Monday, July 28, 2014

Lead with your strengths. StrengthsMentor Lisa Ferguson introduces me to my "sweet spot"!

"Don't be like the rest of them, darling." - Wise words by StrengthsMentor Lisa Ferguson

It's Monday morning in Paris - a good time for musing about the valuable lessons that I learned from StrengthsMentor Lisa Ferguson during #EmbraceParis.

Admittedly, I wasn't the most willing student. When Lisa sent a gentle reminder saying that some of the #EmbraceParis ladies still needed to complete our Gallup's online StrengthsFinder online assessment, I momentarily thought about procrastinating until the next day ... or the day after. With blog posts to write and laundry piling up, the 30 minutes required to take the assessment felt like too big of a time commitment.

But after some internal coaxing and cajoling, I poured a glass of wine and got started. It was easy. All that I had to do to discover my top 5 strengths was choose between two statements, indicating that one or the other "strongly" or "moderately" described me. I could also select the "neutral" position by marking midway between the two. While I don't remember the specific phrasing of any of the180 paired statements, I do recall that one of the questions focused on my feelings about striking up conversations with strangers. Since it didn't mention that the exchange had to be in grammatically correct French, I indicated that it's something that I usually enjoy.

At the end of the assessment, I learned that my top five strengths out of 34 are achiever, learner, maximizer, ideation and relator. Since I'm happiest when I'm learning something new, I could immediately relate to number 2. To understand the rest of the descriptions, however, I needed more information than what was included in the "Signature Themes Report" from Gallup.

That's where Lisa, a fully trained Gallup Strengths Finder® coach, proved to be invaluable. Whether it was during our group work, when she encouraged us to discover how we can "work smarter not harder" by maximizing our innate talents, or during the private mentoring session, I had a couple of insightful "aha" moments.

On our last evening together, after we had already prepared and eaten an incredibly delicious gourmet dinner at Alain Ducasse's cooking school, the #EmbraceParis ladies gathered in Jennifer's room for an important midnight meeting. Lisa asked us to simply, yet very specifically, state what we needed from the group and what we could give to the group. As one woman after another offered to help a newfound friend connect with a publisher or learn how to monetize her website, I was awed by the enormous potential in the room. We were all working in our "sweet spot of unique strengths" and loving it.

If embracing, investing and leading with your strengths would benefit you on a professional or personal level, be sure to contact Lisa!

Lisa Ferguson, StrengthsMentor

From Gallup Strength Center: For decades, the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment has helped people excel. From top business executives and managers to salespeople, nurses, teachers, students, pastors, and others, more than 10 million people have realized the benefits of leading with their strengths.

Article about Gallup's Clifton StrenghtsFinder in Forbes magazine: Need a Career Tuneup? Gallup's Tom Rath Has a Quiz for You

"What if I fall? Oh my darling, What if you fly" - a tangible and intangible gift from Lisa Ferguson!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Whizzing around Paris in Twiztour cars: #EmbraceParis ice-breaker

Author Ann Garvin and co-host Norma Thiessen of My Beautiful Paris 

Ladies, start your engines! Or, in this case, turn on your electric, ecologically friendly Twiztour car for one of the most thrilling tours of Paris.

Only hours after meeting each other over a lovely afternoon tea at Le Meurice last Sunday afternoon, taxis whisked the #EmbraceParis ladies to the foot of the Eiffel Tower for our first activity -- a Twiztour GPS guided tour of some of the most impressive monuments of Paris.

Assuring Brooke, who's from Australia, that I had complete confidence in her ability to navigate the streets of Paris on the right side of the road, I squeezed into the back seat of the car with the walkee-talkee. True to their names, "Leader of the Pack" and "Jessica Rabbit" set off at a brisk pace. The four other Twiztour cars made their way across pont de Bir-Hakeim, one of my favorite Parisian bridges, behind them.

