Flying high at Planica, Planica

Flying high at Planica, Planica

“Planica, Planica 

snežena kraljica!” 

The song rolled over in my head as I caught myself humming the rhythm for days after returning from the Planica ski-jumping hill. The first chorus from this polish folk song is played whenever a ski-flyer lands past the 250 meter mark on the famous hill that is called Planica. In sync with the rhythm, hundred of fans waved their country flag: Slovenia, Polska, Austria, Netherlands, Deutschland, Japan, and one lone America flag, happily danced through the air. Music over the speak was accompanied by a variety of noise makers – horns and rattles creating a fantastic unified roar of satisfaction. I wonder now what it sounded like for the fliers clipping out of their skies as they waited for their score. The only jumper who was greeted by almost complete silence was the Russian jumper. Not too many folks cheered for America either. But when a Slovenian flier was on the gate, the crowd went crazy!!! It was a good weekend on the hill, so we heard it A LOT! 

But, let me back up a bit and set the scene. After our half day tour through Ljubljana. we checked in to our room in Podkoren. We stayed at a recently renovated lovely house/hotel that had been in the family for more than 100 years. The house was decorated in local themes – one dominant theme being a carnation flower pattern. As we checked in our lovely and accommodating hosts asked us when we’d like our breakfast. Then we made a little dinner from the foods we’d gathered at the market in Ljubljana and turned in for an early night. The next day we would head to the hill!

The next morning, we used this fantastic European invention (an electric tea kettle) to boil some water. Seriously, I don’t know why we don’t use these in America! Incidentally, I purchased one when I was home for Christmas because I now find life difficult without this kitchen gadget. I stirred up a cup of surprisingly good instant coffee and took a stroll through the town. I often have a hard time sleeping in, even if I’m late to bed, which is why I don’t stay up late too often nowadays. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to take a sunrise run or walk in the neighborhood where I’m sleeping, which is why I prefer to find a central city hotel, or a place in an interesting neighborhood. Sometimes I meet folks, but often I’ll meet a friendly cat or focus on listening to the birds chattering to each other. I notice more details as I walk with the absence of human interaction – beautiful lace curtains, interesting architectural details on the buildings, slightly hidden political messages in the stickers attached to a power box.

On this morning, as I strolled through town, the sun slowly crested the mountains. As I held my coffee mug in my hand to stay warm, I greeted a man out walking his dog. A few blocks later, I paused to admire some horses in a small corral in the center of town. The town was very small, maybe 10 blocks, and as I made a right turn to loop back toward the hotel for breakfast, I could hear a burbling brook and was delighted to find a functioning sawmill! I took pictures and a small video to send to my dad in Oregon who is a lumberjack and has his own sawmill.

After a delicious breakfast of fresh local farm eggs, local yogurt and delicious Turkish style coffee, we took off for a hike to the ski-jumping hill. This is one thing I loved about the event – the only way to arrive was by shuttle bus, helicopter, or the best way of all, a hike through the forest! Fans proudly flew their flags and happily chatted as they trekked to the ski hill. Some already with a bottle of bier in their hand at 8 in the morning. Yes, I kid you not. The atmosphere was a bit NASCARish. How was it like NASCAR? The first thing is the flags (country flags instead of numbered car flags but some flags were emblazoned with the name of a favorite ski-flier) and country scarfs (in the place of ball caps), copious volumes of bier, greasy food, loud noise (in this case coming from the fans and not the athletes – cars on the tracks), and lots of friendly folk happy to meet fellow fans. 

On the first day the jumping began in the afternoon, so we planned a diversion hike on our way to visit Zelenci Spring – the headwaters of the Danube River. Trees were breaking bud and the forest floor was dotted with wildflowers. Very few people hiked along the same path. We were enveloped in the gentle sounds of the forest. As we walked, we were amazed at the spring scenery because we expected everything to be covered in snow. In fact, the weather seemed a bit strange – it was very warm and sunny and I regretted that I hadn’t packed a light weight long-sleeved hiking shirt to protect my arms from the sun.

