White hairs, they’re a coming…

Lately, there’s a lot in my head as I’m closing in on my last days in Germany and nearing my 39th birthday. I feel mostly great about both things, but they are moments when it’s nice to pause and reflect. In the midst of all of this, today, when I looked in the mirror I noticed more white hairs. At this point, they’re coming inpretty  steadily, and although I’ve decided to let them stay, I think I’m not totally at peace with that decision. I’m wondering – why? Why do I find white hairs offensive?

Why is there an intuitive judgement that if my hair follicle has shifted from producing a brown or a blondish-colored hair to a white one, then it’s suddenly not good? Why am I focused on trying to appear to be an age that I am not? Why do I resist embracing my age in it’s fullest expression, including the inevitable white hair?

I have decided I won’t color my hair, at least for now, and embrace the way my body is aging, at least on my scalp! I stay active, and fit and make sure to retain muscle and cardio ability by training nearly every day for at least half an hour. This makes me feel clear-headed and strong and ready to tackle whatever comes.

But, the hair, the white hairs, again, why do they bother me? Why is it that on a man, white/grey hair I think is distinguished, but on a woman I think it looks old? 

Why do I invest even one ounce of energy looking in the mirror and judging the completely natural evolution of my scalp?

I continue to support myself in deciding to keep my hair natural and not alter the color to perpetuate the notion that I am youthful, when actually, I’m tipping on 40. While I do strive to have a youthful body, I want it to be supported by a wise mind. A mind that occasionally says, hey the right hamstring is tight, let’s take it easy running today. Or a mind that says, calm down, it’s not as bad as you think it is – keep some perspective here! 

So, I’ll be a bit optimistic here and say that maybe the white hairs are really coming in now because I’ve achieved some sort of wisdom in my 39’s and my hairs want to show this to the rest of the world. From that perspective, why the heck would I cover it up!?

Basically, I’m looking for some support and wisdoms from the tribe here…how do you accept an aging scalp and the white hairs that follow?

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3 countries in a day bike tour

One Saturday morning I woke up to find a blue sky over Düsseldorf. It made me so stunningly happy that I pulled out google maps and thought, geez, maybe I’ll bike to the Netherlands. It can’t be that far, it’s only an hour by car…? I mapped a route and found it was 50 miles one way to Roermond. I figured, “I can do this”, but then I accounted for roundtrip, calculated it would be 100 miles and at least 8 hours. Looked at the time – it was about 9 am. So, that day wasn’t the day. Before I abandoned, I tried to figure out how to take a train back – I could ride one way and train it back, was my logic – but I couldn’t figure that out easily. Maybe it was good I didn’t bike that day since I apparently wasn’t firing on all cylinders… I added the bike ride to the Netherlands to my “things to do before I move back to the US” list and went for a bike ride to Kaiserwerth.

Since a ride to the Netherlands was on my list and I needed some logistical and route-planning support, I mentioned it to my local biking friends. One of my friends gave me a bike route map for the state of Nord Rhein Westfalen. A Dutch friend confirmed that, yes, in fact, I could catch a train back. But when I mentioned it to my friend John, he shot back with an email, with co-conspirators copied in (basically I was trapped…) that said – why just go to the Netherlands, when you can also go to Belgium, and why only bike one way when we could bike the whole thing??? So, it began that 5 of us signed on for a “3 Countries in a Day” bike tour. Peer pressure, I mistakenly thought it would fade as I got older!

John asked his son to make us a route – he’s got a snazzy Garmin watch that he uses when he does rides like this, apparently he eats them for lunch – ah to be young again… So, he started with a route he’d already ridden, then used the power of user-generated data to add some tweaks that included routes generated via a heat map for where a lot of people bike. John emailed us the route and we began to discuss it.
The route was 160 kilometers long with a mostly flat elevation. The biggest challenge we considered to face was the wind in our face on the way out. Oh, and the fact that we needed to cover such a great distance between 7 am (sunrise) and 8:30 pm (sunset).

John sent us our marching orders: 

Peter – loaded the route on to his Teasi and would be our trail-blazer.

Jaap – responsible for getting us shirts to mark the absolutely mad event.

Peter Josef – now I don’t remember his task, but I think it was to finish!

Greg – a friend who offered to provide sag support during the day and meet us at lunch time and with a bottle of Sekt at the Belgian border.

Natalie – good weather.

John – captain and coordinator.

Another friend of mine also wanted to be in on the action, but she didn’t want to bike the route, so she offered to meet us for afternoon tea.

I spent the three weeks before our ride in America where I mountain biked with my husband and took long walks in the woods near our property. But, the upcoming long miles whispered to me most days and my fear of the big day slowly grew. Besides I couldn’t resist mentioning it to some friends, perhaps mostly so I wouldn’t back out.

5 days before the ride I checked the forecast: rain. Wait a minute, how was I going to deliver my part of the deal?! Due to the high amount of peer pressure and the fact that 3 of the fellow riders were either from Great Britain or had lived there for years, I knew that saying I didn’t want to bike in the rain wouldn’t fly. So, we forged ahead with our plans.

Then the unexpected happened: Peter Josef was commuting to work by bike on a rainy morning and slid out and crashed, cutting his leg and generally making him unable to join our tour, by bike. John declared that was the most creative and perhaps overly dramatic way to avoid the ride. But then Peter Josef surprised me by offering to drive our sag vehicle for the day. He would be along with a dry change of clothes, snacks, a bike rack in case we had an infixable mechanical issue and, most importantly(!) a bottle of Sekt for us to pop open after we crossed the border in to Belgium.

The day before our ride we met in the cafeteria at work for a planning meeting while we carb-loaded. We debated which direction to take the route. Considered the pros and cons of elevation grades from both directions and when we would be going in to a headwind. We generally avoided the topic of weather and ran back through our check-list of supplies. The decision was dictated by John that we would meet at the outdoor pools north of Düsseldorf at the ungodly hour of 6:50 am. He was the captain so we had no option but to follow orders! Then we lugged along our bags out to the sag vehicle and back to our offices to finish out the afternoon, I must admit, mightily distracted by what lay ahead.

