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My Inaugural Women’s Walking Retreat in the Cotswolds

I was beyond giddy when I stepped into Stow-on-the-Wold’s town square. the trip was finally happening. It had been over 3 years since I first envisioned returning to the Cotswolds with a group of women, and over 5 years since I’d been on my first long-distance walking adventure through the English countryside.

view-of-cotswolds-from-stanton-guildhouse

Initially, my Women’s Walking Retreat had been planned for June 2020, but just months before my inaugural trip, Covid-19 turned the world upside-down, and like everyone else, I watched with frustration as my plans and prospects shifted overnight. However, as 2022 approached and travel opportunities began to reopen, my spirits brightened with the hope of another chance to bring a group of women on a weeklong walk through what is known as one of England’s ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’.

Of the women who had booked spots on my retreat for 2020, only 2 were able to re-book and join me in 2022. They were a mother-daughter duo I knew from British Columbia. The rest of the Canadian contingent was made up of another mother-daughter pair, which included one of my past brides (I was a wedding photographer for the first 7 years of my career), a fellow photographer whose wedding I had also shot, and my friend Yanez who helped me co-lead the trip. The Americans who came included 3 women I knew from my church and homeschool community in the Bay Area, as well as 2 more women I didn’t know, another woman from California and the other from North Carolina. I was excited by the diversity in age and backgrounds. I couldn’t wait to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and watch fresh introductions result in meaningful bonds. I also felt like I was embarking on something truly extraordinary in my life – the realization of long-awaited dreams coming to fruition.

group-of-women-hiking-cotswolds

One evening, when I was 16 years old, I found myself standing on the banks of a tributary of the Volga River in southern Russia. I was at a Russian summer camp with a non-profit organization, and it was my first experience abroad. As I watched the sun sparkle on the watery horizon, I reflected on how alive I felt. I knew in my heart that I needed to do this for the rest of my life:  ‘this’ being traveling the world and building relationships with people along the way. I was uncertain how to achieve this, but as quickly as I could form the question in my mind, an answer I knew was from God struck a chord deep inside: ‘photography’. The solution resonated with me as one that would satisfy both my practical side and my passionate bent. Over the next 23 years I pursued an educational path and photographic career that allowed me to travel and build relationships just like I’d dreamed of doing. However, each of the endeavours I embarked upon always seemed like stepping stones, training that would lead to something I couldn’t yet imagine.

Sheep-on-cotswolds-hillside

“There were fields to traverse filled with spring lambs, pot pies and pints that warmed us from the inside out after a long day of walking, and soul-stirring renditions of classic hymns sung in tiny churches that had us all in tears at some point or another.

And then this past summer I found myself on the cusp of of an adventure that had me leading a group of women to England on a long-distance walk through what is undoubtedly the most tranquil slice of countryside I’ve ever encountered. Hardly a daring feat to be sure, but as close to being in my wheelhouse as possible. I had found my niche. It was all the things I loved (travel, relationships, beauty, slowing down) combined with the things I was good at (organization, attention to detail, photography).

view-from-inside-cotswolds-church-window

Cotswolds-way-wooden-signpost

As we set out on our first leg of the trip, I was as electrified as I had been that summer evening in Russia, but this time I had decades of hindsight to reflect upon. Everything had lead to this moment and the surge of emotions welling up within was at its peak. I was excited, reflective, and nervous. I was nervous that I would get the group lost (we got turned around a few times), disappoint group members (I’m human, it happened), and things I’d never do again (the manor house some of us visited was so bizarre it won’t be repeated), but I knew that in the end, a first big excursion like this is bound to have its hiccups. Thankfully, everyone was gracious and encouraging, and I was able to learn a LOT about how and what to tweak for future trips. I love learning and growth, and stumbling is, unfortunately, a requirement for progress.

mauve-rose-in-cotswolds-village-with-dew
Cotswold-walker-at-Hailes-Abbey

Wild-roses-cotswolds-field

But overall, the trip was, if I do say so myself, a smashing success. The scenery and weather were unbeatable, the food and drink nourishing and inspirational, and the conversations and connections just as meaningful as I’d prayed for. There were fields to traverse filled with spring lambs, pot pies and pints that warmed us from the inside out after a long day of walking, and soul-stirring renditions of classic hymns sung in tiny churches that had us all in tears at some point or another. I had envisioned a Women’s Walking Retreat that would provide us all with inspiration and restoration as we explored the English countryside together and from what I’ve been told by the women who joined me, our time in the Cotswolds delivered.