As we walked the meandering path to the spring we enjoyed the shade and after a short distance, caught our first glimpse of Zelenci spring – sheltered on one side by trees and opening up onto a meadow with mountains towering above. We approached the spring bank and looked to the left to find an observation tower with some people taking in the views. Ahead of us was a small dock. We walked to the edge, sat down, and swung our boots over the water. After a few minutes the folks in the tower headed off down the trail and we had the spring to ourselves.

I began snapping pictures as we studied the spring, searching for signs of life. After a few moments we spotted a trout swimming through the crystal clear water. Then we saw another, and another. In total we watched about a dozen beautiful trout lazily swimming through the water. Midges danced above the water, providing bait for the fish, who occasionally broke the surface leaving behind circular ripples in the wake of their attack. As we continued gazing in the water we saw caddis fly larvae walking along the floor. Caddis flies are amazing creatures – the larvae build for themselves a case that they carry with them to protect their soft body. The case can be used to identify the location where they live because they use local “supplies” – rocks, twigs, bits of plants – that are glued together with silk. My mind flew back to my aquatic entomology course at UC Davis as I explained to my friend the curious details of the life of a caddis fly.

Time passed quickly as we shared memories of fishing in our home countries. The silence was broken by a runner who burst out from the trees and stopped to say hello. She asked where we were from and we answered Japan and the USA. Her face was puzzled, and we went on to explain our connection via a German employer. As we chatted we discovered that she worked with the US and Canadian ski-jumping teams. We inquired about the health of Kevin Bickner, who had recently had an injury during a jump. I was looking forward to him jumping in the team competition the next day and she reassured me he was in good health and would jump! We snapped a photo for the memories. Then after a quick viewing from the platform, we continued onto Planica.

The trail was now filled with more fans traveling to the event. We strolled up the hills and through a meadow, then a path through the forest and suddenly we were there and I had my first view of a ski-jumping hill! 

What a curious thing it is. A giant piece of ice and snow, striped with lines to mark distances. A narrow ramp at the top from which the jumpers leap after seating themselves on the starting gate – which looked to me to be a relatively small piece of wood. The ramp reminded me a bit of the giant slide at the pool that we all nervously waited in line for as a child. The courage of these jumpers. Hurling themselves through the air at speeds of 100+ km per hour!!!

The sun was beating down on us and I hadn’t brought a hat, so I bought my first souvenir – a felt Slovenian cowboy style hat. My friend bought us a couple of Slovenian team scarfs. We asked a photographer we met to snap our photo and then headed off to set up our viewing station.

My friend had a giant Japanese flag to wave after attaching it to a collapsible fishing post. Such a clever system! I never would have thought of such a thing, but she wasn’t the only one. Dozens of other fans were expanding their fishing poles and hoisting flags to the sky to cheer for their country jumpers.

As the crowds began to grow I ventured off to find lunch. We’d been hiking for a few hours and I’d worked up a hunger, besides I saw people eating these giant sandwich-type things and I was curious to try it out.

Verdict – not sure of the meat source – maybe grilled spam (?) on a focaccia style bread with a curry type sauce, peppers and mustard. It was good! I was now reloaded with energy and ready to cheer!

After a few more minutes, the jumpers began to fly. Between jumps we chatted with the Polish fans who were stationed around us. Friendly folk! German was the common language, although some spoke English, and we chatted about our respective country cultures between loud rounds of cheering for the jumpers. Bier flowed and the sound level climbed. I wasn’t drinking bier in support of my Project Life goals and it made the people watching even more entertaining. 

I used my telephoto lens to snap some photos of the jumpers and also found it served as a nice binocular to get a better view of the jumpers on the top of the hill.

After the jumpers were finished for the day, we hiked back to town to rest up for day 2. During the evening, we watched some local TV coverage of the day and my friend explained to me more about what was happening and how the jumpers were scored. I felt more prepared to watch the next day. It’s not all about distance. Points are deducted depending on the direction and strength of the wind, or the style of the landing. 

