runs near my apartment all the way down to the Fast Park offsite airport parking service that I always use.  I found that the streets really weren’t bad at all.  I just drove a steady 40 – 45 MPH all the way down and found myself at the airport with PLENTY of time, as I’d hoped.

6:45 AM
I checked my large suitcase (the big silver monster), made it through the TSA line and headed over to Starbucks to pick up a coffee for my journey. Without hesitation, I ordered Brian’s favorite, Americano with room for cream.  While waiting for the plane to board, I took a quick moment to post an anniversary sentiment on Facebook for Brian. It would be my last Facebook activity until I returned home.

It wasn’t long before we were advised that the place would begin boarding and we began to corral up by boarding position.  It was my first experience with the Southwest method of boarding and I thought it worked really well.  The gate agents were professional, but down-to-earth.  The agent announced over the loudspeaker that we would pull back from the gate before they “sprayed us with Kool-Aid”, referring to the de-icing fluid.  I selected a window seat in Row 5 and very much enjoyed the relaxed FAA rules regarding electronic devices.  Our departure was delayed one hour due to the de-icing process, but I didn’t mind very much – I think I was still somewhat surprised that I was even able to make the trip.

The first leg of my flight into Houston was uneventful.  I alternated between sleeping and reading.  Due to the delay, we landed in Houston just in time for the next leg of my flight into Los Angeles to start boarding – no time to piddle around.  I made the executive decision to make a quick ladies room stop and pick up a ready-made sandwich from a nearby deli before boarding my four-hour flight to California.  I had already had the beginnings of a migraine and knew that I would be absolutely miserable if I didn’t have lunch and an Imitrex soon.

11:00 AM
Despite arriving late for boarding, I did manage to snag another window seat.  After eating half of my chicken salad croissant, some Doritos and taking my headache medicine, I put on a pair of headphones and shuffled the song list on my phone, napping for about an hour or so.  I spent the rest of the plane ride reading When Will the Heaven Begin?.  By the time we reached the gate at LAX, there were just a few pages remaining.

1:15 PM (After Time Zone Change)
I headed down to baggage claim and nibbled on the second half of my sandwich while waiting for the carousel to deliver the luggage from my flight.  After securing the big silver monster suitcase with a hot pink strap, I called the towncar service to let them know that I was ready for pickup.

I was shortly greeted by the driver, Randy, who refused to let me lift a finger from that point forward.  He was so sweet to drive 15 minutes or so out of his way so that I could enjoy a lovely view of the ocean instead of the quicker freeway route.  He pointed out a lot of the points of interest along the way – the Santa Monica pier and Malibu beach among them.  We stopped at the Vons store in Ventura to pick up a few essentials for my stay in Ojai – some nonfat creamer for my coffee, fruit, bagels, and – of course – wine.

4:00 PM
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa.  The kind fellas at the bellstand secured my luggage while I checked in to the resort.  Then, a quick little golf cart ride to the Villa Mariposa building and I was home for the next few days – Room 709 – a “Shangri-La Fireplace Room”.  The room was absolutely perfect!  The bathroom was insanely huge with a glass shower and the deepest bathtub I have ever seen (cue Handel’s Messsiah).  There was a huge patio overlooking a gorgeous couryard fountain and sitting area with two puffy chairs next to a remote control-operated fireplace.  The decor was upscale with subtle Spanish influence, elegant and tasteful.

Resort Entrance

Resort Entrance

Villa Mariposa

Villa Mariposa

Vase Located Outside Villa Mariposa Room 709

Vase Located Outside Villa Mariposa Room 709

Villa Mariposa - Room 709

Villa Mariposa – Room 709

Sleeping Area

Sleeping Area

Fireplace Sitting Area

Fireplace Sitting Area

Patio

Patio

Scrubby Shower

Scrubby Shower

Bathtub

Bathtub

Vanity Area

Vanity Area

Essence of Ojai Amenities

Essence of Ojai Amenities

After exploring the room, unpacking my things and opening a mini-bottle of wine, I decided to order a little nibble of something from in-room dining.  Imagine my surprise when, about a half hour later, I opened the door to find TWO men with TWO trays.  Wow, they sure do roll out the red carpet for a sandwich and a side salad.  They came in, retrieved a folding table from the closet and prepared the loveliest table setting for one – and informed me that a cheese tray and bottle of Pinot Noir were sent compliments of “the house”.  They were accompanied by a lovely card that revealed that the gift was sent from the bellstand.  They had inscribed a quote from German poet, Hermann Hesse, “Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself . . . ”  This trip was definitely a good idea!