Broadway-Tower-Cotswolds

There is SO much more I could say about each and every day of the retreat, and at some point in time, I’m sure I will. However, perhaps the best way to fully understand what my Women’s Walking Retreat through the Cotswolds is all about is to join me in person. If you’d like to learn more about my next Women’s Walking Retreat, click HERE to find out more. I can’t wait to see you in the Cotswolds!

women-hikers-in-Snowshill

Want to read more of my past reflections on the Cotswolds as well as my thoughts on the benefits of walking? Click HERE for more blog posts.

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The Creative Benefits of Walking

In 2017, I took an 8-day walk through the English countryside, traveling from one village to another, walking from approximately 9am until 3pm each day, with short stops and a lunch break in between. I had a walking partner, but often we would be spaced out enough to experience a sense of solitude which allowed my mind to wander. I spent time observing my surroundings, from the intricacies of dry stone walls surrounding local farms, to delicate crimson poppies fluttering in the breeze, to an earthworm wending its way up from the wet, dark soil. I realized that in my daily life back home, I moved too quickly to appreciate the small details and nuances surrounding me.

While walking for hours each day, I found I had time to pray and meditate. Not just ‘help me’ pleas or ‘thank you’ prayers, but prayers in which I spent more time listening to God than talking at Him! I let myself dream for the future, reflect on the past, and be present in the moment. Walking kept me moving without the distractions of a screen or a to-do list, without the interruptions of tasks or toddlers. I brainstormed and problem-solved both projects I was working on back home and how to get from one village to the next that very day. By the end of each day I felt like my mind had reached new critical and creative heights. And when I returned back home to California, the flood of ideas didn’t just slow to a trickle, they continued to flow! For months my creative output surged, which I believe was due to my long-distance walk. Bringing Inspiration Home was one of the direct results of that walking trip, which compelled me to invite other women to join me on a similar experience — a Women’s Walking Retreat through the English countryside that had to be postponed in 2020 and is set for 2022.

Since my return from walking through the Cotswolds in 2017, I’ve delved into the art and science of walking, along with its benefits, specifically regarding creative output. It’s become a subject of deep fascination for me, and I’m passionate about exploring its nuances.

For many of us walking comes without much thought. We get up and go, using our bodies to propel us into the day ahead. Throughout our lives, we are reminded how beneficial walking is for our bodies and our health, but how often are we encouraged to walk because the very act will enhance our creative output? It’s a fascinating idea, with the direct benefits being scientifically legitimate and the historic examples undeniable.

From Jesus Christ to Jane Austen, history is filled with men and women who used walking as a catalyst for teaching, reflection, innovation, and creative expression. The ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Socrates viewed walking and thinking as inextricably linked. Beethoven took long afternoon walks, pencil and paper in hand, ready for inspiration to strike. Virginia Woolf read her book drafts aloud during daily walks. Jane Austen developed a fantastic repertoire of female walkers and gave us a detailed glimpse into her surroundings as a result of her own long walks with her sister Cassandra. Steve Jobs was known for his Silicon Valley walking meetings that spurred on innovation and productivity. Jesus of Nazareth imparted wisdom upon his disciples in the wilderness and sought solace there as well. The art and act of walking, has a long and noble heritage that we can tap into and benefit from thanks to the inspiration of those who came before us.

“I realized that the decision-making process is something that has to be cultivated and protected when life gets busy or circumstances feel overwhelming.

