knowing ourselves better

by Sharon Santoni

Have you noticed how at this stage in life, when the children are grown up and enjoying their first real independence, and we have a little more room to wiggle, we can relax into ourselves, enjoy knowing ourselves better?   That we can be more comfortable about who we really are?

It’s my experience that I know more clearly who I am and what I want, and that I have increasing opportunities to stick to those preferences, without any collateral damage, I hope, around me.

I was recently interviewed by a local journalist for a small article to appear later this year about women who reinvent themselves and come to the ‘business’ world later in life.  The interview did not go quite as he expected because I headed off on a tangent that is close to my heart.

The journalist asked me about what made me feel the need for reinvention.  No problem there ….    After twenty years raising my children and feeling suddenly and dangerously redundant, I wanted to undertake something new and I’m well aware of my luck in being able to reinvent myself as an empty nester, and to fill my days with new challenges and discoveries.

It was when he asked me what I absolutely preferred about my activity around the blog, the subscription box, the books and the tours that I  replied….. “it’s the opportunities to showcase talent that I enjoy”…. there was a pause,    “Excuse me?!”.

Apparently this was not the answer he expected but it is nevertheless true.    Besides the opportunities to make so many new friends and acquaintances, the one absolute joy that comes from my various activities is that I can  spotlight so many talented and passionate people that I meet along the way.

I will always be grateful that the blog, the book, the box and the tours provide me with platforms to share my love of France, and showcase some of the amazing people I know here.    From the girlfriends portrayed in my first book, to articles on the blog and of course to the various French brands and artisans that we work with for My Stylish French Box.   My excitement to share these discoveries never wanes.

 

My children say that it’s my payback to the country that let me settle here so many decades ago.  And maybe that is part of it.  But actually I think it is just a part of living with our eyes and minds wide open.   Being aware, not only of the everyday beauty around us, but also of the amazing talent.

I’d love to know if you feel the same way.   Or maybe you have come to a stage in your life when you are discovering other pleasures.

So what do you think about this?   Do you also find that  you pay less heed to expectations to conform to the image of what people want you to be?   Do you feel that you know yourself better now than at any other stage in your life?  And what gives you more pleasure; being the centre of attention, or focussing the spotlight on someone else?

 

All photos by Franck Schmitt for the book My Stylish French Girlfriends

45 comments

Natalia Radula November 18, 2018 - 11:50 pm

Hi Sharon,
I really could not agree with you more!
There is something so wonderful about entering into this troisieme age that I could never quite imagine in my younger years.I enjoy being 72!
Embracing loved ones and friends with more understanding,feeling this unexplainable bond that only the shared experiences of growing older can bring…..
Needless to say,cherishing my husband more every day(as I know he does me),54 years together through the good and the not so good.
So many times we walk by faith and not by sight,but God is always there,holding our hand along this journey.
All of these things become deeper,more assured, and more dear with each day.
Sharon,your blog,stories,and Stylish French Box are wonderful.
What a gift to be in one another’s lives.

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Jenny Ledermann November 18, 2018 - 11:52 pm

I’m the middle of 3 girls, the peace keeper! It gives me great joy to shine the light on others, to see in them what they may not see!! Always have! I so enjoy hearing about you and your friends accomplishments! It gives me hope! Even though I may just be a dreamer! I can coach others! And I Love it!
Gods Blessings
Jenny

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tracy brown November 18, 2018 - 11:57 pm

I love both- the recognition for my talents as well as the women artisans I meet. I find so many ideas shared overlap and work their way into all the other avenues of the arts. My interests revolve around textiles but not entirely so. Colors used in a friend’s watercolor are reinvented in one of my hats or handbags. The color combo in another’s garden will show up again in one of my quilts. Shapes, details, textures… get tossed in my brain and form into something new and totally unrelated to the original. Basically, artisan to artisan- ‘”iron sharpens iron”.

