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.

The Striding Edge

The Striding Edge

The guidebook warned – “not for people who suffer vertigo”. I’ll say!

Our first hike in the Lakes District was a trek to the peak of Helvellyn. A beauty of a mountain, distinguished as being the favorite hike of William Woodsworth, the romantic poet. Two days before our hike we sat at Adam’s sun room table, fresh pints of English ale within arms reach, carefully studying trail maps. We had 2 full days to explore the wonders of the Lakes and Adam recommended that we make two hikes: Helvellyn and Great Gables. The hikes were expected to take between 4 and 6 hours each. We checked the forecast and the weather promised to be beautiful during our visit. It’s not advised to hike during inclement weather, which I completely understood after we were on the trail!

On the day of our ascent, we started our hike around 9 am, half expecting to get in another hike in the afternoon, on the advisement of Adam who indicated we could cover the trail in a few hours…. 7 hours later, as we hobbled down giant stone steps, our only destination was a shop to acquire a few hard-earned cold British beers and meat pies. But I’m getting ahead of myself, here’s the rest of the story.

We parked in the lovely village of Penrith and asked a local where we could locate the trail head. This is much easier, by the way, in England, where everyone speaks (some version of) English. A brief instruction, “walk up that road, look for the sign” and we were on our way.

Our first encounter was with a friendly couple who spend all their vacations hiking in the Lakes and sleeping in their caravan – the British term for a camper. Genuinely friendly and upbeat people, we had a nice chat as we began our hike and they reconfirmed our path to the peak. They reassured us that we could certainly make it up the striding edge. As we walked, the terrain almost immediately was nearly completely vertical, or at least that’s how it felt to me, and I silently thanked my lucky stars for my months of stair climber training over the winter. We shed our outer layer as our body temperature climbed with the elevation.

Half-way up the first hill, we reached a livestock gate and they split left as we continued up, now moving slightly laterally and a little less steeply up the mountain.


Our first destination was “the hole in the wall”. A curious name, I thought, “why do they call it that?”. Well, actually, because it is, literally, a hole in the stone wall! 

The area is crisscrossed with beautiful hand-built stone walls used to separate pastures which are grazed by sheep. Luckily we arrived on the tail-end of lambing season and our soundtrack for the duration of our visit was the bleats of sheep. Such a lovely sound!


After we climbed across the “hole in the wall”, we marveled at our first views of the peak of Helvellyn – hugging a lake called Red Tarn. 


We paused for a bit to ask a chap to snap a photo of us. 


Then we reciprocated by taking a photo of him for his wife. He had lived in the area for over a decade and was hiking the infamous mountain for his first time. We talked about our impending encounter with the striding edge, and he expressed he was also a bit worried… this did not help!
After a stroll across a high mountain meadow, we were suddenly on the striding edge. Which is basically, a ridge ascent where you climb across rocks with, ocassionally, nearly shear drops that it is best to avoid looking at, if you know what I mean. In the beginning, it was easy going. 

Then, the path narrowed and we began hand-over-hand bouldering, if you will, at great height. 

The most challenging part came when we came down the backside of a rocky ridge requiring quite a bit of triceps and careful foot placement. This is where we met a chap in his 50s who was on his last nerve. We helped him down and he decided he would not continue. It was sad, because we’d met him on our way up the first mountain ascent and he was excited to be finally hiking the mountain after considering it for years. But, as he made the decision to bail out and literally slide down the gravely backside of the mountain mere feet from the summit, my husband and I reflected on the power of intention. When we first met him, he said that he was going to “try” to make it but he wasn’t sure he’d be successful. We, on the other hand, perhaps foolishly, certainly boldly, never doubted our ability to make the ascent. And, you know what, we did!

But first, after we completed the rocky ridge grappling, we needed to make one final push. I’ll admit, seeing a grown man bail out, got to me a bit, so I focused my attention on quickly pushing up the ridge to the peak. Here the trail became more vertical and more of a scramble with lose rocks and not as much solid footing. We charged up quickly, and suddenly we reached the peak.