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

After dinner, the remainder of the evening consisted of a warm bath (or, swim, might have been the more accurate term), reading and writing by the fireplace.  Having finished the Ben Breedlove biography, I downloaded book #4 on my list Widows Wear Stilettos: A Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow.  I fell asleep early by California standards, but right on time by my Memphis-schedule.

Monday, December 9th

6:00 AM
I woke up barely remembering where I was.  The bed was super-comfy and I rested well.  I pulled out the daily schedule and my itinerary to map out my day.  I was more thirsty for water than coffee, so I drank a glass of water and bundled up for my morning adventures.

View of Spa Ojai from Villa Mariposa Courtyard

View of Spa Ojai from Villa Mariposa Courtyard

On the way to the spa . . .

On the way to the spa . . .

Fresh Lavender

Fresh Lavender

7:30 AM – Morning Stretch at the Spa Studio + Fitness Walk into Ojai
I showed up to the Morning Stretch class to find that I was the only person who braved the cold.  The rest of California apparently had the good sense to stay by the fireplace in 34 degree weather!  But, nonetheless, the instructor, Etienne, and I proceeded to have a lovely session of light stretching before a brisk walk into the town of Ojai, probably 2 1/2 to 3 miles round-trip.

It was very cool to see how close the Aracade area was.  There are so many little “mom and pop” shops and cafes.  Etienne, a native of Ojai, was telling me how much he enjoyed living in Ojai, but that industry was quite limited.  The resort itself accounts for about half of the city’s overall economy.  He told me that chain stores and restaurants are not allowed – it’s all local.

We walked through Libbey Park that was, apparently, named one of the top tennis destinations in the country.  As we approached a tall, tower structure, Etienne says, “There’s Post Office Tower” and as we passed it I discovered that inside the tower was, indeed, the city’s actual post office.  Next we passed the combination public library and bookstore and the obligatory liquor store before cutting through a residential area on our way back to the resort.  We walked past several people walking dogs – all very cool breeds.  We saw a beautiful white Husky and a dark brown Spaniel with the most awesome Rastafarian-looking haircut.

Post Office Tower

Post Office Tower

9:00 AM
After saying my goodbyes to Etienne, I retreated back to my room for some coffee, a bagel and a wardrobe change before my creative adventure of the day.

10:00 AM – Custom Blending Class at the Apothecary

The Artist Cottage and Apothecary

The Artist Cottage and Apothecary

Entrance to the Apothecary

Entrance to the Apothecary

Right at 10am, I made my way over to the Artist Cottage and Apothecary for Part 1 of the “Eseence in Balance” experience.  I was greeted by Holly, my guide.  Holly was beautiful – dressed in an Asian-style jacket, wearing large silver earrings and rings on her hands.  She appeared to be in her 60s and had beautiful, long, silver hair – curled loosely at the ends and clipped back with an attractive barette.  The apothecary was an adorable, quaint little space.  There were all sorts of little bottles, as you might expect, in a small kitchenette-type space.  There was no stove, but a sink and an island with stools where our handiwork would take place.  There were a couple of large copper contraptions that are used to extract the plant oils.

Apothecary Interior

Apothecary Interior

Apothecary Interior

Apothecary Interior

Apothecary Shelves

Apothecary Shelves

Alembic - used for extracting essential oils from plants

Alembic – used for extracting essential oils from plants

The Apothecary can create a variety of products from fragrances created, including soaps, lotions and bath salts

The Apothecary can create a variety of products from fragrances created, including soaps, lotions and bath salts

Holly explained to me about how essential oils are created and how it takes so MUCH plant to create so LITTLE oil.  She said that it can take 60 full blooms of roses to create just one drop of oil.  That’s why these oils are so valuable and pricey.