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Robert November 19, 2018 - 12:02 am

Hello Sharon,

First, you are truly amazing!! Your energy and your insight into beautiful things and beautiful people….has blessed us all!!
For myself, I have always taken great joy sharing the talents of others. But I find myself being selfish with time and energy.
No longer do I wish to spend my time and energy conforming to the expectations of other people but I treasure my private
time and my own expectations. Life is short…we all have hopes and dreams!!

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margaret dowling November 19, 2018 - 12:04 am

After being recently widowed have,I no other choice but to find the new me.. for 44 years I was part of a team. now I have to find a new path. . I love to travel but it is very hard as all my friends are still couples. I like to be the first but not this time. I am fortunate that Have always done what I wanted such as travel. anyone know of groups that cater to single slightly older women”

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Madonna November 19, 2018 - 12:18 am

Margaret, you should check with Susan at Between Naps On The Porch (dot) net. She has all kinds of tips about traveling single and all the good tips for your comfort and safety. Sorry for your loss.

Regards, Madonna

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Leslie in Little rock November 19, 2018 - 3:15 am

Thanks, Madonna. I appreciate this advice. I need it. Margaret, I am sorry for your loss.

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bonnie November 19, 2018 - 4:45 am

Margaret
There are many opportunities to travel with women only groups. Google them and you will be amazed. I just did one with Doni Belau from Girls Guide to Paris. She has just listed her 2019 trips

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Susan L. Robinson November 19, 2018 - 11:05 pm

Margaret,
I am in your shoes, too. I had 45 years with a wonderful husband who also loved to travel. Now, I am continuing to reinvent myself and although I had several women to travel with; that list is now dwindling as they have found companions. So, I am looking to broaden my scope and get comfortable traveling alone with a group of like-minded women.
Susan

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Marilyn L November 20, 2018 - 5:18 pm

Me too. 15 months ago I lost my soul mate very suddenly. The first year went on an adrenalin rush, so much to sort. Now I find myself a single amongst couples. I need to find my feet, abandon the wimp that has surfaced and find a different me.

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Sharon Santoni November 20, 2018 - 7:22 pm

Dear Margaret, I am so sorry for your recent loss, and I can imagine how heartbreaking it is to have to find your feet and start your new life. Thank you for taking the time to leave your comment, and take care

hugs

Sharon

And by the way, when I run my tours to Provence and in Normandy, I always have and enjoy hosting ladies who are travelling alone for various reasons. They love the opportunity to meet other women, to share moments of friendship, and be in a small group with the shared interest of all things French. Let me know if you want to send you any details

xx

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Dee November 19, 2018 - 12:10 am

I couldn’t agree more Sharon’s For me menopause signaledand end to a phase in life and a new beginning . With my energy moving from the womb to the heart where a different type of creativity burst forth in the way of interior design. I love your blog and all that you do And love to all your readers too

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Madge Baird November 19, 2018 - 12:12 am

What a beautiful, generous spirit you have, Sharon. I was delighted to see photos of women I met in your book in today’s blog. You remind me how important my women friends are and how I appreciate their the ways their various talents and personalities influence my life.

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Madonna November 19, 2018 - 12:19 am

Sharon, You are such a generous person. I am so glad you have a blog. 🙂

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Laura Keane November 19, 2018 - 12:21 am

How I loved reading Knowing Ourselves Better. I couldn’t agree with you more. Always happy to receive your emails. Wonderful reading…..

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Carol Birnbaum November 19, 2018 - 12:26 am

As a dedicated Francophile (my mother was French), I really enjoy your insightful weekly newsletters.. I am a newcomer to your website and look forward to receiving them and learning about your life in France.
Would it be possible to purchase a copy of the beautiful map of France that was recently shown on your website?