We waved at all the people pointing at our cute little cars on the Champs-Élysées, laughed at the group chatter on the walkee-talkees, listened to descriptions of the monuments we passed and grooved to the eclectic selection of music that accompanies the tour. And, of course, we got lost a couple of times along the way. That was all part of the adventure and bonding process!

Twiztour Paris
Port de Suffren (pier of the cruise company “Vedettes de Paris”)
75007 Paris

Brooke Crowle of Elements I Love
Twiztour cars on the Champs-Élysées
Claudia Strasser of The Paris Apartment and Lynne Knowlton of Design the Life You Want to Live 
Forget the École Militaire. Look at those cute cars!
Jennifer Brouwer of Jennifer Brouwer Design and co-host Carina Okula of Carina Okula Photography

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Embrace Paris: The Women

#EmbraceParis: Our itinerary

For the past four days and three nights, I've had the most incredible time bonding with an international group of nine talented, warm, funny and vivacious women. The occasion? #EmbraceParis, a social media gathering at the beautiful Parisian palace, Le Meurice.

Together, we deboned fish, whizzed around the streets of Paris in electric cars, visited an atelier where luxury handbags are hand-stitched, lunched in a castle, learned how to apply make-up, snapped photos of the most magical views of Paris, ate breakfast in bed, stretched our bodies and expanded our minds. But, most importantly, we forged a network of women determined to empower each other through positive peer support on social media.

I'll be sharing lots of information about the activities and sponsors in future posts, but first of all I would like to introduce you to the ladies of #EmbraceParis - 2014.

#EmbraceParis -- Empower * Brainstorm * Collaborate * Engage * Social Media

Carina Okula (host) - extremely talented Australian photographer who resides in Paris

Norma Thiessen (host from Toronto) - personal guide for your fun and stylish Parisian adventure

Lisa Ferguson (Toronto) - Strengths Trainer determined to help people maximize their potential

Lynne Knowlton (Toronto) - designer, DIY’er, lifestyle blogger and wordpress wrangler

Jennifer Brouwer (Toronto) - residential/commercial designer and developer

Ann Garvin (Wisconsin) - author of The Dog Year and university professor

Brooke Crowle (Sydney) - retailer of antiques, homewares and French vintage

Andrea Claire (Singapore) - celebrity hair and makeup artist

Claudia Strasser (Miami) - author of The Paris Apartment. Claudia also takes small groups to Paris for shopping.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bonneval, the "Little Venice of the Beauce": Weekend Getaways from Paris

Bonneval is known as the "Little Venice of the Beauce" for its charming waterways.

Can you believe that it's Thursday? With the Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) on Monday, this week has gone by much more quickly than normal. It's already time to start making plans for the weekend!

If a relaxing afternoon boating on the waterways of a charming medieval village sounds appealing to you, I highly recommend making the short trip to Bonneval. Nicknamed the "Little Venice of the Beauce", this town located a mere 75 minutes by train from Paris is a surprising gem of a destination.

A washerwoman figurine in Bonneval

A stronghold since the Middle Ages, Bonneval is completely encircled by water from the Loir River (not to be confused with the Loire River). More than 100 outdoor washrooms, many of them part of the town's outdoor museum, line the banks. As we navigated past a mother duck proudly leading a long line of baby ducklings, the sight of washerwomen pounding clothes in metal basins and a 1905 hand-crank washing machine made me thankful for my modern-day appliances. Without them, I wouldn't have the freedom to discover some of the lesser-known attractions of the Loire Valley.

Heads down! Passing under one of the many stone bridges in Bonneval.

As we crouched low in the boat while passing under one of the many arched stone bridges, we marveled at the perfect reflection cast upon the water by the King's Tower. Used as a dungeon in the 13th century, it's a reminder of Bonneval's long history dating back to 857 when the town was founded under the auspices of Charles, King of Provence.

Leaving the medieval village behind, we were greeted by fishermen and couples picnicking next to the river. The pastoral scenes and lily pads floating on the surface of the river made me feel as if I had somehow fallen into one of Monet's paintings.