The rain began that afternoon. On the drive home it was still going. I decided to run to the store to buy some spare inner tubes and texted the guys to see what they needed. All requested tubes and Jaap made a very wise request…could I grab him a lightweight rain coat? I jumped on my town bike and pedaled through the, now pouring, rain to Lucky Bikes. Located the tubes and agonized over the right jacket. After riding in the pouring rainy to Lucky Bike, the rain coat was a no brainer! It turned out to be the best purchase I made all year! My purchases complete, I biked back home through the pouring rain and really began to question the wisdom of being part of a Bike Gang dominated by British folks. I mean, most other people would just bail, postpone, seriously, demand a rain check. But, not these guys! My awesome Bike Gang had given no indication that there was any option but to proceed with our plan come hell or high water (literally)! I was afraid and I was also very proud! Proud to call these fellows my friends.

I laid out all my supplies, pumped up my tires, wiped and greased my chain, and checked the brakes. I unsuccessfully tried to find my lights, and improvised by taping an LED flashlight to my handlebar stem. Then, I tried to sleep. You can guess how that went. I think I woke up every hour that night.

The alarm woke me at 5:30 am. It was still raining. It hadn’t stopped all night, which meant the roads would be slick. This is when I realized the 4 of us had never biked together as a group. This can be dicey under normal circumstances, but on flooded roads with more rain coming it could be a problem. I was happy we had a sag vehicle. I set my worries aside and turned on the kettle to brew a cup of coffee. After a quick shower I threw on my UC Davis racing uniform (I needed all the luck I could get!). Then I sat down for a quick breakfast of yogurt and granola, twice my normal dose. I checked my phone and saw a message from my husband that read: “we all know you’re tough, don’t be afraid to take a 🚗 or 🚂 “. I felt relieved to have that pressure lifted but I knew there was no escape.

One more quick bathroom stop (I wouldn’t see a proper toilet again for a while) then I threw on my backpack loaded with the spare tubes, rain coat for Jaap, and a surprise gift for the Gang. Pulled the Velcro on my biking shoes snug and clipped in for the ride to the Apollo Theatre to meet John.

The roads were slick. I braked carefully in the corners, taking special care to cross the street car tracks at a perpendicular angle. This is when I was reminded again that we’d never biked together and would need to be extra careful to avoid colliding into each other on the rainy roads. Groups dynamics do need to be learned. 

As I pulled under the Rheinbrücke and stopped in front of the Apollo theatre to wait for John’s arrival, I took in my surroundings. I like to know what and who are around me, especially at an odd hour. There was a man speaking passionately into his smartphone which was mounted to a selfie stick. He stood next to a forklift prattling away. Hmmmm, curious, I kept my distance. Another fellow sat in a black hatchback car. He appeared to be waiting. Seeing that all was clear I relaxed and waited for John to arrive. A couple of early mornings walkers strolled by. The man in the car stepped out and walked up to the Apollo theatre. Donning a security guard uniform, I understood what he’d been waiting for – the start of his shift. I had no way to tell time since my phone was tucked inside a plastic ziploc bag in my jersey pocket under my rain coat. I waited a few more minutes and saw a bright headlight approaching on the bike path. Sure enough it was John – wearing a red jacket – nearly the same shade as the jacket I was wearing and which Jaap would be wearing as well. How ironic! 

We commiserated a bit about our bad luck with weather, then took off, up the on-ramp and across the bridge to meet the rest of the Bike Gang at the outdoor pools in north Düsseldorf. We chatted as we pedaled along in the semi-darkness. A rabbit on a suicide run dashed across our path. Fortunately, we passed him without incident.

As we pulled up to the starting point parking lot, Jaap was standing near his car preparing his bike. Peter Josef pulled up soon after. As it was still raining, I pulled out my gift for the gang which I’d purchased at Lucky Bike on a whim the evening before. Red Rain Caps for our helmets. I was suspicious about their ability to keep our heads dry for the day, but I figured it was worth a try, besides anyone who was willing to pedal with me for 170 kilometers in the rain deserved a consolation prize! The guys delightedly secured the rain caps to their helmets. Peter pulled up on his touring bike with the route programmed in to his Teasi. I declared I had a gift for him and he said (seriously, I can’t make this stuff up!) – “is it a rain cap?”. And it was! The gift was a big hit and it actually made us look like a bicycle club, so double the fun!


Not in a mood to stand around in the rain, we took off. John noticed his brakes were rubbing and sure enough he had a hop in his wheel. Right away he blamed his sons for getting his wheel out of true. He proceeded to open his calipers a bit and we were off. Later we speculated he may have acquired the wheel hop on the cobble stones leading in to the parking lot. No matter, after a few miles we all forgot about it.


As we departed, Peter noted it was astronomical sunrise. A term I’d never heard before – this is a smart bunch! We headed out of the parking lot, turned right and hopped up the bike path and were on our way. We quickly learned how to ride in a group – deciding on hand signals and call outs. We noted some differences between countries. In England the call out for a car coming is “oil” while in America it is “car up” or “car back”. 


15 kilometers into our route we turned off the road and onto a dedicated bike path that took us past yellowing corn and freshly harvest carrot fields. After a kilometer, Peter had our first flat. I do believe that all of us thought this might be a sign of what was to come. We had calculated that we needed to travel at an average pace of 20 km/hr in order to finish our ride in about 10 hours. Accounting for about 2 hours of breaks and only about 13 hours of day-light the schedule was tight. Our goal was to push steady for the first 40 km, then check our pacing and adjust accordingly. The flat slowed us down a bit. As Peter was busy changing his tube, John and Jaap stamped their feet trying to stay warm in the rain and wind. 

The tire repaired, we resumed our journey. Jaap and John raced ahead a bit to warm up and Peter and I chugged along behind. A few moments later we caught the racers and shouted in delight as the rain petered out. About 2 hours in to our ride, it seemed like it was time for a bio-break. We pulled in to the first cornfield on the left. This is when I questioned the wisdom of wearing bib shorts. Let’s just say that every stop wasn’t near as speedy as it could have been. But, boy those shorts were comfy!!!


We wolfed down a quick snack and then trucked along to the Netherlands. As we climbed a hill through Schwalmtal, I looked up at the church spire and noted it as now 10:15 am. About 40 minutes later, we passed through a bank of trees and then began rolling down a section of paving on a country road that looked oddly like a bike path. 

