My #Elf Spirit Quest

I traced the steps of Buddy the Elf yesterday, visiting the iconic sites of a magical land called New York City in search of the Christmas Spirit. Elf is my very favorite Christmas movie, and the fact that I was housesitting within reach of the City during the holiday season tickled me to no end. (Imagine Buddy’s shoe shine! lol) After many months of wandering in the wilderness, this would be a different kind of Vision Quest for me, a journey that would bring me both delight and challenge.

My intention was to use the character of Elf as a reference point to connect to the energy of New York City dressed in her holiday best. Would there be magic in the air? Would I be able to feel it? Were others affected by it? And if so, how?

I got into character and made my way to the City.

Buddy the Elf has a childlike innocence about him, and New York City fills him with wonder. He is friendly and outgoing, and his natural proclivity is to spread Christmas cheer wherever he goes. His journey to New York City was an arduous one, but his important mission buoyed and carried him – to find his dad and discover who he really was. He arrives in the City with high hopes. He is kind to strangers, even the naughty ones. He says Yes!to opportunity and gives it his best effort, spreading joy in menial tasks and dark places. He falls in love, gets his heart broken, and still manages to save Christmas. I tried on my Elf heart and followed in his footsteps.

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YouTube video link here!

The crowds were already bustling in the early afternoon on Sunday, just one week before Christmas Eve. I parked just off the Hudson, donned my Santa cap, and made my way through Hell’s Kitchen and into Manhattan. I didn’t actually do any skipping or hopping through the crosswalks, but my insides were bubbling. Everyone looked so normal and busy, and I felt a little self-conscious in my Santa cap at first. Then I giggled at myself. It is New York after all, a place where anything goes. Still, I thought of Buddy in his Elvinwear and felt a sortof kinship in my slightest of standing out.

I passed through Times Square and looked for some fun people to connect with. I wanted to hear if anyone was feeling the spirit of Christmas. I wanted to share mine. I chatted with some ladies from California. I posed with Elmo and Deadpool. I petted a puppy in a Christmas tuxedo collar. Things were going well so far!

My next destination was Macy’s (Gimbels). It was enchanting and overwhelming all at the same time. Lavishly decorated, the store was HUGE, the crowds were HUGE, and… everyone seemed so serious. I headed for the perfume department, wanting to engage someone in a little banter over passion fruit spray. What I found was a literal gauntlet of associates, each more than happy to spray me and offer me their little white tester strips, but not a jolly one in the bunch that I thought would want to play with me. They were there to SELL, and I would let them do their job. I was a little disappointed in my lack of initiation with a single sales associate, but with so many people to serve and perhaps a big commission on the line, I wanted to be mindful of their role in the upscale New York department store.

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I lifted my spirit on the escalator. Waiting for a moment where I would not impede the traffic flow, I toed at it once, imagining I was seeing it for the first time. As I stretched my legs across four moving stairs, I felt the rising sensation in my belly, and the silliness of my antics made me smile. I found the toilets, but they seemed totally normal sized to me. 😉 I had imagined myself singing at the top of my lungs, “I’m in a store, and I’m singing!” But even with the return of joviality, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was just so intimidated. How did Buddy get over all of that intimidation? What might have happened if I had found the gumption to belt it out over the crowd? I imagined people would frown at me in disapproval. Maybe they would have laughed instead. I shrank from finding out, and I found a deeper appreciation for Buddy’s courage, and a deeper respect for his conviction with his message.

Back outside, the air was crisp, and the crowds were gathered around the elaborate window displays, oooohing and aaaahing and recording. In fact, everywhere I turned people were recording moments and memories with their smartphone cameras. They could sense the magic afoot. It was a different world among the window shoppers.

From there, I found the towering Empire State Building and took a spin in Buddy’s revolving door. It was delightful!, like running on a merry-go-round, only a bit more naughty since this was not your typical playground. I was starting to feel like a kid again, loosening up and having a little fun while the adults around me were busy adulting. This was what Buddy the Elf would have wanted, to make gingerbread houses and eat cookie dough and snuggle.

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The line at Magnolia’s Bakery for the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” was stretched out the door and down the block! I saw others checking the Google Map of the Elf Walk on their phones, verifying that we were indeed in the right place. Where was the lighted sign pointing the way? I guess finally being noticed for having the world’s best cup of coffee has paid off – the place has certainly been upgraded since Buddy blindfolded Jovie here.

I needed to charge my phone, so I sought out a less packed place where I felt I could catch my breath, plug in, and process what I had seen and felt so far. Just a few blocks further up 6th Avenue was Joe and The Juice, a coffee and juice bar with a nice vibe and a couple of empty seats – one being right in the window and next to an outlet. As I sipped my ginger latte, my eyes were drawn to a big LOVE sculpture and an even bigger line of people waiting to be photographed in front of it. Here is where I sat, journaling, phone charging, and watching couple after couple smile and hug and kiss in front of the LOVE. What a beautiful sight I had been led to *become still* in front of. The spirit of Christmas felt effusive and alive here.

