HOME

HOME

H…umid

O…utdoor

M…otorcycle

E…xcursion

There is no place like Home, they say, and I have to agree. I think my definition of home might be different than most. I’ve discovered over the past two years of expat adventuring that every place is different but in many ways the same. So, did I just negate the phrase? I think not, because no matter how far I roam I cannot replace that feeling I get when I return home. And I’ve realized it is true that home is not a place, but rather being with the people I love and participating in our favorite activities together.

On Sunday we did just that, we enjoyed HOME in one of my favorite ways. We climbed on our Harley’s, fired them up and took off for a ramble through the North Carolina countryside. There is not much I enjoy more than following my husband on a surprise adventure. He picks the route and I happily follow, leaning into the curves and accelerating through the straights and slowing down to yell hello to the cows. 

Sunday was just as perfect day at HOME (see definition above….). A few miles after we began, I was transported to that old familiar blissful state. The wind pressed against my chest and whistled around in my helmet. Small bugs pelted my cheeks, cheeks which had already began to ache from my huge grin. My jaw was relaxed loosely to prevent my teeth from knocking against each other. My hands, wrapped in my favorite black Mechanix gloves, loosely held the handlebars, ready to operate the clutch and the throttle smoothly. My brain told my shoulders, normally a bit tight at the beginning, to loosen up as I settled in to the saddle for my first ride in about 3 months. I was thrilled to recognize that I was as comfortable as ever. Hopping on to Smokey (my softail slim) is always one of the best parts of coming HOME.

After about an hour of riding, my eyes rested upon a familiar site -the Harnett County water-tower. Soon after we flew past yellow tobacco fields – the bottom leaves stripped off as harvest was half complete. To the right, a cotton fields decorated with a smattering of white blooms. A few miles later, my eyes rested briefly on a field of tall corn, drying down and slowly being overcome by morning glory vines invading the from the turn rows. Lush green soybean and peanut fields appeared and disappeared to the left and right. A hawk took flight, legs stretched out. Herds of horses and cattle leisurely munching on grass in the pastures.

We stopped in Angier for a mid-morning refuel. Coincidentally, the place we found was a biker hangout. We received a hearty welcome from the owners, who walked outside to, as they put it, “drool over” our bikes. It was a strange feeling to be able to casually and freely converse with the waitress, in English! But I found myself wanting to say Bitte and Danke and order my food in Deutsche. We enjoyed cobbler with ice cream and a coffee for my husband and a half and half tea for me (half sweet, half unsweet – that way I can have 2!).


As we finished our coffee and tea, we picked our route back home, part of the path would take us on the backside of Ravens Rock state park. I was delighted when the pavement ended and we continued on a gravel road through the woods. Definitely a place to return for a hike with our Hund.


The next surprise came when we accelerated up a windy hill and saw some bicycling friends racing down the hill going the opposite direction. We honked and waved. It’s a nice feeling to unexpectedly run in to a friend in a unlikely place!

We pulled up just as big rain drops began to fall from the sky and I was relaxed, sleepy and content after our adventure at HOME.

Today is a rainy day, so no HOME adventure, instead I’m off to a lunchtime hot yoga class. Staycations rock!!!

10 countries in 10 weeks

10 countries in 10 weeks

As I sat in the cab, early on a Monday morning, traveling from Guarahlos airport to the center of São Paulo, I suddenly found myself very sleepy. I thought back on the past weeks and months, did a quick count, and realized I had visited 10 countries in 10 weeks. This was not my intention and the balance of the numbers made me smile a bit. I was sleepy after all…

I began to chat with the cab driver about my travels and I’ll share it with you now. 

To begin, my husband and I traveled to England (1) by car for a road trip through the countryside. What an amazing adventure! We took the eurotunnel from Calais, France (2) and on the way passed through Holland (3) and Belgium (4). But I couldn’t include this in the count because that made it 10 countries in 11 weeks and, frankly, that doesn’t have the same ring to it. Fortunately, I realized that we passed back through the same countries – although our route out of England was via car ferry from Dover. The Dover cliffs, by the way, you need to see them. Then we back-tracked through France (2), Belgium (3) and the Netherlands (4) – so they made it back into the count. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking – driving through a country doesn’t count! I agree!!! Lucky for me we actually made a pit stop at a McDonald’s in the Netherlands. In addition to suspiciously consistent french fries, they offer clean bathrooms in every corner of the world. Now to France – we did board the eurotunnel there, which was pretty epic, but I had a chance to return to this lovely country, and I say this with all honesty, on a quick business trip to the Cote de Azur. 