We started out by sniffing each of the oils individually and rating them on a scale of 1 – 5.  She wouldn’t reveal the source of the oil until I had indicated my level of preference.  She didn’t want any pre-conceived ideas influencing my intuition.  Much like we crave foods that contains a particular vitamin or element that our body needs, the same is true for fragrance.  So, one at a time, I sniffed about 30 different smells.  I rated a lot of them as 1′s and 2′s, and was beginning to wonder if I would like any of them at all.  I told Holly, “I’m usually a very positive person.  I don’t know why I don’t like many of these,” to which she reassured me that it is perfefctly normal and all part of the experience.  By the time we were done, I had a list of oils that I had rated as 3, 4 or 5.

After a quick refresh of my coconut chai herbal tea and a rest for my nostrils, we went through the 3′s, 4′s and 5′s again, and I had the opportunity to re-evaluate.  I very rarely second guess my decisions, but in this case, I did drop a few from the list and change my ratings on a few others – some higher and some lower.  When we were finished, Holly gave me another sheet of paper and asked me to re-categorize them into groups by the ratings – 3′s, 4′s and 5′s.

Then came the “blending” portion – “fragrance mixology,” if you will.  Holly explained to me that all fragrances have three levels of “notes” – top notes, heart notes and base notes, which has to do with the cheimstry of the oils.  Due to their molecular structure and chemical properties, essential oils have something similar to a “half-life”.  Some have a stronger scent, but tend to evaporate quickly, while certain elements tend to linger longer.  Looking at the categories of my preferences, Holly was quickly able to recommend a mixture based on her knowledge of the chemistry of the oil.  Creating the mixture was a a fairly low-tech process of waving the scents under my nose in succession and, before long, I had perfected my very own fragrance – a blend of grapefruit, lemon verbena, lavender, sweet orange and vanilla.

The final element of fragrance-making is determining how the oils interact on the skin of the individual wearing it.  Holly asked me to dab the fragrance on my pulse points and she and I were both very pleased with the results.

We finished our session by selecting a name for the fragrance.  “A New Adventure” was the name that I selected to represent this chapter in my life and Holly and I both became a little teary-eyed as I explained the meaning of the name I selected.  Holly then emptied the contents of a royal-blue velvet bag onto the table – they were tiny little clear crystals.  She asked me to select a crystal and make a wish.  I made my wish, kissed the crystal, and dropped it into the tiny little bottle, which she wrapped carefully in green tissue and tied with a ribbon.  She said that she would blend a massage oil with my customized fragrance and that it would be waiting for me at the spa by the time I arrived.

"A New Adventure" - fragrance created by Andreah Churchill

“A New Adventure” – fragrance created by Andreah Churchill

I left the experience feeling positive and mindful – I had discovered something new about myself today.

11:00 AM
By this time, and after smelling one strong fragrance after another, I began to sense another migraine trying to develop.  I went back to the room for another warm bath and rest before my spa appointment.

2:00 PM – Essence in Balance Massage at the Spa
I checked into the spa about 20 minutes before my 2pm appointment.  I was greeted at the front desk and was told that Holly had stopped by earlier with my massage oil.  I was provided with a robe, shower shoes and a locker and, after changing, I snatched a chaise lounge by the fireplace and continued to read Widows Wear Stilettos.

Entrance to Spa Ojai

Entrance to Spa Ojai

Spa Ojai Courtyard

Spa Ojai Courtyard

A few minutes before 2pm, I went upstairs to the coed Tea Lounge and, right on time, my name was called by Elizabeth, a massage therapist.  Elizabeth was very sweet, cheerful, and expressed much gratitude in the ability to live in Ojai and to enjoy her work.  We conversed a little throughout my treatment, and the conversation naturally progressed to the reason for my journey.  Elizabeth told me the story of her father, who passed away when she was eight years old and having experienced little moments of awareness of his presence throughout her life – little “God winks” she called them.  I absolutely love that.  I left the treatment, again, feeling very relaxed and peaceful.

Next, I decided to have a bite for lunch at the cafe adjacent to the spa.  I was told that it was perfectly acceptable to dine in my spa robe, but – to be perfectly honest – I felt a little awkward and underdressed.  And it didn’t help much that it was 3pm and I was the only person dining at the time.  But, the black bean burger was tasty and the sweet potato french fries were a perfect combination of sweet, salty and crispy.