Jaap confirmed that we had indeed passed into his homeland. We were in the countryside near the town of Herkenbosch and it was time to take an official group photo. We pulled off the street and Jaap secured his iPhone on a fence post and used a fancy photo delay feature to snap our group photo. 


A few minutes after this I was roaring with laughter after I saw a caution sign that was labeled “wildrooster”. Seriously, it said “wildrooster”. I asked Jaap, the native, the meaning of this sign. It was a marking for a cattleguard. I was thrilled beyond delight at this funny moment lost in translation and couldn’t resist snapping a photo with the sign. I needed photographic evidence!


We entered into a beautiful park and didn’t pass any other bikers for miles and miles. I noticed some beautiful irridescent green beetles marching across the road. Throughout the day, I also saw more slugs than I could count… As we broke out of the forest I paused to snap a selfie near a beautiful restored windmill. 

This is when John began to comment on the frequency of photos and how it was going to ruin our average. I took note. It felt like time for a full coffee and pie refreshing stop so, we made a plan to meet Peter Josef in the town of Sint Odilienberg. We raced along past pastures and fields as we closed in on the town, the rain began to gently fall again and a warm, welcoming cafe was certainly in order. Peter Josef waited for us near the church, which was easy to locate as the spire loomed over the city. 

We parked our bikes outside Cafe Smeets and stripped off our rain coats to give them a chance to dry. A proper toilet felt like a luxury. The coffee was hot and the pies were sweet. We chased it all down with a shot of Genever.


Our next stop was Belgium! We set our sights on Kessenick and estimated the time for Peter Josef to meet us for our toast of Sekt. Rain misted on us as we continued pedaling through the countryside, pleasantly warm from the coffee and Genever in our bellies. After about 30 minutes, we saw a herd of goats in a side yard and then the border sign was in sight. 

We hopped off our bikes, leaned them up against fence posts and trees and waited for Peter Josef to meet us for the toast. Mercifully the rain had stopped and we enjoyed the sounds of the goats bleating and waved at the fellow passing bicyclists. At this moment it was actually sunny – I think we saw the sun three times that day – so everyone was in a great mood. Also, we were about halfway done.


Peter Josef pulled up and hopped out to snap some photos as Jaap popped the top on the Sekt. We didn’t have any glasses, so we passed it around for swigs. There was a bench just to the right of our gathering spot and it felt like this event needed a toast. I stepped up on the bench, carefully – I was wearing cleats – and raised a toast to each of my fellow cyclists. Finally, I toasted Peter Josef for bring us the Sekt, which as you can imagine could sound suspiciously like another word. This got the guys to talking on another subject, but fortunately not for too long, as we still had half our ride ahead and next stop was Roermond for lunch and extended sit-down break. Such a luxury!!!

There is a video of the speech but I’m too cheap to upgrade my WordPress account so you won’t be able to see it here. Send donations if you want video content in the future. I can direct you to a PayPal account. 😂


During our brief stop in Belgium I had (ahem) fertilized some corn plants. This required stepping into the rich dirt between the rows, which packed itself into my cleats. As we took off I discovered it was impossible to get clipped in to my speed play pedals. I stopped to clean them in a few puddles and gave a few good stamps and then I was truly ready to go.

We were now about 60 or 70 kilometers in and I was relieved to find that my body felt fit and strong. My head was still dry and my feet were good too as we’d pedaled through some dry stretches. My legs and saddle felt good. The only thing that began to ache was the fronts of my shoulders and my upper biceps. The ache started then and stayed with me the entire day – prompting me to occasionally swing my arms backward in a large circle to stretch out the muscles.

About 20 minutes later we began to enter a more built-up area and it was clear to all we were approaching Roermond – cold beer and warm food and a seat off the bike! And another real toilet! We rolled into the city center which was quite packed with people as it was now beautifully sunny overhead. A quick text message helped us locate Peter Josef who also had two guests with him – his girlfriend Sabrina and our co-worker Greg. We picked a spot in the sun, leaned our bikes up against the wall and sat down. Greg and Sabrina were amazed at what we’d managed so far and what we still had ahead. I would say for us, we were so in the moment that we couldn’t really think of it. We hadn’t gotten to the point where we were just pedaling along kilometer by kilometer, dreading the next one, that would come later (no, seriously, it actually never felt like that for me). 


Small pints were delivered and Jaap ordered an assortment of sandwiches for us to share. Real food! We toasted to what we’d accomplished so far and soaked in the sun.

Time was running and after eating quickly we jumped back on our bikes. It was now 3:30 and we had about 4 hours of daylight and about 65 kilometers still to go. Our schedule would allow for one more break as long as we stayed on pace, another friend was planning to meet us for a mid afternoon tea break, which sounded lovely!


As we rolled out of Roermond, the sky darkened and rain began to fall again, slowly. I annoyed the guys by stopping to throw on my rain pants, which turned out to be an excellent decision. A few moments later, the sky literally opened up on us and buckets of rain began to fall. I did the only thing I could do, which was to laugh and continue carefully pedaling along, through puddles that were quickly becoming small ponds. We kept a bit more distance between each of us to account for slower braking and avoid the rooster tail in the face effect, although the water was coming from every direction and in such volume as I’d only ever biked in once in Louisiana. Which, incidentally, was a night when I met a fascinating woman who was also biking in a torrential downpour.

I thought to myself, geez Europe, I get it that you’re sad I’m leaving, but you don’t have to cry so much, I’ll be back again just 12 days after I leave!

The rain continued for about an hour and our speed dropped considerably. We were barely averaging 15 km/hr and it became clear we couldn’t afford the luxury of an afternoon break. As we pedaled along a nice stretch of bike path I paused under a tree (which didn’t help much to break the rain, as it was still coming down strong) to call my friend and explain we couldn’t meet for afternoon tea. I was sad, but it’s what we had to do, besides, although we were on route, we didn’t actually know where we were which we needed to know in order to meet her. Then this made my friend worried as she thought we were lost. I reassured her we were on course. 

We shoved off again and this is when we began the treacherous, bumpy section of the route. The first bump took me by surprise and sent a shock through my hands, which made me yelp out loud. After that I kept my grip a bit loser. A few kilometers of bumps and then I was relieved to be back on smooth roads again.