The first weekend of June, I decided to take advantage of one of our German bank holidays by popping up to Spain (5) to visit my college friend Christina, but you already know about that adventure.  

Hold up a minute here, what about Belgium? A drive through doesn’t count! Never fear, this count is legit! A couple of weeks after our trip to England, I rode the train over to Brussels for a quick visit to the EU parliament building. Quite an interesting place and got me to thinking about the fundamental roots of government that are different between America and the European Union. This explains a lot of our cultural differences.

Next I was off to Greece (6) to launch one of my new products – BioAct DC. We visited customers and held a workshop in Heraklion, the capital of Crete. I am in my happy place visiting with farmers and helping them solve crop pest problems! Of course the food and Raki after dinner was a bonus!

After all these euro-countries, it was time to head back to America (7) for a country music-induced reset. I flew in to North Carolina to visit my husband and join some business meetings at our North American headquarters. My husband flew back with me and we cheered on the racers at the Tour de France which, incredibly, departed from Düsseldorf, Germany (8) this year! But this experience deserves an entire post so that’s all on that subject for now.

On the 4th of July, we celebrated American Independence Day by heading to the airport and both flying west, but to different continents…hey, someday we’ll get this straight… my husband flew back to America and I headed to South America for business meetings in Buenos Aires, Argentina (9). Ironically, while I was in Argentina they celebrated their own Independence Day! Quite a bit more low-key then the way we blow off fireworks and barbeuqe in America. From Buenos Aires, I headed back north to São Paulo, Brazil (10). 

I wrote this post partly out of a selfish desire to not forget this coincidental travel run. When I planned all my trips, I had no idea they would roll up this way. Now, I think, it’s time for a break and I’ll settle in here in Germany for a few weeks. My whirlwind expat chapter is coming to a close, just about 60 days to go now. I found myself desiring to explore again all my favorite places in Germany before I leave my adopted city of Düsseldorf. 

About a year ago I was struggling living in Germany on my own and wondering about the choices that had led me here. I’m glad that I decided to “stop looking back because” as I saw on a tshirt recently “you’re not going that way”. Life is about moving forward, taking it as it comes and choosing happiness. 

My tour through 10 countries in 10 weeks reinforced my belief in the fundamental good of humanity. I enjoyed the kind hospitality of friends. I ran through quaint neighborhoods and parks and along beautiful beaches. I bicycled across London and Oxford and the island of Ilhabela. I dined on simple and elaborate foods while enjoying the company of smart and witty colleagues and friends. 

Everywhere I went I found beautiful things (some obvious and others tiny surprises) and met kind people who went out of their way to help me when I needed them. I was reminded that we are never alone. In every corner of the world you can find a quiet space, or a noisy environ. You can shape your experience because experiences are what you perceive. 

I was a bit amazed that I came through this marathon heathy and not (so) exhausted and I wondered how I managed in spite of the time zone changes. Here’s what I can say – sleep, eat healthy (ok 80:20 rule), exercise and be kind. Most importantly, BE KIND, it will make you (and the people around you) so much happier. I also realized that I paced myself along the way as I recently embraced the philosophy that life is a journey, not a destination, but I sure am curious to see what I will find at the next stop. Aren’t you?

Tracing my roots

Tracing my roots

A topographic map of Thacher Island and the Thacher family crest graced the walls of my grandpa Thacher’s home office. As I child, I found these to be curious, but, admittedly they were lost in a flurry of exotic items from around the world that filled my grandparents house. 

My grandparents were travelers. After they retired, which was probably before I was born, they bought a big long RV and took road trips across America. They also flew to far away places like Taiwan and Japan. They boarded cruise ships to Mexico and the Bahamas. Basically, they were always on the road and they brought back items from these far flung places – items which I studied with great interest, but could never, ever touch. This was forbidden! Their’s was a delicate house filled with glass curio cabinets in which we careful trod with our hands clasped tightly by our sides. 

I don’t remember my grandparents talking with me much about our ancestry, but when my grandmother passed, my father kept the box of family papers for safe keeping. Before I moved to Europe, he gave them to me in the distant possibility that I might go and visit the home of our ancestors in England. 