After lunch, I went back to the spa for a nice steam in the Eucalyptus Room and a shower.  I picked up a tube of shower gel and a jar of bath salts from the spa gift shop before heading out for the day.  I absolutely love the Essence of Ojai signature fragrance used in the spa and room toiletries – it’s a combination of citrus and lavender – not much unlike the fragrance that I created earlier in the day.

4:30 PM
A quick glance at the clock told me that it was almost time for the day’s “pink moment”, a time of the day when the sun’s reflection off the Pacific Ocean, turns the mountain an amazing shade of bright pink.  I dropped my things off at the room, grabbed my iPhone and a glass of wine, and set out to locate a good view.  I climed the hill and headed up toward the hotel lobby, vaguely remembering that I had found a good view last year somewhere around there.  But, when I arrived, I didn’t find what I was looking for.   I returned back to my room to realize that the most amazing view of the pink mountains was very near the Villa Mariposa building.  I took a few photos and retreated to my room for the evening.

The Pink Moment

The Pink Moment

The Pink Moment

The Pink Moment

Already somewhat tired, I set out the “Seeking Serenity” sign on my door to decline turn-down service and read by the fireplace.  I wasn’t hungry for dinner, so I just nibbled on some of the snacks in my stash and fell asleep early.

Tuesday, December 10th

5:15 AM
My body was still on Memphis time because who else in their right mind would wake up at 5:15 AM while on VACATION!?!  It was probably just as well, since I didn’t have any late commitments and it would be easier to adjust back to Memphis-time when I returned home.  I turned on some old Saved by the Bell reruns while doing some writing and enjoying my morning coffee.  I decided to skip the morning’s stretch and walk in favor of reading, writing and a warm bath.  I finished book #4.

10:00 AM
I dedided to squeeze in a little workout before my glass painting class.  I made my way over to the (completely empty) fitness center and proceeded with a little upper body workout and a 15 minutes on the elliptical trainer.

11:00 AM – Glass Painting
I finished my little workout just in time to make it over to the glass painting class.  At the Artist Cottage, I was greeted by Rima, the instructor, and soon realized that I was the only participant in the class.  At this point, I began to wonder if I was the only person at the resort!  Rima asked me cheerfully, “So, do you know what you want to paint today?”  I was a teeny bit surprised, thinking that this would be like those painting classes where they take you through a prescribed design.  Except, this time, we’d be painting ON the wine glasses, not drinking OUT of them.  But, no, I was presented with a blank canvas and Rima was there to help me execute my vision.

After seeing some examples of glasses and tiles that others have created, I decided to paint sprigs of lavender, to represent my visit to Ojai.  On one side, I painted a butterfly in shades of pink, to represent this period of transformation for me and on the other side, I painted a bouquet of balloons to symbolize Brian’s new adventure.  Once my painting was completed, I was delighted to discover something super cool.  When you look at the glass from certain angles, it would appear that Brian and I were together, even though we were on the opposite sides of the glass.  It wasn’t intentional, but couldn’t have been more appropriate – maybe it was one of those “God winks” trying to tell me something.  Nonetheless, I left the Artists Cottage feeling very happy that I took that class.

Artist Cottage Interior

Artist Cottage Interior

My Wine Glass

My Wine Glass

12:00 PM – Lunch at Jimmy’s Pub
It was still a little early to check in to the spa for my 3pm mani / pedi, so I decided to head over to Jimmy’s Pub for a mid-day cocktail and a little nibble of something.  I ordered a white sangria and a barbecue chicken pizza and the server wasn’t kidding – both were delicious!

1:30 PM
I decided to check into Spa Ojai a little early and enjoy some of the spa amenities before my mani / pedi.  After putting on my robe and shower shoes, I grabbed by iPad and went over to my favorite chaise lounge – the one right next to the fireplace, of course.  I just received a notification that the latest edition of Real Simple magazine was ready to download.  Very appropriately, this edition, inspired by the new year, was all about finding balance.  By the time I had read all of the articles that I wanted to read, it was about time for me to meet my nail technician.  I decided to run upstairs to the Tea Lounge and prepare another cup of coconut chai before taking my seat in the Women’s Lounge, decorated in cooler shades of lavender flanked by waterfall walls at the entrance.  I was soon greeted by Elisa, by technician for the afternoon.