Now we were on the home stretch. John noted that we appeared to be tracking with the progression of the rain storm. How lovely! Fortunately, it eventually stopped and we paused for two more breaks – once to relieve ourselves and a second time for a snack as we consulted the map to ensure we were still on course. By 6:30, weariness had begun to settle in and we began to double-check the turns to ensure we were on course. 


Around 7:30 we began to enter familiar territory, and picked up our pace a bit as the finish line, and the promise of a warm shower (!), approached. At this point, I’d describe our mood as tired but pretty ecstatic! I learned that this was a greater distance than either Jaap or Peter had ever pedaled! Quite remarkable to just jump out and do it one day and to do it so well! John and I had both gone the distance before. Myself, back in Davis as a participant in the Foxy fall century, maybe in 2001, so it had been some time.

As we pedaled along Jaap noted that a bird had sh*t on my helmet cover. We both decided this was good luck!


Sunset began to light up the sky with brilliant colors and we stopped to snap one more photo. 

Then we made a steady push to home. As we pedaled up on to the banks of the Rhein to say farewell to Peter, we were filled with pride and joy. A quick round of hugs and thanks for the fantastic route guiding and Peter headed north while we raced south. 

And race we did, how we still had anything left in our legs is a mystery to me. Eventually, I began to fall off and yelled “gap” to which the fellows promptly responded and gave me a chance to catch them. 

The final stretch was a treacherous cobblestone path which Jaap raced over while John and I opted for a smooth surface just to the right. As we pulled into the parking lot, Peter Josef was there smiling and snapping photos of the red hat gang completing the journey. We gave a leap of joy and then got the heck off of our bikes to enjoy a ride in a cage (the biker term for car) back to town for a warm shower and dinner.


What a send off! A day I’ll never forget. The next morning I woke up to find a blue bird sky and it didn’t rain a lick. But I’ve got to say I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I mean, I’ve had loads of bluebird day bike rides and most are forgotten, but riding through a torrential rain storm, just because we could, well that I’ll never forget!

Musings from John (aka The Captain):

“6 am found me stood on the balcony, coffee in hand looking at the dark relentless rain. A twinge of guilt cut across my soul for the phrase “It’s only rain “ and I toast to whatever cycling gods are awake at this hour to keep us safe and throw the dregs of coffee over the balcony.

Such an arduous adventure reveals the true character of those involved and what a positive group of people , never a cross word, never really a grumble (except me when I fell off my bike into a puddle , predictably) and Peter Josef who couldn’t cycle supported us heroically. I recall stopping at some traffic lights in the pouring rain early in the day. The van driver next to us lowered the window ,” where are you going in this weather ?” he asked ? “ Belgium” came the reply to his astonishment , then, “and back” shouted Jaap which made him laugh out loud. Belgium as has been said by many was anticlimactic except for the quote of the day from our esteemed pathfinder . “ you come all this way and the route ends up a goat “ no idea what he was talking about. Natalie’s impromptu speech at this point has been captured for all eternity in a short video, needless to say it is nonsense but heartfelt nonsense.

Roemond with beer, food and friends was great but I worried that it would be difficult to get going again, it was in the rain that was like cycling along a stream while someone trained a hosepipe full on in your face. Then the weather improved, distance left became conceivable, and the evening light was saying “ well done , you can have it easy from this point” and it was . We had used the light of the whole day plus a bit more , we had challenged the elements and survived, we had talked philosophy and punctures and more importantly we had had a good laugh. 

I enjoyed my beers that night.”

And Peter (aka the pathfinder):

“I too was apprehensive about riding over 100 miles for the first time in my life; in the rain too. As I left home I wished for two things: a helmet cover and shoe covers. By some magical serendipity Natalie fulfilled the first wish, and the water drained out of the holes in my shoes just fine. I’m a Brit. We do rain.

Sorry about the puncture: rear wheel of course. I’d fitted brand new outer tyres because I know that punctures are more likely on old tyres in the rain. It turned out to be a faulty inner tube. Thanks to the team for the patience and Jaap for figuring out how to get the rotor between the brake pads.

As we left the Belgian border the effect of the Sekt started to wear off and the ride home seemed impossible. The tailwind and lunch in Roermond motivated me to hang on in there with the gang. In the back of my mind was the thought that I could catch a train home if the legs seized up. But they didn’t. Also, I was the only one who could navigate. We rode on steadily, stopping more often to rest and snack. As the rain cleared we picked up speed and soon the Düsseldorf Rheinturm was in sight. Home! We parted on the Rhein dyke near Meerbusch and I cycled northwards along the river in the dusk. My incredulous and slightly anxious wife was there to welcome me home. The soak in a hot bath was most welcome. I was even able to move and sit down the following day. We made it together. 

How far away is France?

Here’s the day by the numbers: 

  • 170 kilometers
  • 3 countries 
  • 12.5 hours 
  • 1 flat (puncture depending on your country of origin)
  • One funny joke about a goat
  • Nearly 1 bottle of Sekt, 4 shots of Genever and 3 beers
  • About 20 minutes of sunshine
  • Approximately a solid foot of rain (perhaps a slight exaggeration, but maybe not)
  • 4 proud bicyclists and the best sag crew a gal could wish for!

Horse Tales

Horse Tales


Last night I went on a horse ride with my neighbor in North Carolina. It brought back a lot of memories! Although I’ve yet to own one myself, I’ve been connected to horses my whole life. 

My relationship with horses began when I was a toddler riding my Uncle Bud’s horse Old Red. Back then, he lived on a beautiful ranchette in Calaveras County, California – a stones throw from Angels Camp, land of the Frog Jump competition made famous by the writing of Mark Train. I have few actual memories of my visits to the farm, but the ones I have are prompted from semi-faded pictures of me and my little sister holding baby chicks or riding in the saddle of a big brown horse with my aunt Sidney holding us in place.

When I hit 13, I adopted western style clothing and decorated the back of my bedroom door with cutouts of horse pictures from magazines. I began to make a habit of riding my uncles’ horse and learning to neck-rein. I also rode the horses of a wonderful lady who was, effectively, my second mother. This is around the time when I really learned the value of work. My second mother gave me the privilege of riding her horse in exchange for hours soaping saddles and mucking stalls. I loved the work and the time I earned in the saddle in her riding arena.