The box of papers sat in my attic and I nearly forgot about them. Until I started to plan our trip to England to visit my friend Adam. I recalled the Thacher Family hailed from England. So, in the last few hours of my trip home, I climbed the stairs to our attic and pulled out the box of papers. I pulled out the file, which was larger than I expected, and found a precisely organized stack of papers: a genealogy, a family history written by John Totten, and even an envelope of lovely old black and white family photos captured outside a farmhouse somewhere in middle America.

I didn’t want to risk taking the documents to Germany with me, too precious to loose, so I snapped some photos with my iPhone before we rushed off to the airport.


I noted the town where my oldest documented ancestor: Reverend Peter Thacher I, had lived: Queen Camel. After I settled back in to my apartment in Germany, I asked my husband if he would be ok with replacing a night in Liverpool with a night in this tiny town in the heart of Somerset county. Adventurer that he is, he agreed and I opened google maps and found the only hotel in town – the Mildmay Arms. There was no website, only a number to call. Straight-away I dialed them up and booked a room. Excitedly, I told the lady at the other end of the line my family story and she made a meek attempt to feign interest. I, for one, was floating! I could not believe I would soon walk in the town where my ancestors stood in the 1500’s!

But before we went to the town we enjoyed our Dead Guys Bike Tour of Oxford with Adam, followed by a few days hiking in the Lakes District. Finally the sun rose on the appointed day. It was time to visit the birthplace of Thachers!

Our journey took us south on the M5. Instantly, the Lake District fells disappeared below the horizon. I wondered if our near brush with death on the striding edge of Helvelyn had been a dream? We passed through industrial Birmingham before exiting the motorway in Bristol. As the streets narrowed, the number of pedestrians increased. The time was mid-afternoon and school kids in uniforms, reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, roamed the streets in packs headed for home.

We patiently sat in after school traffic and admired the interesting architecture.

Soon, we left behind the city and entered the beautiful, hilly countryside of Somerset county. The number of cows soon surpassed the number of people. As the kilometers clicked by, I anxiously searched the road signs for the first indications of Queen Camel. 

As we made our approach to town, we marveled at the beautiful scenery. Hedgerows butted up to rolling hills, carpeted in green grass, dotted with lush trees.

We entered the north side of Queen Camel via High Street – the English version of Main Street, and saw St. Barnabas Church on the left.  St. Barnabas is the church where my ancestor Reverend Peter Thacher I was the vicar commencing in 1574 and continuing for nearly all of his adult life.

We parked in front of the Mildmay Arms, I grabbed my camera, and we walked directly to the church. Hoping it was open!

The sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day! I walked up to the closed church doors, pushed on the latch, and was delighted when it opened with a solid click.

I had read in the family narrative written by John Totten that John Thacher – one of the sons of Peter and the brother of my ancestor who had sailed to America – Antony – was buried in the church and his headstone was inside the door. As I opened the interior doors to enter the sanctuary, I looked down and there it was! Even with the proper spelling of Thacher, which is often misspelled Thatcher. Our family name comes from the trade of making Thatched roofs. At some point Peter departed from the trade and became a Puritan preacher, his sons followed in his path – studying the ministry at Oxford.

The church was empty and we slowly roamed in the quiet space admiring the architecture and searching for other signs of my family heritage. 



We found a plaque commemorating the visit of another Thacher relative from Florida. We learned that he made donations that contributed to the creation of a small chapel which is called the Thacher chapel and is used for small services.


Around the corner from the commemorative plaque we found a roster of church preachers.

I eagerly searched the list and quickly found the name of Peter Thatcher, 1574. Again, the spelling was wrong but, enough genealogy work has proven that it’s the same guy.

We continued to slowly roam around the church and I admired the detailed wooden carvings and decorations.

We met a deacon who is one of the church caretakers and he explained a bit of the history of the church. It was built in the 1300s and has been through some transformations over the years. When it became a puritanical church in the 1500s, perhaps when Peter was the Vicar, some of the colorful decorations were painted over. These have now been restored to original color and you can see them in this photo.

An eagle hovered behind the pulpit. Adam had informed me that the eagle is a puritan symbol. I wondered if this one went back to the time of Peter?