But what about the science to support the historic evidence that walking impacts our creative thought? One of the more interesting studies done on the relationship between walking and creativity was a 2014 study done at Stanford University by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz. They tested a group of 176 participants to see how walking (both indoors and outdoors) had an impact on creative, original thought, compared to the act of sitting still and attempting to generate new ideas. In the experiments, those who walked while brainstorming ideas created twice the amount of novel uses for a specific item than those who sat still and did the same thing. Interestingly enough, those who walked first and then sat down to work, still generated a higher number of fresh ideas than those who sat for both experiments. The act of walking had a residual effect on the creative mental process! And get this, the number of creative ideas was not limited by walking on a treadmill in a windowless room. It was the sheer act of walking (not necessarily the environment) that helped stimulate creative, original thought.

One important thing to note is that the 2014 Stanford study also included a group who were pushed in wheelchairs outdoors. This group experienced more creative thought and novel approaches than the group who sat indoors for the experiments, but less than the group who used a treadmill indoors. The study allowed that further experimentation should be done to test a group who is pushing themselves in wheelchairs, since the activity may have an even more  beneficial impact on their creative output.

In spring of 2020 when my gym shut down due to Covid-19, I began hiking two to three mornings a week with one friend at a time. Sometimes we started while it was still dark, and many times we had the pleasure of watching the sun rise over the hills of San Francisco’s East Bay. The hills turned from green to gold and back again over the course of the year. The hikes gave me a sense of stability in an uncertain season, and they gave me a chance to work out ideas or troubles with a friend. We brainstormed, vented, connected, and prayed. I captured the beauty on camera and felt my creative engines rev to life even when my daily routine felt more static than ever. Walking became my Covid sanity-saver and I’m forever grateful for this new rhythm that’s been integrated into my lifestyle here at home.

Walking to boost creative output can take many forms. My husband is a notorious pacer and often just paces around our backyard when working from home. He’s taken walking breaks at university and at work since long before we met, and I can tell they always have an impact on his work. Whether you make laps around your living room, pace up and down the sidewalk, weave through city streets, or take leisurely strolls through the countryside, the act of walking has a direct impact on your creative thought process. Even 15 minutes on a treadmill can make a difference!

Whether you’ve got an issue to work out, a problem to solve, or plans to make, taking a walk might just be the key to cracking the code and gaining progress. It certainly is one of the easiest, cheapest, and beneficial ways to stimulate our creative output!

If you’d like to walk with me on my Women’s Walking Retreat through the Cotswolds, click HERE for a full itinerary and details. You can also read more about how I found inspiration and restoration in the Cotswolds HERE.

I am passionate about coming alongside others to inspire them in their creative journey. With 15 years’ experience as a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to cultivate a strong repertoire of strategies to boost creative output and help others tap into their creativity. If you would like to have me speak either in person or online at your upcoming conference, workshop, or retreat, please email Jaime Fenwick at hello@bringinginspirationhome.com .

Can’t travel right now? Join my 12-week Creative Coaching Experience to help you tap into your creativity without going anywhere! Click HERE to learn more.

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On Wrestling with Creativity & Contentment

©KristenWoodPhotography
Maternity Photos with Lauren by Kristen Wood Photography

Back in 2013, some months into my life as a new mom, I realized that my magazine subscriptions to Vogue and National Geographic Traveler were fuelling a festering discontentment that was encroaching on my joy and creativity in the early days as a first-time mother.

Prior to my first pregnancy, I was obsessed with how much travel I could pack into a calendar year and thrived on back-to-back trips, travel logistics, and photography opportunities that took me from Sonoma to Siberia. I was weirdly preoccupied with tallying up my frequent flier miles and plotting their eventual uses.

But a of couple months before Lauren was born, Will encouraged me to find another hobby, one that I could do from home. I was stumped. In my 20’s my passion for photography lead me to art school, which resulted in my career as a professional photographer. From the age of 16 during my first overseas adventure, until the age of 31 shortly after Lauren was born, I immersed myself in all things photography & travel related. To be completely honest, I didn’t really have any hobbies I could do at home, besides research and plan for future trips.

I settled on dabbling in watercolours and calligraphy as I’d done a little of both in the past. I whipped up a simple sign that announced, ‘Homebirth in Progress’ and politely requested we not be disturbed. I think we taped that sign to our front door during all three of my deliveries and I treasure it now with sweet nostalgia.