When I was 14, I’d saved up some cash that I earned through a combination of jobs, but mostly from my chicken and turkey flock. The chickens and turkeys were my 4-H project and I hit it big when I had the grand champion hen turkey and sold her at auction for 20 dollars a pound. She was a 20 pound hen – you do the math! All that dough went straight in to my bank account!

By 16, I had about $2,000 saved up and dad gave me the option to spend it on a horse or 1963 Dodge 330 that I wanted to build up for drag racing (slicks, cage, 5-point harness – the whole shebang). 

I think that even at 16 I knew that life would soon be taking me away from my home and to college, where it would be really tough to stable a horse. So, the car won. Sadly, I never got it running, although I had a heck of a fun time replacing the floor and installing a roll cage with the mig welder my dad purchased for the project. I bought some slicks and skinny front tires and they sat on the shelf, for years, collecting dust. Until, the inevitable Day came when dad called to say I needed to sell the car. Which I did, and traded the cash straight up for a bicycle that I raced in college. I do have a quintessential “need for speed”.

In the intervening years my love for horses has never dwindled. In Texas, our neighbors had horses and I admired them from afar. In Baton Rouge, my connection with horses diminished, but I regained my connection with western style clothing and donned a cowboy hat to project me from the sun as I walked rice fields.

When we moved to North Carolina we looked at a lot of homes and I do believe that one of the things that attracted us to our neighborhood is the horses. Half of our neighbors have horses that leisurely roam in pastures bordering the main road. We love to start our day walking our dog along the road and saying a quiet hello to the gentle giants. 

Now is still not the right time for me to bring a horse into my life, I’ll stick to chickens and dogs and cats, but someday. Someday, I do believe a Buckskin will live in my pasture. I might be old and gray, but hopefully I could still yank myself up into the saddle. 

Until that time, I’m grateful I have found another horsey person who’s willing to let me ride. As we walked the horses to prepare for our ride I was reminded of why I love them so. Horses are strong and kind, big creatures. Riding astride one gives me an alert but calm feeling that is very difficult to replace. Maybe my Harley comes close… 

Now I’m en route to Germany for my last 3 weeks as an expat. Soon, I’ll be back in the saddle, soaking up the sunset. Until then, thanks again for loaning me your faithful steed – you know who you are! 😉

Project LIFE: road rules 

Project LIFE: road rules 

This year I had a crazy stint of traveling which took me to 10 countries in 10 weeks! As I described in my blog post, I hadn’t quite put together in my head the magnitude of my travel schedule but I knew I’d be on the road a while and one of the first things I considered before I began my traveling was how I would maintain my new weight on the road. When I look back, I basically instituted a few rules which I plan to continue to use in the future. My life  and work often has me traveling about 30 to 50% of the time so it’s not an option to just take a break from working out or lax too much on my eating when I travel. I could, but I’d lose my gains for sure! So, here are my road rules:

Road Rule #1. Pack workout clothes and good tennis shoes.

When I pack up for a trip I always put a pair of tennis shoes – each one wrapped individually in a plastic grocery bag – at the bottom of my bag (or I wear them on my feet depending on how and where I’m traveling). I check the forecast and then pack either running shorts, tights and tank tops or long-sleeve shirts. If the weather is uncertain I’ll bring a sock hat or ear warmers and running gloves. I also bring a lightweight rain jacket which can be used for workout or just for a cool evening out. This way I’m ready for any weather conditions. 

Road Rule #2. Pack a way to carry your ID.

Now that I live in Europe I have this über cool Marmut fanny pack. And I totally rock that fanny pack when I travel. It’s a great place to throw my phone, ID and some cash when I’m running in a new location. I also have a road ID stuff stash that attaches to my tennis shoes which is just large enough to hold my ID, some cash and a hotel room key.

Road Rule #3. Pack a swimming suit. 

You never know when you’ll find a pool for swimming laps or a beach! Trust me, you will only regret it is you don’t pack the suit!

So, as you can see the first 3 rules ensure that its easy for me to burn calories when I travel. I find that the toughest thing about traveling is that it can be difficult to influence my food options. It’s also a wonderful thing – you have the chance to try new foods! The flip side of this is it can be hard to estimate calories and ensure you’re consuming within your target range. By working out 30 to 60 minutes a day I get an endorphin rush, often get to see some great scenery (if it’s a good place for running outside) and give myself a cushion of 300 to 500 calories each day. I have a habit of getting up early to workout because otherwise it’s difficult on the road due to evening obligations that often end late at night. If I start the day with a workout I’m more relaxed and I can have a glass of wine without worrying about it going to my waistline.

Road Rule #4. The rule of 3.

When you eat there’s a simple trick to apply to 80% of meals to avoid going way over on calories. This is particularly important for dinners. Think of your meal in sections: appetizer, main course, desert. You should only eat one of those, maybe two at the most. I’ve read that bread can also be considered another course, and I actually believe this is true especially if there’s a bread basket and butter. Alcohol is an entire additional category, especially if it’s a long meal. Remember that a glass of beer or wine can be 200+ calories and that’s basically the same as your average bread roll with butter. So, I try to apply the rule of three to say I’ll have no more than 3 of these elements I listed above. 

Here’s a couple of examples:
Bread, main course (lean meat dish or maybe fish if I can get it, or a good salad with protein), desert.

Or, if I want to have that combo with wine or a beer I don’t eat desert.

Another option is to skip the bread completely. Sometimes this is perfectly rewarding for me, it depends on if the bread looks awesome! Then I’ll go for it! Life is short!

Road Rule #5: eat a smart breakfast. 

Hotels often offer some super high calorie breakfast options which you’d rarely consider on a weekday at home – Belgian waffles with cream anyone? Or maybe a few slabs of bacon to go with the sausage and eggs. So, my strategy for breakfast is to try to eat as close as possible to my home routine. For me this is yogurt with granola (perhaps honey as a sweetener – a great way to protect against local allergens) and a piece of fruit. It satisfies and provides good balance. As a bonus, I recently read that eating local yogurt can help you adjust your gut flora to the local foods and leads to less illness when traveling. I don’t know if it works, but it makes sense, so I stick with it.

Road Rule #6: monitor by packing a pair of skinny jeans or using a scale in the gym.