As we left for the evening, we paused to admire the impressive doors.

We checked in to our room for the night. Then we made our way to the pub at the Mildmay Arms and met some friendly locals. We had some good-natured debates about vocabulary and they pulled out the local translation guide!

The next morning we roamed a bit more and met some friendly cows and another chap who was also on (as he put it) “the dawn patrol”.

The surrounding pastures were connected by walking paths and very interesting steps to make it easier for walkers to cross fences.
We entered back in to town and roamed the streets taking in the beautiful architecture and pausing along the Cam river.


As we ambled through town, we met up with the deacon who was on his way to open the church and he gave me the key to hold! 

We spent our last few moments taking photos and writing postcards in the church cemetery and reflecting on the multitude of changes in the world since this church was built in the 1300’s! 

Finally, we shoved off for the drive to London. It was hard to leave behind lovely Queen Camel. Along the way, we quite by accident stumbled across Stonehenge. So, we stopped to snap a few photos from a pasture road.

As we left behind the beauty and peace of Somerset county I reflected on my ancestry and the courage of my relatives who crossed the ocean in a boat in the 1600s. Only at that moment did I realize that I am perhaps a 20th generation American! No wonder I’m so addicted to Liberty and our American principles. My freedom loving ancestors must have passed down the dominant Rebel/explorer trait. Perhaps I’ll write more about the family history later. Now I’m off to enjoy a rare sunny day in Germany.

Peace before the storm 

Peace before the storm 

Bathed in warm sunlight, the crunching of carpenter bee mandibles tickles my ear drum. A slight tip of my right ankle forward and backward slowly moves the rocker beneath me. My dog rests her head on the bottom porch rail.

I breathe deep, embracing the peace and admiring the warm blue sky.

The wind picks up, the stir of new green leaves brushing against each other obscurs the bee whispers in my ear. Temperature drops swiftly as the sky shifts from blue to gray. Clouds block the warm sun. No longer squinting, my eyes relax and my breath lightens.

A spring thunderstorm is blowing in, taking her time to arrive. 

I eagerly await the first drops. Anticipating the scent of fresh rain on warm stones accompanied by the chatter of drops falling upon leaves, saturating the parched earth, before accumulating in rivulets on saturated soil and running into creeks, rivers, and lakes.

The tapping of a woodpecker is replaced by the rhythmic creaking of wood crickets. My gentle revery is broken by a mosquitoe lighting on my leg for a bite, prompting a quick slap.

Wind picks up again – the American flag begins to wave. This is my home, this is my land, this is my place of contentment and peace.

I find myself ruminating on a yoga mantra my uncle left with me during his recent visit to Germany.

“I am safe. I am sound. All good things come to me. They bring me peace”.

Namaste

The Gift of Being Present

The Gift of Being Present

It’s just past midnight and I’m sitting here in my yellow wingback chair from Ikea trying to convince my brain that it’s time to sleep. Of course, I know the source of confusion. Just 24 hours ago, midnight was 6 pm. Ah, the two country life.

Fortunately, my Tony cat is on German time – curled up in my lap, purring and trying to convince me to sleep.

As I learned over and over again last year, great good can come out of difficult experiences. In this case, sleeplessness creates the space to write.

You’ll notice I was quiet again for the last few weeks. I assure you, there was a very good reason. I was fully immersed in holiday celebrations with my husband, our dog and hens, family and friends. I decided to give myself the present of being fully present in the moment. My gift rewarded me many times over.

It was a lovely holiday. When I went to the airport I left with a touch of sadness but fortunately no tears. In the place of tears was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my life and the people who count me as their own.

This is how I passed the holidays at our home in North Carolina. Lazy wake up, make coffee, take the dog for walks bundled up in pajama pants, my husbands Carhart barn jacket, beanie hat, scarf, gloves and a thick pair of hiking socks wrapped up in my sturdy German hiking boots. It was cold and I did not care one bit because when I looked up the sky was brilliant blue! Blue I tell you, a color I often long for in Germany. We covered many miles in the woods near our house and at nearby parks and trails. The Piedmont area of NC has wonderful hiking.

We enjoyed three lovely days of temperatures warm enough to slip on a helmet, riding boots and mechanics gloves and take our Harley’s out for a spin in the countryside. The wind, the scenery, the rumble – it never gets old. I coursed around corners with easy confidence in spite of not riding for four months. It amazes me how the riding technique just stays with me – it’s part of my DNA.