It was time for lunch and some fellows were rising to continue their hike. We grabbed their spot on the rim to savor the view as we refueled with salami and blue cheese sandwiches. Yes, an admittedly strange combination, which turned out to be delicious! 


After our lunch we spent a bit of time on the peak taking in the views of Ulswater in the distance.

We read a monument to a hiker who died on the mountain and his skeleton was later found because his dog stayed by his side for 3 months! Quite a tale of loyalty, or desperation (she allegedly consumed his flesh), you take your pick.


Fortunately, this was not our day to die, but we weren’t quite certain of this yet. We had ahead of us the descent down the Swiral Edge. Not quite as steep as the striding edge, but challenging, nonetheless. A group of college kids skipped across the rocks and we watched in wonder at their nimble steps.


We found ourselves wondering, where is the trail? Seriously, y’all, I have never encountered such trails in America! It was rather invigorating and felt like a real adventure!


Clouds passed overhead, altering the colors of the landscape moment by moment. As we descended, I snapped photos of the changing scenery. 

We paused for a moment on the banks of the tarn to admire the reflection of the mountain in the water. Then we continued our descent.


For a bit, we climbed out and back, basically up to the hole in the wall. This is where we needed to make a decision – go back the way we came, or take a looping path back to Glenridding. Of course, we went for the loop, we always go for the loop option. The first portion followed the rock wall along the ridge, then made a descent down what could best be described as steps for giants. Huge rocks which basically formed a stairway. By this point we were a bit tired and our feet began to complain about the pounding on the rocks. 


We persisted, occasionally stopping to admire the views and say hello to the sheep. 


After what felt like a very long time of walking down giant steps, we re-entered the valley. The first person we met was a boy and we asked him the way to Penrith. In the most delightful Lakes District accent, he informed us we could either walk up the hill (my legs cried: “please, no more hills”) or along the beck (the local word for river or creek) in to town where we would find a store and then turn right and follow the road to Penrith. We opted for the Beck path and happily soaked in more scenery.

A stop at the market to assess supplies confirmed they had a good selection of beer so we pushed on to our car and then drove back to stock up. We ended the day with beer and reheated meat pies as we soaked up the sunset over Ulswater.


Such a lovely day! We were filled with a sense of accomplishment and a bit of worry about the chap who bailed and went down the side of the hill. We wondered if we should have taken his number to call and make sure he was ok. We also wondered how he felt after bailing halfway and were grateful for our convinction and ability to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

As often happens on a hike in the woods. Once again, the mountain was our teacher and reminded us that a prepared body, supported by a sound mind, can accomplish any challenge.

It was one he** of a day on Helvellyn!

Project LIFE – maintenance mode

Project LIFE – maintenance mode

I DID IT! Y’all, I did it! I hit my goals (adjusted, I’ll explain in a bit) and now I’ve moved on to chapter 2 (aka the rest of my life): maintenance mode. This is a vague path for me and it feels a bit like a hike I took over a rocky path (see feature photo for this post) where the trail was marked by a series of red dots. The dots were strategically placed at any point that I needed to decide where to go next – especially if the next step was up a suddenly climb or through an otherwise indistinguishable series of rocks. As on this hike, where I sometimes found myself teetering on a rock ledge and hopping between stones. Now that I’m in maintenance mode, it’s a bit unsettling to not see the entire path at once. I expect that I will build this maintenance chapter through a series of experiments (red dots) that appear as I approach them. Some dots will take me along the correct course and other times I might find myself drifting and need adjustment. I’m ok with this method of trail mapping. I feel though like I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me first explain how I confirmed I had achieved my target…

Over the past couple of months I’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback from colleagues and friends who’ve noticed my weight loss progress. This often involves a fun discussion about how I managed to drop the weight and exchanges of healthy habits. A few weeks ago I was chatting with my manager about my project LIFE and I mentioned that I was encountering trouble dropping any more weight. I had hit the dreaded walk and I began to wonder if maybe I’d achieved my healthy weight. She told me about a recent health assessment she’d completed at a work event and emailed me the contact of the person who ran the assessments. I shot him a message and then we both were traveling over Easter so I practiced another muscle I’ve been growing lately, patience, and after a few weeks we managed to meet for my assessment appointment.