The second day was the team event and this was my chance to root for Team USA. I strapped my American flags on to my backpack for our hike to the hill. I’d bought them at Walmart on a recent trip home and was pleased to discover they were actually Made in America!

As we approached the ticket controls, we met a crowd of folks waving Canadian and American flags and enjoyed a round of high-fives. As we set up our cheering station, my friend attached one of my American flags to her pole so we could wave it wildly for the American jumpers.

The jumping began as we walked up and it was a spectacular day at the hill. Team USA wound up placing 7th out of 12 teams, which was a very respectable place for the team. But, the most amazing moment was toward the end of the day. The great Austrian jumper  Stefan Kraft set a new record on the hill. Everyone went wild! Then the next jumper from Poland, beat the new record!!! Everyone went completely nuts at this point!!!! The starting gate was moved to ensure safety of the subsequent jumpers. The guys were practically jumping as far as possible on the hill. Conditions were incredible – the perfect wind.

Jumping ended early-afternoon and we walked down the hill happy and satisfied with the day. After a quick lunch, we hoped in the car and headed off to explore Bled. Bled is fabulous enough o deserve its own post. More on one of the prettiest places on the planet later.

My impressions of a European ski-jumping event. It’s a lively, loud, friendly, rambunctious environment. I was so glad that I took a “leap” and decided to travel with my friend to Planica. As a bonus, the countryside and people of Slovenia are lovely. I’m tempted to return this summer for a visit with my husband.


Surprising Slovenia

Surprising Slovenia

This post is the first in a small series about my long-weekend trip to Slovenia. I visited Ljubljana, Bled, Planica and Podkoren. It’s a beautiful country, the people are friendly, the food is good, castles and dragon stories are found in every little valley and mountain region. I highly recommend it for a holiday in the mountains.

Four days ago I landed in Ljubljana, Slovenia to attend the FIS ski-jumping world championship event held at the famous Ski-Flying hill called Planica (here’s the song – more about it later). 

Ski-jumping…. I think I’ve watched it on TV a couple of times. So, why did I travel to Slovenia to watch the final championship event of the year? Well, one day, after moving to Germany I took a long bike ride with a friend I had met years ago on a field trip in California. After riding for a few hours, we stopped for a coffee break at a restaurant next to the trail. As we rested and chatted, she mentioned how much she loved watching ski jumping. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I asked if I could possibly accompany her sometime on a weekend excursion. She said we could discuss it over the coming months, and here we are! Sometimes you just need to jump at life. Why not jump off a high hill with only a pair of skis strapped to your feet?! 

The funniest thing about planning this trip was the reaction I received when I told folks my plans for the weekend. So many people asked if I was going to jump myself! What, are you kidding???!!! I laughed. Then I felt a little bit of pride that people who know me actually thought this was a possibility. Or maybe they were just pointing out the apparent oddness of just spontaneously deciding to head off to Slovenia to watch a ski jumping event. Whatever it was, it made me smile and laugh. So, it was good.

We made our plans, the months passed on the calendar and, finally, last Thursday was the day. We arrived in Ljubljana around noon and headed into the city center to explore.

I hadn’t done any research for this trip – I booked a flight and my friend helped with buying my entry tickets to the ski-jumping event. I had no idea what to expect in the city. As we drove from the airport to the city, I took in the beautiful mountain scenery bordering the valley. After about 20 minutes, we turned off the highway and entered the outskirts of the city. The buildings lacked decoration – a reminder of the stark communist era. Maybe for this reason the city seemed even more magical when we turned a corner and found a bridge guarded by a pair of dragons on each bank of the river.