We decked our house out for the holidays with nearly the last tree at the local Home Depot. Decorated with ornaments going back to our childhoods and a few new additions from 2016 that I bought at a Weinachtmarkt in Bonn. We lit the candles on a beautiful handmade German Pyramid that I purchased at the same market. Our faces glowed in the candlelight as we watched the tiny wooden nativity scene twirling at surprising speeds. When we took it all down a couple days after New Year we left up the lights on the stairway bannister because they make such a beautiful glow!

They say whatever you do on New Year’s Day you will do the rest of the year, and I hope that is the case! We rang in the New Year with home made tacos with family on New Year’s Eve and then devoured a traditional New Year’s Day meal with friends: black eyes peas and collard greens for wealth and pulled pork for happiness.

To work up an appetite before the New Years feast, we woke early, brewed a pot of coffee, bought some donuts and headed to a trail. Surprisingly the donut shop had no lines! I declared my New Years resolution to the bakers: “eat delicious foods”. Properly fueled, we embarked on a First Day hike which is becoming a tradition in our little family. We like silent woods and were a bit taken-aback to find so many other hikers out in spite of cold weather and a threat of rain. After we escaped the crowds of happy hikers, I admit I was a teensy bit pleased to see so many other folks starting their year immersed in nature. Everyone we met was happy and passed along a friendly greeting for the New Year. I left the forest feeling hopeful and lucky, especially as the first rain drops fell as we left the parking lot.

Then the news began to fill with anticipation of a forecasted snow storm. Snow storms are always big news in North Carolina because the place isn’t equipped to deal with snow. As a result, everything sort of shuts down and I admit it is pretty fun! Especially when you’ve got a 4-wheel drive truck to drive around on the empty streets. We waited up half the night for the snow, and when it finally came it was not nearly as much as forecasted, but it was enough to enjoy some magical snow walks through the woods. Our new dog also experienced the snow for the first time and she was in love! To top it off we hopped on our mountain bikes and took a snow ride to share a few home made beers and a meal with friends a few mikes up the bike path from us. We chased the last rays of sun as we pushed our bikes the final 100 yards to the house.

In between it all we went to the grocery store I don’t know how many times. I’ve clearly adopted the frequent, small shopping patterns of Germans. We cooked and filled the dishwasher and hit repeat. Lentil soup, red lentil casserole, bacon, steaks, more bacon. Washed down with good old-fashioned American beer.

Life was simple and unplanned and wonderful. I returned to the office in Germany today and colleagues commented that I looked rested and refreshed. Between meetings in the washroom, I looked in the mirror and saw it was true. The weeks of freedom and calm were good for my soul.

I hope you are just as restored and prepared for an amazing 2017. Now it’s time to start planning my weekend adventures. First stop, Poland. Any travel advice from my globe-trotting followers?

The Grand Canyon 

Like most Americans I was not a heartfelt Trump supporter or a Hillary supporter. I watched the election unfold from afar and was saddened by our options for leaders. In spite, of this we all knew that one of them would win and we now know the outcome. I will go to work today with pride in America, because of what happened yesterday. We had a peaceful election and the electorate spoke. My guess is that people showed up at the voting polls in record numbers because they believe in their vision of America.

Some women dressed up in pants suits as they made their vote for Hillary. Another young woman I know wrote an article about why she supported Trump. The passion and diversity of opinions expressed during this election in America, enabled by our rights of free speech, filled me with pride. Yes, I didn’t like everything I heard, but it gave us an insight into where we are as a country at this moment in time. I am reminded that these rights are protected by the constitution. Furthermore, our right to free speech is supported by a republican form of government with controls on the power of the President.

Let’s pause here for a moment and consider what this means. In America we have a unique system of government that deliberatetely limits the power of the Presidency. Remember that our forefathers came from the land of kings and queens that dictated taxes and property rights and all matters of daily living. Which is largely why our government is designed in a unique manner. Remember the Boston tea party? Our very form of government is in fact the primary reason many people are disgusted with the President, no matter who it is, after a couple of years in office. The President usually doesn’t accomplish anything they promise, because by design they can’t. They can only achieve their goals if they reach across the aisle and get alignment with people of another opinion. Many people are bothered by this system, but I am heartened to know that although popular opinion swings, we have checks and balances in place that only allow slow (some would say glacial) changes in policy in the US. Furthermore, a President with strong opinions can only achieve his ambitions if he has alignment with enough elected officials. In this context, I truly believe that no matter who is in power we as a people (and America as an institution) will change only slightly in the next 4 years, unless something amazing happens and we come together and talk to drive change in policy.