Initially, I figured this little hobby would be short-lived, as travel was likely to pick back up following the birth of our child. After all, our families lived thousands of miles away and I had no intentions of letting my career vanish into an abyss of dirty diapers and sleepless nights. Essentially, I assumed that in no time at all, I would bounce back with a baby slung across one side of my body and a camera on the other.

But I had pushed myself too hard and too far during my pregnancy. During my first trimester I was relearning to walk after being thrown from a camel in the Jordanian desert and fracturing my pelvis a few months earlier. This was followed by two big trips, one in my second trimester as the photographer for a destination wedding in South America and another during my third trimester as a bridesmaid for my sister’s wedding in Canada. These lead to signs of premature labour and my midwives putting me on strict bedrest for a time.

And yet I still assumed I would have an optimal birthing experience (which I did),  nurse like a champ the way my mom had (not so much), and come out the other side a battle-tested mother of one, globe-trotting again with a baby to boot (lol). No other hobbies necessary. Creativity and career in tact.

Eight years later I write this and laugh at my naiveté.

“When life circumstances force us to adapt our creative outlets, they often become the first things to be sacrificed on the altar of our to-do lists.”

Jaime Fenwick in Jerusalem
Backpacking through the Middle East in 2012.

Turns out, breastfeeding was an all-consuming beast for me to tackle and made travel extremely difficult. I couldn’t nurse well in public because I struggled to let down any of the meagre milk supply I could muster. My midwives who’d seen it all told me that while most women struggle a bit at one stage or another with breastfeeding, very few struggled to the extent I did. And yet, we attempted travel during the newborn stage. 

Our pediatrician, who shared my enthusiasm for far-flung adventures grimaced when we shared our plans for schlepping our newborn to Mississippi for American Thanksgiving and two different provinces in Canada over the Christmas holidays. Lauren was the first great-grandchild on my side and the first grandchild in both our families and we were eager to introduce her to everyone.

While I do have fond memories and photographs of those trips, the struggles we faced vastly shifted my perspective on traveling with little ones. Specifically the one in which Will and I both wound up with bronchitis on the last leg of our journey, rescheduled our return flights incorrectly (my doing), found a flight to Las Vegas, rented a car at midnight, and drove through the dark to a little motel in the Mojave Desert where we slept for for a bit, before finally finishing the final eight hour drive home, sick and exhausted.  Through it all, Lauren was a total travel champ. We, however, swore off holiday flights from then until our last child was out of diapers, and have faithfully stuck to that vow ever since.

But wouldn’t you know, I continued to obsess over travel opportunities. To the point where it became unhealthy. Will and I fought over how to make travel work, I took on photography jobs that made breastfeeding a nightmare, and of course I poured over any and all books, magazines, and websites that spurred on my travel dreams. When my monthly issue of National Geographic Traveler would arrive, I would go down the rabbit-hole of wishing and hoping and land in a puddle of discontentment. The same thing happened whenever my issue of Vogue arrived…the content was so glamorous and pulled together that I found myself flipping the pages feeling jealous and resentful.

“I realized that stewing in a pot of discontentment, comparison, and resentment was not only going to make my life miserable, it was stifling one of the things that could help me thrive in this new stage of my life: my creativity.”  

This pattern continued for a while before I realized that stewing in a pot of discontentment, comparison, and resentment was not only going to make my life miserable, it was stifling one of the things that could help me thrive in this new stage of life: my creativity.

It was then that I realized that my creativity was something I had to defend and cultivate with more intention than I had ever done. Creativity is a gift we are all endowed with, but more often than not when life gets hard or circumstances change, our creative outlets get pushed to the back-burner. When life forces us to adapt our creative outlets, they often become the first things to be sacrificed on the altar of our to-do lists. 

But tapping into our creativity is essential to the art of thriving. Sure, it may not be what we have to prioritize in a survival situation, but if we neglect creative outlets or the exploration of our creativity on a regular basis, we make a way for discontentment to creep in, and with it, a host of other nasty neighbours like resentment, irritability, and comparison which are bound to take up residency in the space that creativity could have occupied. When we allow creativity to take its rightful place in our lives, it spills over and carves out room for healing, joy, and gratitude to settle in.