This was the first of many dragon sightings on this trip. They form a strong theme in Slovenian lore and culture. We roamed around the bridge snapping pictures. Then headed toward an outdoor market to search for some local treasures to remember the trip. The offerings were clothing and fresh produce. Slovenia borders Italy and the market stalls were stocked with tomatoes, strawberries, clementines, carrots, lettuce, and every other vegetable and fruit you could imagine. We decided to stop by on our way out of town and buy some produce for dinner and snacks during our trip.

We noticed a castle on a hill loomed over the city and decided this would be our destination. It was easy to find signs pointing to the castle and we began the long walk up to the top, pausing to admire the unfolding city views and decipher the graffiti lining the walls. The hills were dotted with wildflowers and trees were breaking bud. The sun shone over head and bird song filled the air.

As we reached the top of the hill we looked up at the castle – a quite impressive and well-preserved structure. When we entered inside, we were surprised to find a variety of museums, shops and a restaurant and cafe. We decided to sit outside in the square and take in the warm sun while enjoying a local bier with a super-cool label. You guessed it, more dragons! 

To mix things up, we walked back down the opposite side of the hill and then popped in to town for some shopping along the river banks. 

As afternoon approached evening, the tables outside the cafes began to fill with people. Music flowed through the air. Some bouncinf out of the turn-table of a DJ dressed in a black suit jacket and hip clothes. I was mesmerized by the city scenery and architecture. The colors contrasted with the river and the streets were filled with young people. Energy oozed from the place. At the same time it felt peaceful and calm. An interesting paradox of emotions.

As evening approached, I was sad we needed to leave the city, but it was time to go on to our next destination. We drove through the countryside toward Kranska Gora and our hotel room in a neighboring town. The scenery was beautiful – fields and farm houses. One interesting feature was wooden panels in the fields. My friend told me they’re used to dry the hay after harvest. Apparently, a similar structure is found in Japan’s rice country. That was just the beginning of geologic and natural similarities between this landscape and Japan. It was intriguing to learn how two places so far away could be so alike.

As we neared our hotel, the country roads were lined with billboards promoting the ski-jumping event. 

Anticipation was building, but fortunately the day had been long enough, and our home-made dinner filling enough, that I had no trouble to fall asleep. 

Up next: first day at a ski-jumping event. It was off the rails!

Project LIFE – subtraction and addition

Project LIFE – subtraction and addition

Now you written a plan. You’re committed to achieving your goals. How will you ensure success? This is where it’s important to begin writing down best practices (you might call them “rules” – this is the term I usually use) focusing on behavior changes you will make to achieve you healthy lifestyle goal. In mathematical terms – what will you subtract and add to hit your target weight?

In my project LIFE plan, I wrote my rules on the right hand side of the page opposite  my weekly weight targets on the left hand side. Now it’s all on one page. I workout a lot and I’ve done so since I was a kid (I’ll devote another post to this topic). So I did plan to change my workout patterns slightly but I knew this wouldn’t deliver the results I craved. My first focus was on changing how I eat. The truth was, my mathematical equation was out of balance. I was simply consuming more calories than I could burn which had increased my weight and was now maintaining the current weight. 

When it came to adjusting how I eat, I focused on two things – what to eliminate and what to add. Be fully aware that it will be impossible to 100% follow the rules. I am not perfect. You are not perfect. None of us will ever be perfect, so it’s time we give ourselves a little compassion. (Hence the reason I love the Dali quote at the beginning of my post). I give myself compassion by following the 80:20 rule. I’m successful (not perfect, not even seeking perfection) if 80% of the time I follow the rules. 

I also had a goal for how to balance the source of calories in my diet. I wanted a ratio of 50% complex carbohydrates, 30% protein and 20% fats. Carbs to fuel my brain, protein to build and maintain muscle, and fat to produce hormones and utilize vitamins I consume through the other items in my diet. My UC Davis biochem class is coming in handy!

Project management hack: identify obstacles that will make it difficult to follow your rules and decide how you will overcome the obstacles. 