As we begin this new day in America where (as in nearly every other election in history) half the people are happy and half the people are mad, I ask each of you to remember what brings us together as Americans:

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

No matter who is President, these are your rights as a citizen. No one can take them from you (unless there is a change to the constitution, which for reasons listed above is unlikely), so please be grateful for what you have!

And, if you are a Hillary supporter, I entreat you to poor your energy into fighting the change that the Trump administration will try to bring, because that’s your right as an American!

If you’re a Trump supporter, please don’t gloat, but be a gracious winner and seek to build bridges with your neighbor. Because only if you build bridges and begin to have a conversation will the change you seek come to reality!

And, lastly, remember one thing, being an American with a right to vote in the election is a privilege that many citizens of the world will literally give anything to achieve. So, don’t turn your back on your country now because times are tough. This is the moment when we finally need to come together.

This election cycle got me to thinking about a time many years ago when I hiked the Grand Canyon. Surprisingly, the walk down was much more difficult than the walk up. Each way required different muscles and a different type of resolve in my soul. We, as Americans, went to the bottom of the canyon together, now we can work together to get back to the top. Take heart, we got this.

Milestones

“Go all the way with it. Do not back off. For once, go all the goddam way with what matters.” Hemingway

One year ago I did just that, I landed in Dusseldorf and made a commitment to go all the way after a career that continues to amaze me every single day. Today marks the conclusion of my first year as an expat in Dusseldorf.

As a project leader I spend a lot of time building project plans that include milestones. Points where we check progress and trigger new activities or stop the project all together. Now feels like a fitting time to account for what I have learned in the past year and what I’d like to accomplish next year.

The first thing I learned is that I can live alone, but I’d really prefer not to. Life is richer, fuller, more rewarding when traveled with the right companion. This time apart has confirmed that my husband is my best friend and I’m deeply grateful he gave me wings to fly and takes care of our nest back home. A place where I regularly rest and refresh myself. He also frequently accompanies me on European adventures and we are building some amazing memories together. The countdown is on for the day when we live together again under the same roof.

Now that I am living alone, I’ve more often sought out the companionship of ladies. This experience has taught me the value of all the wonderful women in my life. I have to admit I’ve always found it a bit challenging to make and grow female friendships. I can’t really tell you why, except for the fact that I tend to favor hobbies that are generally more interesting to men: working on cars, racing cars, competitive bicycling, motorcycle riding, chainsaw wielding, metal working, you get the idea. Also, I’m not a mother and this feels like an experience that naturally glues many women together. It has taken me perhaps decades longer than for most, but I now enjoy the simple act of conversing with wise, witty, creative, smart women (you know who you are). The funny thing is that when I start to finally click with a new gal pal, we often find ourselves commenting on how hard it was to connect with other women, which is probably why we were just right for each other. I’m beyond grateful that my friends in the US are leaving space for me in their life for the day when I return.

I have also learned that my neighbors in Germany are some of the most kind, generous, caring, observant, happy and honest people that I have ever known. They have become my family and we take care of each other. My one-eyed rescue cat rules the apartment complex and roams from home to home. Proud king Tony has quickly become the mascot of the building. My German friends and neighbors (one in the same) have made Germany a home that is a comfortable harbor for me during my time in Europe.

I have also discovered the benefits of solitude. This year has given me ample time to consider who I am, and maybe more importantly, who I want to be. In those moments when homesickness was overwhelming, I often reflected on how I got to where I am. I was also forced to reach out for help to sometimes pull me out of a slump. In those moments I learned something huge. It’s ok to be vulnerable. People want to help. I deeply appreciate the support that so many have provided me over the past year.

I confirmed that I love to travel and that I also appreciate anchor points in my life. I spent time exploring 14 countries (Hungary, Turkey, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, US, Germany, England, Brazil, Sweden) and thoroughly enjoyed every single one. There is kindness and goodness, amazing food and scenery in every corner of the world. The important thing is to approach every day looking for the good in others. Then you will find it.