Kristen Wood Photography
Kristen Wood Photography
Del-Valle-Hike-with-Baby
Hiking at Del Valle with Lauren

When all of this dawned on me, I canceled my subscriptions to Vogue and National Geographic Traveler with some sadness and regret, because it felt like giving up my dreams in a small way. Not forever, but for a time. And so I searched for other magazines that might inspire the current lifestyle I was immersed in. Home, garden, and cooking magazines became my inspiration (this was before social media or Pinterest  had the kind of presence it has today). The two current subscriptions I receive are Martha Stewart Living and Magnolia. In addition to content, I’m pretty picky about the quality of photos, paper, font, etc., (this is an art school geek talking here) but those two magazines really stand out in those departments along with subject matter that resonates with me.

Or course there are other ways I tap into my creativity, but I have found that what I’m reading, watching, or listening to, is often the first and perhaps easiest thing to begin cultivating in order to inspire my creativity. The things we surround ourselves with can either inspire us or make us feel worse about lives or ourselves. The same goes with people.

Left to Right: Lauren’s Winnipeg Winter, Lauren’s Post-Bath Curls, Nursery Photo by Kristen Wood Photography

If you’re stuck in a rut of discouragement, comparison, or bitterness, I highly encourage switching out some of what you consume for something that elevates and uplifts. It doesn’t mean that what you’re partaking of is bad, it just might not be right for the season you’re in.

Here are a few questions to prompt your search for healthy sources of inspiration to fuel your creativity:

  • Does what I’m reading, viewing, or listening to make me feel light-hearted, inspired, or motivated?
  • While I’m reading, viewing, or listening to this do I get a nagging feeling that it’s not healthy for me?
  • Are there other interests that I haven’t spent time exploring that could be inspired by books, magazines, music, movies, shows, podcasts, or social media feeds?
  • Do I find myself swept up into a comparison game when reading, viewing, or listening to this?
  • Do I feel guilty for things I purchase after I read, view, or listen to this type of content?
  • Do I find myself creating new things or adapting old ideas after I read, view, or listen to this content?
Kristen Wood Photography
Kristen Wood Photography

“Tapping into our creativity is essential to the art of thriving…when we allow creativity to take its rightful place…it carves out room for healing, joy, and gratitude to settle in.”  

I am passionate about coming alongside others to inspire them in their creative journey. With 15 years’ experience as a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to cultivate a strong repertoire of strategies to boost creative output and help others tap into their creativity. If you would like to have me speak either in person or online at your upcoming conference, workshop, or retreat, please email Jaime Fenwick at hello@bringinginspirationhome.com . 

Jaime Lauren Photography
Lauren napping on me at about 6 weeks old while I photographed the olive harvest at Olivina, our local olive oil producer here in Livermore.

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How I Found Inspiration & Restoration in the Cotswolds

Cotswold-village-upper-slaughter

When I embarked on an 8-day walking trip through the Cotswolds, I had reached burnout in my career and exhaustion in my personal life. I’d been attempting to juggle running a photography business and an online wedding publication with a toddler and a baby clamouring for my attention. My work seemed strained and uninspired, and I felt my creative coffers had been drained. I was attempting to do too much, with too little rest. As a result, I felt like a mediocre mom and businesswoman.

Sound familiar? I think it’s something many of us women struggle with.

I decided that the best thing I could do for everyone involved was take a yearlong, self-imposed creative sabbatical in order to focus on rest and restoration. During that time I delighted in spending more focused time with my family and creating for creation’s sake. Around 9 months into my sabbatical, I traveled to England where I traversed the English countryside with two dear friends. I spent the first 4 days with my friend Jody from California, and the second set of 4 days with my friend Mandee from Canada, who now lives in the UK.

I’ve traveled to many countries, and have traveled by numerous means, but never had I traveled on foot before. The act was transformative and powerful. 

Interior-church-window-and-sill-with-flowers

Before my trip I’d anticipated that the experience would reignite my creative energy, but what I didn’t expect was how the act of walking–daily, and for miles on end–would restore me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve traveled to many countries, and have traveled by numerous means, but never had I traveled on foot before. The act was transformative and powerful.