My project LIFE plan Rules:

1. Eliminate drinks that contain calories. 

Why? Soda, alcohol, juices, even milk – these liquids contain insidiously high amounts of calories that can completely torpedo your success. Besides they’re not satisfying or filling. Also, I think making this change – for instance – ordering an americano with a dash of milk instead of that daily cappuccino – you can easily cut out 200 to 300 calories a day. It’s too easy to overlook. If you replace caloric drinks with water or hot tea, you’ll see immediate results.

2. Add 2 Liters of water a day + coffee + tea as desired. 

Add a lemon or mint to your water bottle if you start to get tired of plain water. Also, an exception to rule 1: milk or almond milk is included in my diet via my normal breakfast routine (I’ll explain that later). A warning about caffeine. I read in a book that when you reduce calories you can become more sensitive to caffeine so be careful you don’t overdo the coffee and caffeinated tea and get all jittery. 

3. Eliminate simple carbs and processed snacks. 

I nearly completely cut out granola bars and all processed snacks foods. This is not actually that hard to do once you kick the sugar addiction (one I’m still fighting myself – lately I find myself strangely craving sweets at night, which is maddening! :)). If you’re like me, another thing you have to kick is the joy that comes from receiving free food. I picked this up in grad school… a meeting with snack! Heck yeah, I’ll save some money by eating that granola bar you’ve given me. On a quick flight – why yes, thank you for the breakfast bar or pretzels! Now I don’t need to pay astronomical airport prices. This is a tough habit to break!

4. Add unlimited fresh vegetables + 3 to 4 pieces of fresh fruit a day. 

First obstacle: I know what you’re thinking. I’m busy, when will I prepare the vegetables? I am here to tell you that it’s not so hard to find the time. Give me a moment to convince you that you, yes you, can find the time to chop fresh vegetables! Here’s what I do. During my weekly shopping run I buy: carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, and maybe something else that catches my eye. Then when I get home I unload the veggies, pile them on the counter near the sink. After I’m done unpacking and storing everything else I bought (which isn’t so much since about 1/2 of my diet is veggies now), I jump right in with prep work. I promise you, it’s fast. I can prep enough veggies (chopped into small portions for snacking) for the week in about 20 minutes! For this to be a winning strategy, make sure you have a nice sharp large chef knife and cut with care! Buying some nice size tupperwares is also a great idea. Immediately, I pack my weeks-worth of veggies into tupperwares or small bags in a quantity that is just right for each day – probably 2 to 3 cups of veggies. 

Voila – you are now a vegetable prep pro!

If you want something sweet, turn first to fruit, but watch your intake, it can also be high in calories so it’s good to eat in moderation. Melons are a sweet treat with a lot of water and fiber with low calorie count. Other fruits don’t require any prep time which makes them super-convenient to carry with you.

When you begin to reduce calories you will be hungry. When hunger strikes, eat vegetables! It’s surpassingly satisfying and I also find it gives me lots of energy and a clear mind. No sugar crash!

5. Make sure to eat enough healthy proteins. 
I admit, I don’t really know the difference between a healthy protein and an unhealthy one – but there are lots of different sources of protein and some make me feel lighter and stronger and some weigh me down. I think it might be related to how much saturated fat comes with the protein. So, it’s something to consider with a meat protein source.

Here are the proteins I try to consume to feel full and not have too much fat:

  • Chicken breast – a light coat of olive oil and paprika sprinkled on top and broiled in the oven.
  • Tuna fish – sometimes packed in olive oil if I also want some fats. A favorite dish is to mix this with a fresh avocado. It’s delish!
  • Nuts – this is a great snack but a tough one for me because I often eat too much in one sitting. Try to prepackage appropriate portion size. It’s a good attempt (which sometimes works!) to watch the calorie intake.
  • Greek yogurt – plain with no added sugar. I like to top with granola and fresh fruit
  • Cheese in small portions
  • Eggs – boiled or fried in olive oil
  • Almond milk with chia seeds and or oatmeal soaked in for breakfast. A great way to start the day!
  • Occasionally I’ll have a protein shake if I’m in a hurry after an exercise round in the morning.