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Pamela November 19, 2018 - 12:40 am

Margret, so sorry for your losss. Thank you Sharon for sharing like you do, I feel that I don’t conform to the society’ expatations are for me, and I like to share with and promote around me as much as possible,

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david terry November 19, 2018 - 12:43 am

Hmmm……..reading this posting of yours, Sharon? the first thing that comes to mind is all the women (and I can immediately cite at least twenty in my acquaintance) who, following the whole empty-nester/middle-age (whatever THAT is, these days) “thing” (which, as a very general rule here in the USA includes divorce, menopause, and other not-necessarily enjoyable changes) just DECIDE to open a tiny gallery or small store or coffee-shop of some sort. They never have much start-up money, and they never seem to have any remarkably “big” ambitions; they just want something to do, that they enjoy doing with folks they enjoy, and a place to go to everyday. They always (and I know these friends well) end up calling on all the friends they’ve acquired through the years. I hang in important galleries…….but I’ve also been utterly gratified (as I’ve done three times in the last six years) to tell a friend “Don’t worry about the walls on the coffee shop…..you can have five of mine, and I’ll ask several younger artists to hang there. come to my house and pick out what you want”. It always turns out that another friend is glad to furnish flowers (and, yes. to promote her own start-up florist/garden business). Etcetera, etcetera. I do have to say that I have many male friends, but absolutely NONE who work in/on this broad-based, relationship-based model.

Do recall that Alice Waters, for all of her monumental success/career (beginning with one small restaurant, Chez Panisse), has made a point over the years of saying (and I paraphrase) “All I really wanted to do at the beginning was to make a place where I and my friends could get together and have meals together”. As you’ll know, she and the friends she already had and consciously continued to make over the years continued to promote each others businesses and, yes, dreams/aspirations. Obviously…..not a bad business model…..even during the Fool’s-Gold Age of Trump.

This is, perhaps, the point at which I should say on this blog (as I’ve repeatedly said in public hereabouts) that I am more than well aware that ANY success I’ve had is due entirely to women (art directors, gallery owners, publishers, editors) who had a good nose for talent and either commissioned or bought from me. I’m no fool…..I keep sales records…..and I know that somewhere around 90% of my success is the direct result (particularly in my younger years) of women who knew a good thing when they saw it, took a chance on it, helped to promote it, and lifted everyone’s boat while they were at the business.

I really admire the way your business model and personal “philosophy”/”approach”/call-it-what-you-will are so inextricable.

Admiringly as ever,

David Terry
Quail Ridge Farm
Rougemont, NC
USA

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Sharon Santoni November 20, 2018 - 7:41 pm

Lovely to see you back and in such good form David, thank you for your generous comment …. I think we are overdue for a chat on the phone 🙂

Sharon

xx

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Kathryn Gauci November 19, 2018 - 1:07 am

I don’t think there’s a post I’ve not enjoyed. I luxuriate in them. They all inspire me. Well done.

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Lynne Lee November 19, 2018 - 1:14 am

Sharon….how poignant….. there are many times that as woman we are faced with reinvention….however discovering who we really are is a gift. Recently broke my shoulder in four places…yuk….but I’m so grateful. I’ve been forced to slow down and reevaluate what’s important and embrace the quilt maker in me…I have always derived that pleasure while quilting, but now has surfaced as raison d’etre. Life is certainly an interesting journey!

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Colleen Taylor November 19, 2018 - 1:51 am

Lovely post Sharon. I do recognize these women from your book that I own. Reinvention is necessary in keeping us young. I continue to do this on almost a daily basis in one form or another. I’ve always been self assured and confident in myself so I have no trouble complimenting other women for their talents. X

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Stephanie November 19, 2018 - 4:49 am

Sharon what a wonderful tribute to you from all of your readers. I LOVE your blog and IG account. I appreciate all the beauty you have shown so many of us through your everyday living. You truly are amazing in every aspect of its definition. Your interview doesn’t surprise me at all because that is the type of “kind-hearted person you are! ❤️
For me this particular post has even greater meaning because I have sense with each passing “read” you are more “fullfilled” than you ever have been. Understand and take a few minutes to truly appreciate what we as readers see in you. There are some very Poignant wonderful “right on” heartfelt comments about you. Simply stated I “ Adore” you!
Reinventing one’s self. I have a little something up my sleeve…but can’t let the “cat out the bag” yet but for me it’s exciting at 66!
Looking forward to many more years of “magical” moments/ memories with you via social media.❤️