3:00 PM – Fresh Lavender Manicure
We stepped across the courtyard to the nail salon.  Again, Elisa and I were the only two people in the salon.  I selected a pinkish-bare shade of polish with the slightest hint of sparkle.  I enjoyed a lovely chat with Elisa as she cleaned up my cuticles, massaged by hands and arms with a lovely lavender scrub and polished my nails.

4:00 PM – Fresh Lavender Pedicure
After the manicure, we went back over to the main spa area and took the elevator upstairs.  I took the opportunity to get a little more hot water in the Tea Lounge before retreating into the Pedicure Suite.  What a lovely place this was!  It felt like a mountain chalet with a fireplace in one corner and about 4 cushy chairs with copper pots at the base.  I selected a deep ruby polish with a hint of shimmer – perfect for the holidays and one that would look fantastic with my new open-toed black satin and gold glitter “anniversary shoes”.

Elisa let me know what to expect throughout the treatment, draped me with a cozy blanket, set the cushy chair to “zero gravity” mode and placed an eye pillow on my face.  Holy crap, that was the most amazing pedicure ever!

Another client came in at some point, a guy.  I got tickled when he asked his nail tech to polish his toes with the most outragous color she could find.  “The kids will think it’s hilarious,” he said.  As I left the pedicure suite, I caught a glimpse of World’s Best Dad, tinkering on his iPad with his toes of bright sparkly teal.  Very very cool!

Orange Tree in the Villa Mariposa Courtyard

Orange Tree in the Villa Mariposa Courtyard

Birds of Paradise in the Villa Mariposa Courtyard

Birds of Paradise in the Villa Mariposa Courtyard

5:00 PM
After chilling in the spa’s Fireplace Lounge for a half hour to allow my polish to dry, I spent another quiet night in my room, catching up on the latest episode of the Young and the Restless, enjoying a glass of wine and another two slices of the fantastic barbecue chicken pizza left over from my lunch at Jimmy’s Pub.  I decided to check in with Gavin, my mom and a couple of friends, sending photos of the Villa Mariposa courtyard fountain and a photo of Mickey Mouse enjoying a cup of tea by the fire.

Mickey Chillin'

Mickey Chillin’

Wednesday, December 11th

6:30 AM
I woke up to the realization that today would be my last full day in California.  I decided that I wanted to try to go into town for a little bit.  I looked up the trolley schedule and Google maps in an attempt to determine the best way to get to town and back.  Most of the shops don’t open until 10am, and would need to be back in plenty of time for a cocoa pomegranate body polish at 1pm.  It seems that the best option would be for me to catch the trolley into town at 9:44am, explore the shops for about an hour and a half, then have a fairly early lunch before making the half hour walk back to the resort.

9:15 AM – Exploring Ojai
With a quick change of plans, I decided to make the walk into town instead of catching the trolley.  I figured it would be easier to retrace my steps that way.  I could just come back the same way I went to town.  The only problem is I got lost a little on my way to town.  Please know, Google Maps sucks in Ojai.  It kept placing my little blue dot near the hospital instead of the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa.  So, instead, I relied on my intuition and usually impeccable sense of direction.  Problem is, I turned the wrong way onto Country Club Drive.  I was probably a quarter mile to a half mile down the road when the trolley passed me going the opposite direction.  Whoops!  A quick check of Google Maps (when I found a street sign nearby) confirmed that I was, indeed, going the wrong direction.  No worries – it wasn’t like I couldn’t use the exercise.

I eventually found the bike trail and followed it all the way to Libbey Park and, just as I remembered, the Arcade shopping area was right on the other side of the park.  By the time I arrived, it was a little after 10am and most of the shops were open.  I found a little drug store first and found a nice little gift for Gavin.  I walked into a couple more gift shops and picked up a couple of other little keepsakes, a cute little “self love rule book” meant to inspire and empower young girls, a couple of touchstones with the words “awareness” and “contentment” inscribed on them, and a small little keepsake bag of Ojai lavender.