6. Avoid saturated fats and eliminate trans-fats. 

If you eliminate prepared snack foods you’ll nearly eliminate trans-fats without trying. Saturated fats can give lots of energy – because they’re packed with calories. So, limit them to maybe once a week – this is a method I apply to red meat and pork.

7. Reduce bread and crackers. 

The need to do this might vary from person to person. And you’re probably thinking, oh my gosh, she’s an expat in Germany, she must eat all the delicious breads! Yes, in fact, this is what I also thought in the beginning, and it was killing my waistline! Breads + my metabolism do not equal a slim Natalie. I also believe that breads get processed fast in my system leading to a sugar crash. So, I’ve nearly eliminated them from my diet. 

8. Add complex carbs as close to natural condition as possible. 

I now receive most of my carbs and fiber from granola, oatmeal, chia seeds and all sorts of beans (lentils, etc). Amazingly, I don’t even really miss the bread now, and when I do eat it, it’s a real treat!

Try implementing a few of these steps and let me know how it works for you. What secrets do you apply for healthy, fulfilling eating?

Next post: fire up your engine!

Project LIFE – setting your targets

Project LIFE – setting your targets

The primary driver for me beginning a lifestyle revamp was hitting a number on the scale which was the highest in my life. I saw it and I said “no more, time to do something”. So, I stared to build my first “Project LIFE” plan.

(Disclaimer: if you’re reading this blog for weight loss advice, you should consult a doctor before you begin any lifestyle altering plan. I’m sharing what worked for me, which may or may not work for you.)

Here’s what I did:

1. I took a piece of 8 1/2 x 11″ lined paper. 

2. On the left hand column, I wrote the date of a week – each Monday (this is when I weigh in) and wrote to the bottom of the page. Conveniently, this should be about 6 months. Then I added headers to the page: “target weight” and “actual weight”.

3. At the bottom of the page I wrote my ultimate target weight drop for the next 6 months. Depending on how much you have to lose this might be the total weight loss you want to make, or halfway to your ultimate goal. In my first 6 months, this took me 2/3 of the way to my ultimate goal and turned out to be 10% of my beginning body weight.

4. Then halfway up the page I wrote down a number that was the midpoint between my current weight and my target weight.

5. Then I noted vacations or other times when I might have a hard time reducing.

6. Next, I wrote a decreasing number target about 0.3 to 1 kilo per week. In the beginning it will go fast and then slow down. Most of my target drops were 0.3 kilos. In the weeks on vacation I had a goal to hold or even allow myself to go up 0.3 kilos. The targets aren’t an exact science, but they give a goal to strive toward.

7. Finally, I added Milestones – intervals at which I would check against my targets and assess if they needed adjustments. If you aren’t hitting your target weight for too many weeks it can be discouraging, so try to make them reasonable.

8. Write in pen. It makes it more of a commitment!

9. I transferred all the info into my daily calendar as a reminder of my goals. I use an old-fashioned monthly calendar that my aunt gave me. It’s a nice way to track things (including exercise) and see where I was and where I am now.

10. Buy a fun scale to weigh in. I found a scale emblazoned with a smiley face scale at my local home store and that made it more fun for me! 🙂

You can think of your weight targets like these spray painted red marks I found on a rocky trail at Crowder Mountain. They marked my way through an otherwise indistinguishable path to my destination. Sometimes over very narrow rock paths and sometimes through easy going patches. I predict this is how the experience will also feel for you. Trust the PLAN!

Next installment: what steps I took to actually hit the weekly target weight.