I can't wait to make a return trip with Stéphane. Bonneval is the kind of place that you want to share with someone special.

Practical information: It is not required to have a boat license to rent the 4-5 passenger self-drive electric boats. Boat rental for the 30 minute tour of "Little Venice of the Beauce" is 15 euros. The 60 minute tour is 25 euros. Kayaks are also available for rent.

June, July and August: Weekdays from 2:00 pm, weekends and holidays from 10:00 am. The last departure is 6:00 pm.

April, May and September: Weekends and holidays from 2:00 pm. The last departure is 6:00 pm.

As the electric boats are in high demand during the weekend, it's recommended that you call in advance to reserve one.

Electric Boats at the Capitainerie 
During the weekend, it's recommended that you call in advance to reserve a boat)
Direction rue d'Orléans
28800 Bonneval
Telephone: 33 (0)6 22 91 63 82 or 33 (0)2 37 47 29 94

For a special weekend getaway, combine your trip to Bonneval with the spectacular Lights of Chartres on Saturday night and a visit to the "Big Windmill" of Ouarville on Sunday.

Please click here to see more photos of Bonneval, the "Little Venice of the Beauce", on Facebook.

Bonneval's electric boats, environmentally-aware tourism since 1996

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't let a pickpocket or scammer spoil your trip to Paris. Some tips for staying safe.

Working as a team: the spotter at Paris Montparnasse and the young woman with the sleeping bag.

Paris is a wonderful place to visit. But, it's also a big city. By definition, that means that you have to be on your guard. Always.

I was recently reminded of this when I arrived at Paris Montparnasse train station flustered and worried that I would miss my train to the Loire Valley. After grabbing a quick cup of coffee and afternoon snack to bolster my flagging energy, I placed my purse somewhat haphazardly on the bench next to me. Within seconds, a young woman with a large sack and rolled up sleeping bag was by my side. Feeling an instinctive warning tingle at the back of my neck, I resolutely moved my purse to its normal place. Securely on my lap.

Wondering if my suspicions were correct, I followed the woman with my eyes. Not surprisingly, she rotated towards a man standing with his back against a large cement column. He was her spotter -- surveying the busy train station and almost imperceptibly directing her towards their next victim. Most harried travelers would never have noticed him. It made me furious that he had selected me as an easy target. In retaliation, I snapped a photo of him with my phone.

When I found myself with some extra time at the train station the following week, I decided to do some spotting of my own. The first thing that I noticed was a group of businessmen standing in a circle with their bags placed carelessly on the floor behind them. The unfortunate experience of having my wallet stolen while dining with friends has taught me that thieves are fast. It only takes them a couple of seconds to relieve you of your wallet, laptop or other valuables.

I'll never forget the elderly woman who discovered that her wallet was missing after she sat down next to me on a TGV bound for Geneva. During the entire three-hour journey, she exchanged frantic telephone calls with her son while I tried my best to console her. Don't let that happen to you.

Here are some tips for foiling pickpockets and petty thieves:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. People have had their wallets stolen while riding the metro, dining in a fancy restaurant and looking at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
  • Keep your purse and backpack securely next to you at all times.
  • As in all big cities, there are scams in Paris. Some of the most famous ones involve gold rings ostensibly found on the sidewalk, petitions that urgently require your signature and bracelets braided on your wrist. Use common sense if someone approaches you on the street. If it feels like a scam, it probably is.
  • If you hear a public service announcement about pickpockets on the metro, don't automatically pat the pocket where you keep your wallet to make sure that it's safe. A friend told me that reaction actually helps thieves who may be watching you.
  • If you're visiting Paris, don't carry unnecessary items in your purse. A credit/ATM card, some cash and one piece of identification should be all that you need. Make a copy of your passport and the front and back of any cards that you carry.
Do you have some more tips or a story to share? Click here to join the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Keep an eye on your bags. Never place them on the floor behind you!