Each day began with a hearty breakfast, the donning of my daypack, and the wide-eyed wonder at whatever landscape might slowly unfurl before us. I was both unplugged and yet deeply present, lost in the beauty of the place and the pace.  

We walked each day through small sections of the Cotswolds, an idyllic patch of English countryside just a couple hours west of London, that boasts of sleepy villages, hillsides dotted with sheep, honey-coloured limestone cottages drenched in roses, and rolling woodlands that make you feel like you’ve stepped into A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood. I paused to watch an earthworm wend its way up from the rich soil of a farmer’s field, knelt to brush the soft petals of deep red poppies. I stopped for breaks of tea from my thermos and to use the loo in a handful of cozy pubs. Those pubs offered us a range of local, seasonal fare that warmed us from the inside out: hearty tomato soup,  flaky pot pies, and amber pints of ale. There was no agenda but to eventually arrive at the next village, where drivers from our walking company would deposit our bags at our next farm stay, boutique hotel, or pub inn.

Cotswolds-sheep-in-farmers-field

hailes-abbey-ruins-cotswolds

The act of following directions and maps provided by our walking company served as a giant scavenger hunt for adults. Seeking out field gates and trekking across farmer’s fields, scaring up a bouquet of pheasants, and spotting the spire of the nearest church were all part of the day’s events. The intimate connection with nature was restorative in every possible way. My body felt strong and healthy as I strode up one side of a verdant hill and then down the other, my lungs took in the fresh clean air and lingering moisture that followed a rain shower, my eyes gazed upon the beauty of God’s green earth instead of staring blankly into a screen, and my mind turned to thoughts of gratitude, prayer, meditation, and dreams for the future. When we turned in each night, following a hearty meal and a hot shower, my body and brain fell into deep slumber as the down pillows and duvets enveloped me in a snowy cocoon. I missed my husband and kids, to be sure, but I knew that the rest and restoration I was experiencing would linger long after I returned home to them. I knew that this experience was a gift and something I would cherish forever.

 

pink-roses-in-the-cotswolds

white-bed-cotswolds-accommodations

arched-tunnel-greenery-in-the-cotswolds

What I didn’t realize then, was how everything I’d seen, eaten, felt, and experienced while walking day after day, would impact and inspire me daily in the years that followed. I know now, from both my own experience and from all the reading and research I’ve done on walking, that walking has the power to stir the creative juices in ways that sitting and brainstorming cannot. So now when I need to rev my creative engines, I find time to walk in nature. I also know that dreams need mental and physical space to be nurtured before they can take root. This walking trip enabled small seedlings of dreams to rise up within me and be nourished while experiencing local culture and landscapes. I was inspired by everything I saw, and that served as the catalyst for dreams I’m pursuing even today. I also know that creativity is something that can be spent, but need not evaporate if we tap into our creative roots for sheer pleasure on a regular basis. This trip invited me to indulge in photography again for the sheer enjoyment of it, to journal and write for pleasure, and to cook potpies through every fall and winter since I’ve returned! The creative juices that began to flow during and following this trip have not been staunched. Instead, they are constantly renewed because of the lessons I learned on that walk, about how to keep my creative edge.

view-of-naunton-cotswolds

The other takeaway I experienced following my walk through the English countryside was how much I needed to share this place with other women. I knew in my soul how many women could experience restoration and inspiration if they joined me on a walk through the Cotswolds, and so I set out to craft a retreat that would enable them to do so. In June of 2020, I’ll be leading two groups of women through this tranquil region, and have designed the retreat to incorporate both content and opportunities to help each woman tap into her creative roots. If this sounds like the very thing you desire, I want to encourage you to dig a little more and see if this retreat is right for you. Just click on Cotswold Women’s Walking Retreat and I’ll send all the details your way! You can also email me at: hello@bringinginspirationhome.com

“This walking trip enabled small seedlings of dreams to rise up within me and be nourished while experiencing local culture and landscapes. I was inspired by everything I saw, and that served as the catalyst for dreams I’m pursuing even today.”  

I cannot wait to hear from you, and I am so looking forward to guiding you on this journey into restoration and inspiration as we walk through the Cotswolds next June!

view-from-broadway-tower

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