Project LIFE

Project LIFE

As you’ve probably caught on to from my plethora of hiking posts, my husband and I really like to walk and hike. In fact that turned out to be one of the things I miss the most about our NC life while I’m living in Germany: our morning and evening walks with the dog. Walks are our time to talk, get advice from each other, take in the fresh air, listen to the hoot owls and song birds, say hello to the horses and the occasional neighbor we pass along the way, watch the seasons change. We don’t walk particularly fast and make lots of breaks for our dog to take care of business. But, it turns out that the walks were part of a calorie burning routine that I believe was one of the reasons for my insidious, and a little surprising to me, weight gain when I moved to Germany. The extra hour of movement was missed by my body and my appetite didn’t adjust accordingly.

So, it came about that during my last visit home we took a walk and began to talk about choices and healthy living. The truth is a person must choose to live a healthy life and then make choices that accumulate in this direction. Without the conscious choices that add up to healthiness, it will never come to be. Perhaps it’s the law of chaos, who knows, but evidence has shown us in our own lives that occasionally there comes a time to take stock of where we are health-wise and make a plan to reclaim our health.

We started to discuss strategies and rough out the plan for a health challenge we could accomplish across the seas. This gives the added bonus of giving us something else to talk about on viber. 🙂 That night, instead of cracking open a bud light and plopping down in front of the TV for a couple of hours, we sat at the dining room table with 8 1/2 x 11″ notepads open to a fresh page in front of us, pens in hand, and began to make a plan. Because if you want to commit to something you need to WRITE IT DOWN. It’s even better if you also tell someone. Consider yourself my witness.

Besides, and here’s the cool thing, we’re both project managers, which means we KNOW how to make a PLAN! I mean how cool is this?!!! Talk about life and work coming together in a surprising way! We also know how to identify the obstacles that could derail implementation of a plan. We know about milestones to check in on progress and how to rally appropriate resources to ultimately achieve success. Why not apply these skills to our healthy-living revamp?

We began to write, first quietly (ok, I can imagine I wasn’t so quiet, I’m usually talking or humming a tune or something…) and then we compared plans. It was interesting to notice our different approaches. I started by listing on the left hand column of the page a series of dates – every Sunday to indicate a new week, and a series of weight targets. Then on the right, I listed a series of steps I would take to hit the weight targets. My husband, on the other hand, started with a weekly schedule of work travel and workouts. Then, he moved on to weight targets. I had already designed a workout schedule so maybe that’s why I didn’t start with this, nevertheless, I found it interesting to see we began in a different way.

As my husband and I compared plans and discussed strategies I noticed that at the top of his page he’d written in all caps “PROJECT LIFE”. I joyously laughed out loud because I loved it! I mean that’s truly what we were doing. Making a project plan for a healthy LIFE! Of course, I stole this lovely idea and decided I would title my plan “Project Life 2.0”. Why 2.0? I had been through a similar revamp last September when I returned from a visit to the US in which I stepped on a scale for the first time in months and discovered, to my horror, that the scale number was a record high for me. Later that day, on our evening walk, I asked my husband to help me brainstorm a path out of the jungle of brauhauses and jager schnitzel to lower weight and better health. And he did, and it worked, to a point. But I noticed that things had begun to stall out (I had arrived at the dreaded plateau) so a reset was in order. Thus, 2.0 was born.

Halfway through the first week into Project LIFE, I weighed in and my weight had actually gone up! What?! How was this happening? I stayed the course believing that the plan would work, and today I’m happy to report I’m actually 0.8 kilos below my target weight for the week! 

I’ll use the blog to talk more about Project LIFE and some of the lifestyle changes we’re implementing to reclaim our health. I’ll post perhaps in weekly installments, could be more, could be less. 

I welcome your healthy life tips, please post in comments. We’re all in this together!

Go Project LIFE!!!!

Swamp thangs

Swamp thangs

“A beaver skull. Oh my gosh, it’s a beaver skull!”

I yelled to my husband half-way through our bush-whacking hike through the Jordan lake and panther creek swamp-land behind our house.