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Stacy Kirby November 19, 2018 - 8:09 am

I believe reinvention is a part of finding ones true self after a lifetime of trial and error. As a busy career girl and later wife and mother I never really had time to gravitate towards what truly satisfied me. As I recall as I scurried through my busy everyday life occasionally something would catch my eye or my attention for a moment before I hurried off to an obligation or appointment but when I had more than a moment I found myself gravitating toward my hearts desire. Now in my 50s, I find I am more focused, happier and still have plenty of ambitions for the future. It makes me a little sad to think that I am happier now than ever before must somehow mean that my life was an unhappy one but I am beginning to realize that it wasn’t unhappy just uninspiring. Now that I have found my path, each day is like a Kaleidoscope colorful with lots of reflections that produce changing patterns. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it were not for the past and if the end result is true happiness then it was worth the journey.

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Kate Dickerson November 19, 2018 - 1:26 pm

Hi Sharon –
When I first got your Girlfriends book, I read it word-for-word, cover-to-cover. What appealed to me so much, and what appeals to me in your beautiful and interesting posts, is that you highlight women who have followed their dreams with creative pursuits. I am fully behind successful women in government, finance, etc., but I can’t personally relate to those careers. As a creative person, I feel like you and your friends share passions that I do. This is so fulfilling and also inspirational at the same time! Thanks for sharing your love of France and of creativity. Your posts are the highlight of my days.
Additionally, being 62, with grown children, I so appreciate having the time to follow my own dreams, which include my biggest dream of living in France, but also having a successful design business (I design needlepoint/tapestry canvases). I am honestly surprised that I am able to succeed at these things. With the daily realization that life is short, I really try to enjoy doing what I do, and be present with that in every moment. I am thankful to have the opportunity to follow my dreams, as well as to follow those of you and your friends.
Cheers! Kate

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Sharon Santoni November 20, 2018 - 7:40 pm

Thank you for your beautiful message Kate, we are indeed fortunate to have this luxury of following our individual dreams

warm wishes

Sharon

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Chris November 19, 2018 - 5:44 pm

So beautifully said . Thank you for being your blog friend ❤️ Chrissy

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Loreen November 19, 2018 - 9:23 pm

Love reading each and every blog post! So many creative women and men…thank you all for sharing!

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Melody J. Curtis November 19, 2018 - 10:36 pm

This is for David Terry: Where and what is Quail Ridge Farm in Rougemont? I looked for a website and couldn’t find one. I live in Pinehurst and and am just curious!

Oh, and I certainly enjoy Sharon’s blog and all the comments! This is the first time I’ve sent a reply.

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Sharon Santoni November 20, 2018 - 7:38 pm

No worries Melody, I am quite used to David receiving his own fan mail in my comment box, and I love that he has his own community here too!

best

Sharon

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david terry November 23, 2018 - 4:47 pm

Dear Melody, To answer your question? Quail Ridge Farm is a really beautiful, remote (Twenty miles to the nearest grocery store), 486 acre, horse farm……straight north of Durham. Other than the main house, there are about four cottages and two smaller houses (owned by relatives) on the place. It’s quite rural….but utterly manicured for the most part. I’ve been painting it like nobody’s business since arriving here in May. The place is dominated by some very serious, extraordinarily large (three stories and more?) horse barns, riding rinks, training barns, and everything you would expect at a very old and, quite frankly, very high-end horse-y venture. It’s been owned by the same family since 1875, and I live in a small & equally old cottage by the main barn. Every morning and afternoon, dauntingly fit horsewomen of varying ages come trotting by my back window as I sit here working. I’ve never seen homogenously FIT women in my entire life…..proof that horseback riding isn’t for the lazy. The foxhunts (noisy affairs) began three weeks ago. The LLC, horse-y end of the whole business is “Equiventure”, and the website can be found at : https://qr.inetogether.net/

Just google “Quail Ridge Equiventure Rougemont”. you’ll like the photographs.