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I headed to Central Park as the sun set and the bright City lights replaced its glow. I left them behind for now, maneuvering my way around decorated carriages with horses offering sleigh rides, their regal hooves clopping the roads behind me. I slipped into the stillness of the park, where night had fallen and the pond had frozen and snow still sat in great patches on the ground. Street lamps sprinkled the pathway, shedding just enough light to navigate between the shadowy hushes of this winter oasis. Here I stood for a great while, grounding, until a fresh serenity filled me, like a breath of fresh air from the North Pole.

 

Buddy and Jovie took their first romantic date skipping between the luxurious Christmas window displays on 5th Avenue. These bright lights were calling me now, winking in the distance. In fact, the whole City now sparkled and shined. Entire skyscrapers were glitzed out, most notable being Tiffany’s. There were dazzling ribbons and bows and candy canes. There were diamond-studded dinosaurs and panthers too. The crowds grew thicker and thicker as I approached Rockefeller Plaza, and I grew giddy as I inched my way among them, shuffle-stepping to the carols playing from the street stereos. “I’ve never seen anything like it!” exclaimed a silver-haired little lady wearing a faux fur chapeau and red lipstick, smiling from ear to ear and clinging to the hand of the smart waistcoat in front of her.

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Saks 5th Avenue had an enormous light and music show, and the air felt totally electric in the crescendo. The square leading down to the ice skating rink took my breath away. Glorious angels stood tall with their horns of proclamation pointing toward the sky and flocking the fountain pools. The Granddaddy Evergreen stood loud and proud at the end, shining his light down over the skaters circling hand in hand. This is where Buddy and Jovie had their first kiss. “I love her! I love her! And I don’t care who knows it!” Cameras and smiles and laughter and awe abounded. It truly felt like I was in a magical land.

Sure, there were impatient crowds too. There was rampant commercialism. There was heartbreak in the homeless scattered about, one with a sign that announced he was “looking for a miracle – $37 will put me in a motel room.” There were also vendors with naked hands, trying to move their wares, artists spray painting nightscape scenes, and food trucks filling the air with succulence and petroleum. I saw all of these things, and I gathered them into my heart. I spoke blessing into them and released them.

I did find the Spirit of Christmas, right there in the middle of the lights and the crowds and the candy canes and the trees and the streets and the homeless and the hoopla. I followed the invitation into magic, and I left my cares behind. I allowed myself to be filled with joy, and a deep peace settled into me. It was a choice. I could choose to focus on what worried me, or I could choose to focus on wonder. I chose wonder.

As a vision quester, I have come to understand that focusing your energy is like watering your garden. What you water tends to grow. Celebrating in the Spirit of Christmas is simply choosing to believe that magic is possible. And as we focus our energy into those magical possibilities, they grow. They grow and they blossom into good cheer, presence, generosity and other marvelous gifts. They bring us together as one heart, one people, one community, one earth.

Doing all the stuff of Christmas does not bring its Spirit to life. Like being in Macy’s, all of the trimmings and trappings were there, but joy was not. It was stifling. If we do all the stuff of Christmas but do not follow the invitation to magic, we have missed the point. In every good holiday movie, Christmas is saved by *believing* in its magic and sharing that magic with others. I believe in the Spirit of Christmas, and in it I have discovered who I really am.

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Many thanks to Melissa at TickledInNYC.com for creating the unofficial Elf walking tour of New York City. I was definitely not the only one following it! Click here to download the tour and follow in the footsteps of the Elf himself yourself!

 

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GO Solo Travel – Toronto

In conjunction with the launch of my book, I am creating a series of blog posts in service to other women who might be considering solo travel. I am focusing on baby steps right now, places where a woman might feel comfortable getting her feet wet with solo travel. I’ll begin with my most recent jaunt and work my way back from there, keeping up with the new places I am visiting in the meantime.

Why Toronto?

This was my first international jaunt since GOing nomad last year. I was invited to the Archangel Summit, an annual gathering of mission-driven entrepreneurs, leaders, and professionals. I attended the event with about fifty of my fellow authors and our mentor, Dr. Angela Lauria, who was a speaker at the summit. The event is a fundraiser, with entry fees being gifted forward to The Archangel Fund, which is used to provide micro-loans and donations to entrepreneurs and charities making the world a better place.