Just to make sure I’m not getting off track, I like to being at least one piece of clothing that is a bit snug on the waist so I can see if it starts to get uncomfortable. Another option is to weigh myself the first day of a trip on a scale in the hotel and then check it every once in a while to see if I’ve shifted. It’s easy to start to creep up on the road and I’d say it’s pretty normal, but for me it’s a cost to benefit thing. If the food is amazing, then I’ll let it happen. But if it’s stress eating or just too many late night big meals I like to exert a little self control.

Road Rule #7: break your habit of clearing your plate

This is a really, really tough one for me. I hate to waste food, but I’ve also discovered that sometimes portions are just way too big. So, if I order a cut of meat that is just more than I can eat, then I’ve finally given myself permission to not eat all of it. But I also try really hard to order smart, healthy, whole foods: lean meats, veggies, nutrition dense carbs. This works pretty well for me and I can clear my whole plate with no hesitation.

I do believe that’s quite enough rules. These tricks keep me sane on the road and help me maintain my goals. Hope they’re helpful for you. 

What are your trick?

My Practice 

My Practice 

Many things have changed in my life – school, work, state, country, but one thing has remained constant – my yoga practice. I did not realize just how long I’ve been practicing until a teacher asked in a class recently. I did some quick math and realized I have been practicing yoga for more than 20 years!

What makes me keep going back? 

Why is a studio one of the first things I seek out when I move to a new place? 

Tonight as I walked home from the studio in Düsseldorf, I pondered  these questions. 

My interest in yoga began when I was a teenager. I don’t recall if I was first introduced through a home video course or at the racquetball club we belonged to when I was a kid. I do know that it was one thing that made me feel graceful and confident and strong.

When I went to college I kept up my practice at a 24 hour fitness studio that I would pedal to after class on my town bike. I began to learn more about body movement and used yoga as a way to stretch out muscles strained from bicycle racing.

During my postdoc we lived in the Texas hill country and I’m not certain that I practiced but we did take up country dancing. Which is kind of the same thing…? Maybe??? This two years was a blur of working during the day and teaching at night. While I was a charter member of the local YMCA, I’m sure I had stretches where I didn’t train as much as I’d prefer. I spent most of my time either driving to work or working.

Louisiana is where I again returned to my practice, training at the local YMCA, but I soon found the training in a open space near the noisy weight racks to be a little less than zen. This is when I discovered the peacefulness of a true yoga studio. I began to practice at yoga bliss with some skilled instructors. At this time I was really in to running, I completed a half marathon and trained for a full. I also returned again to bike racing. Yoga became an essential part of my recovery program.

In North Carolina, I became friends with a German expat and learned she trained in hot yoga, so one day I went to the studio and found the perfect combination – Louisiana climate + yoga! Most people won’t believe it, but I actually missed the hot, humid climate of Louisiana when I moved to North Carolina. The studio became my oasis a few nights a week. I enjoyed the physical challenge and deep stretching of hot yoga practice.

When I moved to Germany I wasn’t sure how I’d practice since I was only beginning to learn German. This is when I made a spectacular discovery. I stumbled upon the magic of learning a language through movement. I found a studio that had two English speaking instructors. First I only went to their classes. Then, one day, I wanted to go to class, but it would be taught in German, and I figured “I might be learning German, but I can speak yoga, so maybe I can do this”. I went up to the instructor, explained I was learning German and asked her to correct me if a pose was wrong. As we flowed through the poses I was amazed at how much German I could understand, but also how my body simple knew what to do. Most poses follow a sequence and after decades of practice my body knew what to expect.

Now we come full circle: what keeps me coming back? I believe it is a craving for balance and understanding my body and how I move. Also, funny enough, I don’t usually make friends at yoga, although over time I’ll certainly begin to recognize a friendly face, but simple knowing I’m with like-minded people is a comforting experience. I believe this spirit of belonging is one thing that keeps me coming back. Oh and that familiar tightness is my left hamstring that spring up if I run too hard… or the tightness is my shoulders after a long day on the computer. So, again it’s a mind and body craving.

Why is a studio one of the first things I seek out when I move? Perhaps this is my attempt to find familiarity and peace, in the midst of changing environments and circles of people. I associate a yoga studio with the chance to escape from everything for 60 to 90 minutes. No phones, no speaking, no thinking about anything except my breathe and movement. The studio becomes my home. The one place I can go and know that in the midst of the chaos of my life this one place will always be the same. For this next 90 minutes, I will know what happens next and if I happen to get lost a caring and compassionate guide will come along and help me make small adjustments to find my balance. 

I do believe that this is why I continue my practice. I might pull anchor and sail across a new sea but when I land and drop anchor again, it will be there waiting for me. Much like a sailor seeking out a seaside inn to rest and find nourishment, so my practice provides nourishment for my soul on this journey through life. I find it again every stop along the way. The simple beauty of my practice is that although I, and my studio and my teacher may change, the practice stays the same. Downward facing dog is the same in California and Louisiana and Germany. The only thing that changes is me and my increasing gratitude for my practice and the people who teach me how to understand my body, nurture my soul and be kind to my spirit.

Namaste

Ilhabela

Ilhabela

High pitched chirps punctured by deep-timbered coos tickle my eardrums. Whispering palm fronds dance atop the distant sound of engines racing while sticky tires whine across pavement.

A cool breeze gently runs across the tip of my nose as I lounge in the hammock perched high on a hill-side overlooking the bay.

My eyes gently settle upon the sun lighting up the mainland while the boat harbor rests in the shadow of the mountain. As the sun creeps higher, boat hulls rock in the wake flashing in the sunlight as they rock. A pair of birds flies by, cawing as they madly flutter their wings to keep their large bodies afloat.

These were my experiences during my first morning on the Brazilian island of Ilhabela.  I sat there pondering the series of events that had led me to this moment…

Last fall I met a Brazilian colleague while she worked on a short term assignment in our team in Germany. We quickly discovered that we had a lot in common. She also is a curious traveler and we enjoyed some coffees while chatting about travel and life. After a few months, it was time for she and her husband to leave their lovely apartment in Köln to head back to São Paulo. On one of the last evenings, they hosted a farewell dinner and her husband cooked some amazing Brazilian food and a small group of us enjoyed chatting and talking about life in Germany and our childhoods. 