I suppose that’s enough for now. Oh……if you’re in Southern Pines, you’re only about 1.5 hours away.

sincerely,
David Terry
Quail Roost Farm
Rougemont, NC
USA

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Debbie Courtney November 19, 2018 - 11:29 pm

Sharon, Love your blog, Love your boxes and Love your books!!!! Hope to meet you some day, maybe for a tour!!!! I LOVE France and you make me feel like I am right there everyday!!! You are truly amazing and thank you for being in MY life!

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Sharon Santoni November 20, 2018 - 7:37 pm

Well thank you Debbie, that is very kind!

sharon

x

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Carol Preston November 20, 2018 - 2:02 am

Definitely, focusing on others! I am grown up and mature enough that I don’t need the spotlight! I am so grateful for all of my friends that I am happy to give them the spotlight! I think this is the best time of my life! I absolutely love reading about your French girlfriends and your life in France! I am just jealous! I have lived in the US my entire life, but I think I would have loved living in France or Italy!

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Sharon Santoni November 20, 2018 - 7:37 pm

Please don’t be jealous, that is never a good thing! It sounds to me as if you’re living a wonderful life surrounded by dear friends

take care

Sharon

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Virginia Scanlan November 20, 2018 - 1:27 pm

Sharon, you are a total inspiration to me. I love your blog and books. After spending a decade in a corporate career and then devoting 20 years to building institutions in my community while raising my children, your example has helped me find myself again, to give myself permission to cultivate my own interests. More than inspiration, you have given me the courage to just say no to well meaning people seeking to recruit me for old roles and responsibilities.

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Sharon Santoni November 20, 2018 - 7:36 pm

Thank you Virginia, you are very kind indeed! I am humbled to think I may have inspired you, but happy to hear that you are enjoying yourself

with hugs

Sharon

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Vicky (from Athens) November 22, 2018 - 1:36 am

Sharon, this may be one of my favorite posts. I am always interested in your posts on reinventing oneself. I’ve never used that term for myself, rather, I’ve been “evolving” over the years. Each phase of my life has brought new challenges and changes. I think my evolution has come full circle and I’m pretty close to being the person I’m supposed to be. Wife, mother, grandmother, adventurer, explorer and always ready to try something new…as long as this old body permits.
I always love to see what David Terry has to say when he chimes in! Much of it “tongue in cheek” which is something we Southerners do well.

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Ginger November 22, 2018 - 2:12 pm

Thank you for such an inspiring post! I am 62 years old and have never been happier or enjoyed life more than now. It’s nice to hear others feel the same way.

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david terry November 23, 2018 - 5:05 pm

P.S. Sharon?……..as an Englishwoman, you’ll enjoy this extra information about this places Anglophilic origins………
Quail Ridge began, in 1870 or so, when a group of newly-biillionaired, utterly nouveau riche North Carolina businessmen from the new town of Durham (think the Dukes and tobacco money, textile mills, etcetera) decided to form an “English Style” “Hunt Club”. They bought up all the requisite land, built the big clubhouse (now the owner’s lovely, Victorian, rambling mansion). Of course, none of them knew a THING about actual country-house living/hunting in England. Still, they spent gobs of money, imported English furniture for the “clubhouse”, hired about 200 former slaves (freed only ten years previously, recall) to do all the work, brought in god knows how many deer and quail and pheasants and grouse (not that pheasants or grouse are actually native to North Carolina)……..and then sat back, without their wives or families, to enjoy playing Engsh country Lords on weekend shooting sprees. It was QUITE the operation, particularly when all the fine horses began arriving from Kentucky and England. Things went on in this indulgent way for fifty-some years before the Depression hit…..and the money was mostly gone…..and the members realized that, in order to keep up appearances, every quail that was shot cost approximately one thousand dollars. I am not kidding; this is well-documented. That’s when the Hill family simply bought-out everyone else, re-established the farm as a center for aworld-class herd of Guernsey dairy cattle……and things went on that way until the late forties, when the current owner’s (a very nice, lovely woman about my own age) grandparents focused on the the thoroughbreds. It’s been a famous horse farm (primarily in terms of training and boarding) ever since. There doesn’t seem to be any focus on breeding here, but LOTS of training. It’s beautiful to watch. I know absolutely nothing about horses, of course, and haven’t been on one since I was twelve. Still, it’s beautiful, and I’ve popped out around fourteen good paintings of the place and the horses since arriving here.