The Arcade

The Arcade

The Arcade

The Arcade

"Elliot" was created to express the common loss felt by the Ojai community when, after spending a day and a night in a tree on Aliso Street, a bear met his tragic death. (by Mark Benkert, 2009)

“Elliot” was created to express the common loss felt by the Ojai community when, after spending a day and a night in a tree on Aliso Street, a bear met his tragic death. (by Mark Benkert, 2009)

Having skipped breakfast, I started getting a little hungry, but it wasn’t quite time for lunch.  So, instead, I walked into a little clothing store called Hattie.  I didn’t really find any pieces that “called my name”, but met the loveliest person, named Ladye – a boutique associate by day, photographer by profession.  We made introductions quickly to find out that she, too, was born and raised in Memphis, and had relocated to California a while back.  Ladye insisted that I find a little bake shop called Knead before getting lunch.  Life is short – eat dessert first, right?

Not one to pass up on a good dessert recommendation, I went straight to Knead, which was tucked into a little nook.  I walked in, picked the most decadent looking tart – something akin to a pecan pie with a brownie base – and had it boxed up for later.

Package from Knead

Package from Knead

Chocolate Pecan Tart from Knead

Chocolate Pecan Tart from Knead

11:15 AM – Lunch at Agave Maria’s
I knew that I would need to find lunch pretty soon if I were to have time to eat and then walk a mile and a half back to the resort in time for the afternoon’s spa treatments.  Luckily, the restaurant that I wanted to try was right around the corner and I was able to get a table immediately.  In fact, beside myself, the only patrons in the restaraunt were a young mom with her preschool aged daughter.  I overheard them talking about their plans to see the movie Frozen later in the day.  The other day, I had a quick chat with some other resort guests and they had mentioned that this particular restaurant, Agave Maria’s, was really good and that they had a fantastic signature margarita made with tangerine.  So, without haste, I ordered the “Pixie-rita” and enchiladas verdes with chicken.  Everything was delicious!

Entrance to Agave Maria's

Entrance to Agave Maria’s

Agave Maria's Menu

Agave Maria’s Menu

"Pixie"-rita, made with mandarin oranges

“Pixie”-rita, made with mandarin oranges

Enchiladas Verdes with Chicken

Enchiladas Verdes with Chicken

12:00 PM
At noon, I figured it was time to start my tipsy trek back to the resort.  I had no trouble finding the bike trail, then Libbey Park, and soon felt like “master and commander” of Ojai navigation.  I found the entrance to the Ojai Valley Inn and it was about a half mile PAST said entrance that I realized that I was on the wrong side of the fence that separated the resort and golf course from the rest of civilization.  Nice!

Cool plaque that I found when I got lost on my way back to the resort

Cool plaque that I found when I got lost on my way back to the resort

Another cool plaque describing the Ojai area

Another cool plaque describing the Ojai area

Again, a little extra exercise certainly did not hurt me, and I managed to drop off the day’s purchase in my room and arrived at the spa with just enough time to get in a nice shower before my body polish.

1:00 PM – Cocoa Pomegranate Body Polish
At 1pm sharp, I was greeted by my technician, Randi.  The cocoa pomegranate body polish was amazing!  It was the best of both worlds – a fantastic exfoliation and hydration treatment with a built-in massage.  It smelled yummy – a bit like a Tootsie Roll!  At the risk of sounding completely hokey, to make the most of the treatment, I tried to imagine the technician scrubbing away any negative qualities with the sugar scrub portion of the treatment – self doubt, worry, fear, anxiety, regret, negativity in general.  And then, during the application of the body butter, I tried to imagine the technican rubbing in a whole bunch of positive qualities, like confidence, self worth, clarity, patience, etc.  I left the treatment feeling very rejuvinated and with softer skin than I have ever had!

2:00 PM – Deep Cleansing Facial
I made a quick trip to the locker room to check in for the next day’s flights before meeting the aesthetician for my 2pm deep cleansing facial.  The facial was great and the aesthetician, Erika, was wonderful, but there wasn’t anything too terribly exciting to report.  At the end of the treatment, Erika provided a list of recommended products and, since I was on the lookout for a new skincare regimen, and my tubes of moisturizer and facial cleanser were nearing empty, I stopped by the spa boutique to pick up some of the recommended items.

4:00 PM – Personal Mandala Session
To wrap up my action-packed day, I went back to the Artist Cottage for my final scheduled activity – a personal mandala session.  I was greeted by the counselor, Renata.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but I can say for sure that this was not at all in the realm of my expectation.