One time when we were chatting over a coffee she told me about a house that she and her husband own on an island near São Paulo called Ilhabela. She said that I was welcome to visit for the weekend, and I thought to myself “sounds lovely but I don’t know when it will ever happen…”. As it happened, I wound up in Brazil for an extended business trip and my friend offered to host me. There it was, it was actually happening! I was heading to Ilhabela.

On the appointed Friday, we hopped into her car for the long drive across São Paulo from the office to her apartment in a neighborhood called Pãolista. The distance is about 20 kilometers and traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as it can be, but it still took about 40 minutes and it was amazing to see the size of this city! It is huge! About 12 million people live in São Paulo and my friend told me they have a new mayor who is really working to revive the city and renovate the downtown. I saw more of the city as we sat in Friday night traffic at the beginning of our 4 hour drive to the beach.

Just in case you’ve never sat in traffic in a Brazilian city, I will explain it to you. I must say, it’s an interesting experience! Motorcycles and scooters zip between the lanes of stopped cars at fast speeds, sometimes stopping to push in a car mirror so they can squeeze through. Along the concrete median between lanes you’ll find painted piggy banks perched up for sale. A few men will be roaming between the cars holding high a stack of white towels for cleaning the house – advertising a negotiable price of 10 for 10 reals. Another man strolls by holding aloft a wooden pole with a variety of car chargers and selfie sticks made in china. Just in case you’re hungry or thirsty, that’s no trouble, you’ll also find men carrying snacks of all types and also people stationed with coolers of water and juice and even beer! So, you can do your shopping on the run.


As we neared the famous São Paulo city train station we saw an interesting sight indeed – a man dressed up in a Brazilian/American costume waving the flags of both countries! My friend’s husband Franz told me they’d arranged this specially for me! 🙂 


I enjoyed admiring the architecture of the city.

After about an hour we left the city and entered the countryside. As we passed through the favelas I was delighted to see boys flying kites and participating in a famous Brazilian tradition of kite fights! This is dangerous sport where the goal is to cut down your competitor’s kite using razor sharp wires. I had heard about it on a video during the Olympic Games in Rio. It was exciting to see the cultural phenomenon in person!


As the sun began to set we decided it was time for a break and pulled into a rest stop that was a combo petting farm and country restaurant. Such a lovely place! My friend introduced me to a local delicacy – a cake made from creamed corn. Perfect snack with a strong coffee! We still had a couple of hours to go in our drive. On the way in I stopped to say hi to a pony and a brand new baby goat and on the way out couldn’t resist snapping photos of a turkey roosting near an ostrich. 


We continued our journey – chatting nonstop. Franz commented that he was used to the nonstop conversations! Our next stop was to board the ferry that would take us from the mainland to our island destination. There was a long line and fortunately my friends had a fast pass so we drove right onto the boat. 

We made a quick stop for beverages and then headed to the house. A walk up a steep stairway led us to our paradise! The house stunned me – dark wood, walls of windows, cool white exterior decorated throughout with a palette of blue and white – this was an oasis! We collapsed after making a plan to not have a plan for the morning. Not a bad way to end the week!


Saturday morning, I woke with the sun, sleepily searched around for all the supplies to make coffee and hit start on the Cuisinart. Then I made my way out to the deck to watch the show. It did not disappoint. Go back to the first paragraphs to learn my auditory and visual experience. As I lounged in a perfectly placed hammock – here is what I saw:


After a few hours Franz emerged and proposed that we take off on a bicycle tour of the island. I was game. I love how my sporty reputation precedes me and everywhere I go I can find someone willing to take me on an adventure! First Franz whipped up my favorite of all favorites Brazilian breakfast – tapioca pancakes!


We rolled the bikes down the steps and took off. Our first stop was at the Igreja Nossa Senhora Da Ajuda church in Vila which was beautifully decorated for a festival season.

Then we stopped to check out some traditional boats beached on the shore.

We continued north and paused to take in some beautiful views and I couldn’t resist the urge to try the Archers pose as I precariously balanced on the edge.

As we headed back south we paused for a refreshing agua de coco. I absolutely love this drink!


Our adventure resumed and we stumbled upon some people buying fresh fish straight from a boat. Wow, they looked delicious!


We continued along a beautiful bike path – I was really pleased with the pedestrian infrastructure – and saw a tractor rig pulling a boat out of the water. It was basically a high-boy like you’ll see in tall crops such a sugarcane which is a huge crop in Brazil. We paused for a while to watch a complex operational to pull a big pleasure boat out of the water.


Our journey continued and I was pleasantly surprised to meet another bicycle girl.


Our last stop was at a point near a smaller island where the beach was prepared for a crowd of people to enjoy the beautiful day. 


By this point I was warm – I don’t know what I was thinking wearing a sweater and yoga pants! So we booked it home to get ready for the beach.

Mariana was rested and ready to go and I soon realized that my bikini, while being purchased in Brazil, was not Brazilian… if you know what I mean… so, I asked Mariana if she would help me find a proper Brazilian bikini. She was definitely ready for the challenge, so off we went to town!

By the second store we had found the perfect suit and a beach outfit to match. Mariana declared that I looked very Brazilian – and I could pass for someone from Rio! Oh boy, I better not let this go to my head! We made one last stop to buy a pair of Havianna flip flops and I customized them with a coconut charm.


The sun was high, temperatures were climbing accordingly, and I was properly outfitted, it was time to get to the beach! Along the way we got a bit hungry and thirsty and stopped at a tiny bar for a snack. 

When we walked up to the beach I met Franz’s family. And they asked if I’d like to try wake boarding behind a jet ski. Why not, I thought, I’ve done this before on a boat in a lake… actually I just said “Yes” and then I thought, geez I hope I can get up. Let’s just fast forward and say it was awesome! Very different then being on a lake – the wakes coming from many directions.  


I made a few passes then headed in to get some rays and refresh myself with a bier while I chatted with the family. We chatted until sunset and then headed home to clean up before reuniting for dinner.


The family gathered for a meal of fresh fish and it was fabulous! We exchanged about American and Brazilian culture and the nephews shyly practiced their English with me while I struggled to recall the Portuguese I had learned about 8 years ago. 

As we enjoyed our meal one of the relatives asked if I was disappointed they were not fluent in English which made me really sad. Why does the entire world feel a need to become American? I feel very conflicted about this emotion, but I believe there are many ways to live and communicate in many languages and many countries. I just hope that Americans reading this understand the significant influence we hold in the world. 