I considered Toronto a great baby step for my own solo international travel. I could literally drive (or ferry) across the border, so there were no logistical challenges with transportation. The people speak english, and the currency is very similar. I exchanged $160 American for $188.50 Canadian and was delighted to hold in my hands the FAR more beautiful bills of our northern neighbors. 🙂

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Crossing the Border

Crossing the border was simple and relatively painless. Being questioned by a uniformed officer made me slightly nervous, as did the fact that two dogs were loose and sniffing around my car. Justice was more nervous than I was, but we managed. I was asked the purpose for my visit, and I answered that I was headed to Toronto for the Archangel Summit. “What’s the Archangel Summit?” the officer asked.

“It’s a gathering of entrepreneurs,” I said.

“Are you an entrepreneur?” He asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I wrote a book about solo travel for women. I work with women who have a deep inner urge for solo travel and adventure. I help them find their way.” He was satisfied. It was strange and wonderful, answering that question in the affirmative. It was the first time I have ever identified myself as an entrepreneur.

The officer then asked me whether I had medical insurance, reservations and ample funds for my travel. A simple “yes” to these questions sufficed. He finished his inquiry by asking if I was transporting a firearm, tobacco or alcohol. A simple “no” to this question sufficed as well. And thus I was ushered into Canada.

I had been following my GPS and was delighted to hear “Welcome to Canada!” I thought it was so cool when my GPS started speaking in kilometers instead of miles. Then I FREAKED OUT when I saw my first speed limit sign. It was also posted in kilometers. Holy Crow!! I had no idea what the conversion was! I got sick in the pit of my stomach and goosebumps broke out along my entire body. My mind immediately rushed into the worst case scenario. OMGOSH, I’m in a foreign country and I’m going to get pulled over and they are going to deport me cause I didn’t study my math before I went and did something serious like cross the border. Fortunately, my car speaks kilometer too. 🙂 Imagine the wave of relief when I noticed that little inner circle on my speedometer.

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Opting Outside

There are two campgrounds within a 30-ish minute drive to downtown Toronto. (You can find a list of campgrounds and conservation  areas at TRCAparks.ca.) I chose Glen Rouge Campground, which is actually within the Toronto city limits, and my site was backed by the Rouge River. The campground was heavily populated, even though it was the first weekend after labor day in September. My site had a fire pit and picnic table. The washrooms and showers were a short stroll away.

Had it been warmer, I could have taken advantage of the free general admission and discounted swimming at Petticoat Creek Conservation Area. But with daily high temperatures in the mid-60s and overnight lows in the upper 40s, I opted to explore the Rouge Park Trails instead. The trails are dog-friendly and moderately trafficked. Trail running is totally doable on this well-maintained system. The pathway is wide and obvious, fairly flat in most places, with ample white blazes to help you keep your feet. There are several spurs that wander off the path. I followed a couple of these and found they eventually routed right back onto the main trail. The Mast Trail is 5.1 km round trip. The trailhead is located off the parking lot at the entrance to Glen Rouge Campground, and the trail navigation is available on the All Trails app.

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For a more urban but quaint hike or bicycle option, I loved the Pickering Waterfront Trail. The Millennium Square at the foot of Liverpool Road offers gorgeous views of Frenchman’s Bay and has won awards for its beautiful design. The Waterfront Trail through Pickering is divided into three named sections. First Nations Trail (3.5 km) is the western leg. Monarch Trail (4.7 km) surrounds Frenchman’s Bay and ends at Millennium Square. Peak Trail (4.0 km) runs from Millennium Square to the eastern border with Ajax. Each name has a historical or environmental significance. The trail is pet-friendly.

Millennium Square boasts a spectacular sunset view and stargazing. Dining options include The Waterfront Bistro, The Beach Chip food truck, and Yogen Fruz ice cream shoppe – all with patio seating.

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Coffee Connection

Liverpool Road itself offers ample free parking and a number of locally owned boutique shops, including the OpenStudio Art Café. This adorable coffee shop is where I did most of my work while in the Toronto area. Owned and operated by the utterly delightful Michèle Bolton, this waterfront area meeting place offers free wifi, specialty coffee and tea, freshly-baked beignets and other delectable treats. Michèle displays the work of local visual artists, all of which is available for purchase. The Café also features original live art and music events and hosts an open mic night on most Fridays.

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I appreciated the courtesy Michèle extended to Justice as well. The patio is pet-friendly for well-behaved pups, and an outdoor outlet was available to juice my laptop and cell phone while I worked. I highly recommend this lovely little gem.

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As far as downtown Toronto goes, I didn’t do much exploring. Parking was a bit costly, and I was busy with the conference activities. I noticed a number of parks sprinkled throughout the city as I drove, and they looked to be well-used. Queen’s Park is one of the oldest urban parks in Canada, a pretty, green oasis bordered by the buildings of the University of Toronto. Glen Rouge Campground did provide a Toronto points of interest map and details on city transit access. More information on Toronto attractions can be found at SeeTorontoNow.com.