I woke up early the day of my appointment (scheduled for 7:30 am, gulp) and fought off hunger pains. I was instructed to arrive on an empty stomach. The night before I had deposited notes around the house in strategic locations (near the coffee pot, on my backpack) saying: “do not eat”. I usually eat first thing after I wake up. I allowed myself one cup of black coffee so I could drive safely….threw on some yoga tights and a tank top and brought work clothes to change into. Then I headed to the office in Leverkusen.


I met the assessor and then the rest of it went quickly. He asked my specs – height, age – and then I stood barefoot on the machine and gripped the handles. Then it ran its magic analysis.


The machine works, I believe, by running a current through your body and measuring the amount of resistance that helps it calculate the relative percent of water, fat and muscle in your body.

My report spit out in about a minute and we sat down to analyze. I was pretty curious and excited to study the results. The report told me what I had suspected: my body weight (plotted as an average – below, healthy, high) came in at the upper end of healthy. I wasn’t surprised by this outcome – my BMI calculation is never good according to the averages charts. I know I’m a strong type of build (with very strong bones – once I had a body scan that told me my bone density is in the 90th percentile, further when I was a kid I suffered a bone tumor that in most people would have led to a broken bone) and I’m fine with that, I enjoy being strong. 

The next figure explained the body weight being on the high end of healthy – this was my estimated amount of muscle calculation, which was 20% above average. The person running the assessment was pretty happy with this result. My profile was falling out as expected as a strong body type. For me this explained why I struggled to achieve the same weight I had 8 years ago when I was running for exercise 80% of the time. Changing my exercise patternsto more  fighting and weight training had subsequently resulted in more upper body muscle which of course brought more muscle weight.

The last figure also made me happy and this was my estimated amount of body fat. I know I always carry a relatively high amount of body fat for a fit person, or at least I’ve always had this opinion of myself. According to this assessment, my current body fat is 22% which is good and healthy, not super lean, but, wow, that’s a tough way to live. Maybe not right for me. Although part of me still toys with the idea of a 6-pack for a day. 

At this point, we paused to discuss how I could use this data. The assessor asked me a simple question: “what are your goals?”. For a moment, I was lost. I have to admit, I was so surprised to find that the weight loss journey was done, that I didn’t know where to go next. I think I really didn’t believe I could do it, so I hadn’t thought to the next step…

But, as we talked, it came to me. My goal is to be healthy and strong and capable of tackling any physical challenge that comes my way, I would say within reason, but who defines what is reasonable? 

I also have a new goal to maintain my healthy weight and built a sustainable eating and exercise balance to eliminate as much as possible future swings.

Throughout this post i have bantered about the term: “healthy weight”. I’m sure there’s a scientific definition of this term, but here is what it means to me. First I start with what it is not: healthy weight is not super-lean. I’m by no means currently super-lean. Healthy weight for me is feeling strong and happy with how clothing fits. 

Over the past 7 months through attention to diet and a solid exercise routine, I dropped nearly 3 pants sizes and now find medium tshirts to be a bit too large. For me, this is a very rewarding combination (although it does mean I might need to get some of my skirts adjusted and buy some new blazers – hmmmm, I’ll survive).

Now we get to one of the most interesting parts of the discussion. When I said I was happy with the report and agreed that I didn’t want to drop any more weight, we shifted the topic to daily calorie needs to maintain my current body profile. The report informed me that with my weight and muscle mass combination, I need 1500 calories a day when I don’t exercise and 2000 on the days I exercise. Which basically means I need 2000 calories nearly every day! What a surprise!