Before we headed home, we gathered for a fun photo with the nephews and I felt honored that the family took me in as one of their own.


The next morning we were sleepy! But when Franz suggested that we run to the beach I couldn’t resist the chance to start the day with another tour by foot. All I can say is it was one hilly route and a totally different exerience than going by bike. Soon after we arrived the family joined and we relaxed in the early afternoon sun.


I decided if would be fun to rent a stand-up paddle board to try it out. It is a lot harder than it looks! At first I stood up and fell off a few times, I’m sure providing loads of entertainment to everyone on shore. Then, one of the nephews came out to help, but that was a little tough because I couldn’t understand his instruction since i t was alles Portuguese! Awe, but we still had fun! I went back in to shore to rest and this is when Franz’s mother explained that I should approach it like dancing. So, I went back out for one more run and it worked! It really felt like a lesson in life: roll with waves, accept the changes and find your balance. Suddenly I was paddle boarding!

Sadly, it was soon time to head out for a delicious lunch before we packed up and headed home to the city. We enjoyed one final sunset before our departure.

It was such an amazing weekend and all I can say is Muitos Obrigada to Mariana and Franz and the family that accepted me like their own. I can’t wait to return with my husband for a week exploring this paradise!

Fare thee well

Fare thee well

Anyone who has been an expat knows it is a time of farewells. 

As you prepare to leave, you say farewell to your current life. Some say farewell more permanently by selling their home and many possessions. Others, like myself, move on temporarily with the plan to move back after a predetermined period of time.

You say farewell to your friends and family with promises to catch up during home visits.

Unknowingly, for some, you also say farewell to the person you were before the move. If you're lucky, or perhaps determined(?), the little bits of yourself that are unproductive or negative get stripped away and you remain with the core of yourself that you love and cherish.

You say farewell to your familiar shopping habits and favorite brands of food and clothing and cosmetics (ok, if depends, we live in a global corporate world and many brands can be found everywhere it seems).

You say farewell to your workout routine and eating habits.

You say farewell to being able to easily communicate thoughts and emotions and needs to nearly everyone you might meet in the street or in a shop or near the coffee pot at the office.

You say farewell to being able to call up your folks, basically whenever you want to, because suddenly you're faced with a 9 hour time-zone change.

If you move away from your loved ones you might be saying farewell to simple things you cherish more than you realized, like coffee and a walk with the dog every morning.

Saying farewell is painful. We've all seen that person at the airport standing there with tears rolling down their face watching a loved one roll through the security cue. Some of us have been that loved one standing in the line also crying to the point that a poor security guy hands you (me – wait did I just admit that…) a pack of tissues to wipe your face and blow your nose.

After you say farewell it's normal to expect a bit of a grieving time (but you'll be surprised by the grief because you're an expat and it's all supposed to be exciting and fun!) and during this time it's difficult to be open to new experiences or see the positives appearing before you. But, eventually, after the grief lifts and you've made yourself available for all the promise of your new life an amazing thing begins to happen.

You find yourself saying hello (Hallo, in my case) to the butcher behind the meat counter in your local Turkish grocery that you nervously walked in to hoping your first shopping encounter won't be a total disaster. Especially considering your limited command of the German language. And you discover that not only does he speak perfect English, but he deeply loves America!

You discover a local McFit gym that is just a 10 minute walk from your new flat and is open 24 hours a day for the cheap price is $19.99 a month! Then, you find an amazing yoga studio and hundreds of miles of bike paths and coworkers who also commute to the office by bike and happily bring you along the learn the route. Then through a series of events, you might even discover an entire new sport and throw yourself into it with so much passion that you proceed through level tests and have created an entire new sports hobby and network of friends that you never could have imagined.

You begin to make new friends – fellow expats from around the world. When you lock yourself out of your apartment you meet your neighbors, who are kind and generous and offer you a cup of tea and cookie as you wait for the locksmith to come and open your door. Then later over a glass of wine you exchange lively conversations learning about your respective country customs and politics. You get to know your new co-workers and neighborhood shop-keepers and your sports training coach.

And after a year or so, you are on a first name basis with many restaurant owners and waiters in your neighborhood and suddenly people are smiling at you with recognition on the street and you feel that you belong, maybe even more than you did back home.

Then, suddenly, it's time to go. And if feels strange, very strange, to look back and realize that somewhere along the way you have come to belong in this new place. And you need to remind yourself (convince yourself truly, because that old fearful feeling can begin to raise its head) that the new you will also belong in the old place.

The old familiar feeling of grief begins again (hey, at least it has lost the element of surprise!), but this time you're grieving your new life, that in the beginning was fun, then so difficult that you wanted to run away home, but in some way by fighting through and staying, now has become a field of victory. One that you will leave victorious and with tears in your eyes for the people you, again, leave behind.

As I sit here in my apartment with about 60 days to go, the guest room is prepared for my expat friend / traveling partner (and occasional therapist – hey, one of the most valuable things I learned out of all of this is that it's ok to ask for help from friends) and her husband will stay in my apartment for her last week in Germany. It will be a bittersweet time for us. We've been through this chapter together and it has created a bond that will never be broken, but I know that things will change for a bit as we morph back in to our previous lives. New patterns will be established and then we'll find time for a ladies shopping trip, or a coffee or maybe a BBQ with our families. For now, we will enjoy the moments in our last week in Germany before we both move on.

A new chapter in an old place. This will be a novel experience for me. In the past, every time that I've moved on it has been to a new place and never backwards. But I don't feel like I'm moving backwards this time. (Backwards – for some reason it sounds unproductive.) This time, I'm moving forward with a renewed understanding of myself and gratitude for the people in my life who tolerated my long absences and welcome me home with open arms when I return. I have learned (with occasional setbacks) to live the adage "don't look back, you're not going that way". I've decided that the only reason to look back is to harvest the learnings and then use them to improve your life as you move forward.

So, if you're considering an expat, be prepared for the farewells which will become a constant in your life. Don't forget to look out for the Hallos, which will sometimes (often) be hiding in the most unlikely of places and will shape you into a beautiful new creature if you're willing to respond to them with a warm smile and an open heart.