During these travels I made so many fun discoveries – such as, did you know São Paulo is famous for pizza and Italian food? This little surprise delighted me to no end. Then there was the day I walked nearly 25 kilometers from the top to bottom of Barcelona and I didn’t even think twice about the distance until my legs literally started to ache. The next day I discovered they have a wonderful metro system. Now I have no limits on how far I’ll try to walk and I have developed a much quicker walking pace, but I still can’t keep up with most of the Europeans.

I learned that all those rumors about Parisians disliking Americans are in fact not true as I passed a delightful evening having dinner at Lipp practically sharing a table with an Argentinian family while the waiter stopped in to chat every time he had a break.

As I strolled near the Black Sea in Turkey I helped an ice cream vendor to learn the rest of the phrase “I scream you scream we all scream for ice cream”. Then I sat for a bit with a local fellow, we enjoyed Turkish tea together while he asked me countless questions about America. Afterwards he wouldn’t let me pay for the tea, even as the entire region suffered one of the lowest tourism economies in decades.

This is how we build bridges between cultures, by getting out there in the world, meeting people and sitting down for a conversation: ask questions, talk and LISTEN. Listen with an open mind and stop all this comparing that we as humans naturally do. Accept that his truth is his and mine is mine and, curiously, we can still talk with each other.

I have had the chance to see history unfolding before me as the immigrant crisis has built in Europe. We are living through a very real struggle to adapt and welcome new cultures, while holding on to European values of equality and balance. The tension at times has been palpable, but I also see the generosity of spirit and compassion for a suffering world. I have mourned the loss of life in France and the affronts on women in Germany. The marks of terrorism now live on my soul. Quite honestly, I had a couple of near misses that shook me up a bit and in those moments I learned that I’m a lot tougher than I thought I was. I’m the type of person that looks a challenge in the eye and wants to tackle it. I have a strong drive to win. So, I decided to start training in Krav Maga and make my body stronger.

Of course, as with any time we are in the midst of a big change, sometimes I found myself grasping for happiness. So, I started to research the topic. I found, not surprisingly, that happiness is a choice. It’s a decision we can choose to make every single day. Some days it has to be taken more deliberately than others. But the bottom line is that on those days when I choose a positive outlook, I am more positive. Happy things come to me. I will always fight to have happy moments in my life.

Ironically, all of this rambling led me to a strange realization. I can be quite a chameleon. When I moved to Germany I brought a little clothing, but I figured I’d buy most clothes here so I could pass for a local, and it worked. Most of the time people think I’m a German, even if I’m traveling abroad in Europe. But, in fact, I am quite happy to tell people I meet that I am an American. I’m also fully aware that I move about in the world as an ambassador of America. A responsibility that I do not take lightly. I have an entirely new appreciation for our society and the freedoms that we enjoy. Which leads me to another thing I have learned. I believe that every American should travel abroad if only to appreciate what we have in our country.

This last year I reconfirmed that my natural state is one of movement. I’m the type of person who is always looking to the next horizon. This will never change in me. But I also have learned that I can be comfortable being still. I can enjoy the beauty of a moment, taking it in with all my senses until it is the right time to move again.

Since I’m in a phase where I’m on my own, it’s completely on me to take care of my health. I now realize that in the beginning I really didn’t know how to do this and I went from sickness to sickness for the first 6 or so months in Germany. A pretty common experience for expats. I finally learned some amazing sickness prevention strategies that actually seem to work – the doctor was right that tea and rest can ward off most things! I’ve also developed some better eating habits that are enhancing my quality of life and giving me better energy levels.

During those short days of winter, when I had a lot of time on my hands, I was surprised to find that I returned to the hobbies of my youth: drawing, writing and hiking. It felt like an old dimension of me was pulled from the closet, dusted off and brought into the light. I found myself wondering why I had strayed from these hobbies. Of course the answer lies where it always does – busy-ness, distraction, losing ourselves in the routines of daily life. Given a blank slate, I was finally freed up to break old habits and reclaim my free time.

This year I am committed to finding my authentic self and unashamedly claiming my identity with passion and vigor. I accept the challenge: For once, I will go all the goddam way with what matters. Maybe it’s time to pull that old Hemingway novel off the shelf. After all, the days are getting shorter.