—–david terry

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Melody J. Curtis November 23, 2018 - 9:06 pm

Dear David Terry, and Sharon,

Thank you both so much for your replies. What a history at the English Hunt Club/Dairy Cattle/high end Horse Estate! Who knew. Here in Pinehurst there’s a horse culture too (in addition to the ever-present golf), but I really don’t do either. There’s a horse track/barns, with a really funky little cafe that’s always full for breakfast, and lots of horse farms in the surrounding area. We moved here from the Washington DC area and always like to drive out to Middleburg VA, home of one of the ultimate high-end horse culture sets.
Sharon, like many others, I daydream when looking at your beautiful photos and will have to imagine the trips you lead. Having been to France a few times, I can only say it would never be enough.
David, do you have a website for your art? I have been reading non-stop about art history for years, and have even taken 8 people from this area back to DC and the Nat’l Gallery of Art for two separate trips with a wonderful art historian friend of mine. We’re planning another for the spring.
Thanks again for this beautiful website, Sharon — it’s the only one I’ve ever sent a response to and is a great place to hear from other like-minded people.
–melody

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Pat November 24, 2018 - 2:00 am

This particular post hit me hard. I am 70 years old and feel lost. My children are all too busy to visit our beautiful home on the shores of Lake Huron. I want to share my garden, my home but when you said not being the centre of attention it hit home. Instead of feeling sorry for myself I need to reinvent my role as mother, grandmother and start cherishing my relationship with my husband who I will be married to fifty years this August and to my friends. I will look forward. Not backwards. You are an inspiration. Pat

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David Charles Terry November 26, 2018 - 4:23 am

Dear Pat, what an honest (and lovely, to be honest) comment, and thank you for it. You’re not in the last bit odd or singular in feeling as you do. I just sent this song to a friend of mine from college (I’m 58, so it’s been a while). You must know this song…..go to (copy and paste): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zJSp_Qai00

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Brigitte November 25, 2018 - 11:08 pm

It is well and truly time for my reinvention. I am 61 and a grandmother of 5, 2 of them live at the other end of the country (Australia).
Although not officially of retirement age, I resigned from my work in March. It has been a tough year with the deaths of both of my in laws and my 95 year old mum. My dad left us 8 years ago. My husband was travelling interstate every few weeks for his parents and then of course come the legal matters, something I dealt with and which left me totally physically and emotionally exhausted.
Afterwards we gave ourselves a river cruise on the Seine with extra time in Paris. This will explain my new obsession with simple French country living. Your blog is beautiful. The personal stories and responses are inspiring. It is time for more travel experiences at our age as the Paris I met recently was so much better than the one I met in my twenties. As much as we love them we do not want to be full time babysitting grandparents. Time for reinvention – bring it on!

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Renee McLeod November 30, 2018 - 3:30 am

I think that in general most people care way too much what others think, as one gets older, and as they mature, they care less what others think. I think in the US culture pushes to confirm – especially in So. Cal. What you drive, your body, your job, how much money you have, etc. Are very important. Very sad and it works against our families and our happiness. When I was young I had a great body and was beautiful and then, due to aggressive cancer that changed dramatically. I never liked attention or courted it, but it was amazing to me the negative that was now directed at me as I gained weight. People here don’t seem to care if you’re well read, interesting, etc. I’m much more comfortable in France and have many more friends who don’t care about those things, but most about who you are as a person. It still amazes me when I talk to people here how they love to endlessly talk about themselves (I always ask people lots of questions), but never ask me questions about myself.

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