It was a journey we’d been talking about and pondering and halfway planning for three years. One of the big draws of our property was the direct access it has to the American tobacco trail and a large swath of protected fish and wildlife land that surrounds panther creek and runs all the way up to Jordan Lake. We regularly walk out the back door and down a well-beaten path to a fork. Right takes you to the tobacco trail. Left takes you into the woods. With options to roam freely or follow a trail that borders the wildlife land and is marked by trees banded in three stripes of orange paint. Both are great options.

Speaking of trails, have I mentioned that my husband is trained as a civil engineer which means he LOVES maps. I mean LOVES them! His love of maps is one of the reasons why it wasn’t until I moved to Europe and, finally, had to navigate on my own, that I discovered I have a sense of direction. I was so used to following him around, happily mind you, on our rambling adventures. Well, one day as we were studying our property on google earth, because who doesn’t do that nowadays? We began to speculate that the path that runs to the left and into the woods, might just take you all the way to Jordan lake. We promised ourselves that one day we’d drop some bikes down at the local gas station and then make the hike and bike back. But, the problem with this planning is, well, it required planning…. something we aren’t always keen to do on the weekends. 

So it happened that a day after I landed at home, we woke up to a surprisingly sunny and warm day, and decided that today was the day. We were hiking to Jordan lake on the path. No bikes for drop off, we were going all the way there and we’d figure out how to get back. We loaded up a back pack with snacks: oranges, cheese sandwiches, Belgian chocolates (because why not?) dog food for Desi, and a couple of bottles of water. Snapped a leash onto Desi, laced up our boots and took off.

At the fork, we turned left and descended down along Panther Creek. This time of year is great for hiking along the creek bank because these crazy thorny vines (maybe they’re called brambles) are just coming out of their winter sleep. The trees are pushing out helicopter seeds in brilliant shades of orange and red. The sun, perched above in the Carolina blue sky, was shining down warmth. Birds were singing and frogs chirping. The spider webs were not yet stretching between the trees at just the right height to smack you in the face. Basically, it was perfect and then it got better, when we made our great discovery.

“Check this out, there’s a lot of beaver activity”. I hollered to my husband. He’s, he’s always telling me to talk more quietly in the woods. 

We had turned to follow along a creek spur that feeds into Jordan lake and found many stumps with fresh beaver teeth marks. We also noticed that the grassy terrain was now interrupted by large stones and big boulders were supporting the soil and trees along the ridge. I climbed up on to a boulder, because it’s fun, and Chas snapped a picture of Desi and me to remember the day. Have I mentioned, Desi is a grand hiking companion.

We continued walking and discovered more evidence of recent beaver activity and I even began to understand how they managed to take down a tree and break it into movable chunks! It was like being in a nature film, which is a very strange thing to think, right? Why do we always compare real life to the movies? I snapped some photos to share with my nieces and nephews for a science lesson later.

We proceeded down to the water, around a slight ridge, and discovered the beaver dam. A large one at that!

Then I backtracked a bit and that’s when I made the amazing discovery of a beaver skull! Which now has a home on our fireplace mantel. Yes, this is how we decorate our house (no shopping at the pottery barn for me) – shells, feathers, stones, bits of branches, the occasional fungal specimen, old bottles, the interesting bits that we find on our journey of life. I do believe this will be one of our most treasured hiking momentos for years to come.

We noticed that the sun was beginning to sink low and we had about 1/3 of our route to go, so we safely stowed the beaver skull and continued our journey along the banks. The vegetation changed from pines and schrubs to bottomland hardwoods and back to pines. It was amazing to find all that was hidden just off the road and behind our country neighborhood. 

After another hour or so, we popped out along the country highway and turned left to the gas station then walked along the roads for another hour to our house. Traveling our familiar driving or biking path on foot completely transformed the experience. We found details we had never noticed before and even paused for a bit in a patch of grass to soak up the later afternoon sun before our last push to home. Now that I think of it, maybe that’s where I picked up these danged chiggers in my right arm…

As we turned up our street, our feet were aching, our bellies were hungry, and our souls were completely happy and glowing from our spontaneous adventure.