To my surprise, after being presented with the basic template for the activity, I was completely on my own.  Renata wasn’t there to coach or guide or steer my drawing in any way.  We didn’t converse, there was no backstory, no “so what brings you to Ojai?” small talk.  She explained that a Native American friend once told her, “You live in a square world – square doors, square windows, square paper, square books.”  Conversely, everything in nature occurs with circles and centers – right down to the cells that make up our bodies.  She told me to choose a square sheet of paper, not based on my preference of color, but by which color attracted me at that very moment.  After staring at the blank pattern for what seemed like 10 minutes, I finally started to draw – just like Renata said – not from my mind, but from my gut.  Admittedly, there were times during the activity that I thought to myself, “Really?!  I could color on a blank sheet of paper back at home and it would be a million times cheaper.” But, after about an hour of just letting art happen intuitively, my mandala was complete.

I knew what the elements of my drawing meant to me – on a conscious level, but without any explanation on my part, Renata set out to interpret the subconscious meaning of my picture.  “Nothing is accidental,” Renata said.  “Everything has a meaning.”  She started with an analysis of the color of paper that I selected – orange.  “Orange is the color of creativity,” Renata said.  And from there, she interpreted every single color, shape, and number on my page.  She counted EVERYTHING – the number of rays that I put on the sun, every dot, every squiggle, EVERYTHING.  Apparently, I’m REALLY in tune with the numbers 3, 6 and 7, because those numbers recurred over and over again in my image.  There’s no way that I will ever remember everything that Renata shared with me about the drawing, but I got the overall message loud and clear – the subconscious themes were incredibly consistent even though the parts of my drawing were completely different from one another.

There were strong recurring themes of creativity, communication, sharing knowledge with others, compassion, ancient wisdom, mind/body/spirit balance, femininity, completeness.  I’m a truth-seeker and a truth-teller.  I don’t mince words. I was sure to let Renata know that I felt that was a fairly recent development.  Until lately, I was always a stuffer and a peace-keeper but, more recently, I’ve been a lot more outspoken about the impact that people’s actions and decisions have on me.  I cracked a big smile when Renata says boldly, “So tell me, what is it that you do (or plan to do), creatively through communication, to help and inspire others?”

It was a deeply personal and unique experience and I’m happy that I did it in this time of my life.  It was a great way to finish up my Ojai experience.

Thursday, December 12th

I admit to being a little sad waking up to the realization that it was time to go home.  I had plenty of time to enjoy some coffee and tea while I started packing and, after showering, I decided to take one more warm bath in the mega-tub.  I turned off the TV and turned on Continuum, the John Mayer album that served as the soundtrack of the early days of the relationship between Brian and me.  I finished packing and checked every drawer at least 4 times to make sure that I didn’t leave anything behind.  I decided to walk to the resort lobby instead of taking a golf cart.  I wanted to get one last glimpse of the property and the mountains on my way out.  When I arrived at the registration desk to turn in the room key, the attendant informed me that my driver had just arrived.

The trip home was fairly uneventful – always a good thing in travel.  After several days of being spoiled to bits, LAX was a stark contrast.  I spent the travel time bouncing between reading, playing games, watching the flight-tracker on southwest.com, talking to a lovely lady named Mary Ann and trying to translate the adventures into lessons learned or “knowledge nuggets”, as I like to call them.  At 11:00 PM, I arrived safely back home, feeling very very blessed.

Knowledge Nuggets

  • Don’t be discouraged by minor setbacks, just move forward one step at a time.
  • You’re only as alone as you tell yourself you are.
  • God likes to wink at us once in a while – but only if we’re willing to see them.
  • What you’re looking for might be right behind you.  If you just change direction, there it is!
  • Something (or someone) that seems far away may be with you the entire time.  All you need is a little perspective.
  • The BEST pedicures are zero gravity pedicures.
  • There’s nothing wrong with getting a little lost once in a while … there’s something empowering about finding the right path after it has been missing.
  • When you’re following your intuition and instinct, nothing happens by accident.
  • We don’t have time, energy or resources to do everything.  It’s better to choose a few things very carefully and do them incredibly well.
  • God doesn’t give us everything we want, but if we follow our intuition and His guidance, we will have everything we need.

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