Now I encounter an unanticipated challenge – how to increase my daily calorie intake in a healthy way? I cut loose a bit this weekend (increasing the fat in my diet a bit and adding back in a bit of bread) and found I was suddenly again losing weight. Strange predicament to be in since I no longer want to lose! But, I’m going on vacation again soon, the England, the land  of pubs, fish and chips and meat pies, and I predict I’ll gain a bit and then can stabilize.

Now that I’ve hit my target I am savoring success. Sometimes this is a new piece of clothing hat fits. Sometimes I allow myself a bit more ice cream, but I’m surprised to find that I really don’t feel a need for the quantities of food I used to eat. Which is also surprising.

As I take my first steps down fork in the road from weight loss to weight maintenance, I would appreciate any advice from those who have traveled this road before me. Please share in comments, it will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragenent. Especially my husband who never told me I needed to lose weight, but when I decided that did, offered me help to find a path back to a healthy me. Then put up with a million silly conversations about dietary minutiae and how many 10th of a kilo I had lost or gained each week. Without you, I wouldn’t have had the courage to start the journey, let alone be where I am savoring the success of taking back my health and my life.

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

Project LIFE

Project LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Project LIFE!!!!

Fight Natalie, FIGHT

Fight Natalie, FIGHT

Three words.

Hurled forcefully from the mouth of Günter, my Krav Maga instructor.
Hit my ears and propel my body to push
Push forward, searching for the edge
The edge beyond which I will
Collapse

I push and push
The edge continues to move
The horizon is now beyond where I can see
The numbers continue to climb

A sucker punch to the liver stops me for a moment
I laugh
Catch my breathe
Charge back in

Moving in circles
Fast feet
Changing tactics
Moving in for a left
A right

Head shot
Body shot
Slip down
Move left
Then right

My breath speeds up
My brain slows down
I track my opponents every move

Effectively block two body blows
Moving in for a jab
Sideswiped by a punch that slipped by my defense

I pull back
Regroup
Günter sees me pause
The command is barked again

“Fight Natalie,
FIGHT”

And I do,
charging back in
deliver a rally of punches

The countdown commences: 10….8….5

The fight moves closer
Tighter
Breath becomes labored
But we do not
Stop
We will
Not
Stop
3….2…1

Break
Tap gloves
“Good Fight”

Günter smiles

Tomorrow will be pain
This moment of pride is worth the price

Kater Vermisst

Kater Vermisst

I woke a bit late on Saturday still struggling with the jet lag which takes me about a week to shed. I brewed my coffee and opened the window onto a typical winter day in Germany – cold and gray with the threat of snow, rain, or a mix of both. My Tony cat joyfully leaped out the window and went on his morning stroll through the neighborhood. A couple of hours later, he hadn’t returned and this is when I started to worry that my Kater was vermisst (missing).

First German culture lesson in this post: all the stores are closed on Sunday. If you want to know why just google it and you’ll find a bunch of theories. Whatever the reason, Saturday is the shopping day. I put a bowl of food and water outside and went about my weekly errands. A bit of shopping at the pharmacy, book store and a grocery store. I stopped in to the apartment to drop off my purchases and still no Tony. I roamed the neighborhood streets calling for Tony with no luck. I checked his local haunts and no Tony.

A friend called to invite me to dinner with some friends, so I went for a quick 5k run before Krav Maga technique training. I like to earn my dinner. I came home from my run and Still no Tony. I fretted about going to dinner or staying home to wait for him to return. My husband said, go and he’ll come back. So, I went to dinner and returned. Still no Tony. With difficulty I went to sleep and again in the morning…still no Tony.

Now I was really worried. Where could he be? Why didn’t he return? Theories began to build in my brain. Had someone taken him into their apartment because it was cold outside? Was he outside in the cold all night? I kicked myself for not having a collar on him which I had decided was too risky because he’s an avid tree climber. Now, granted I assumed people would recognize that a big, healthy cat belonged to someone. What had changed in his pattern and was keeping him from returning home?

I began to question my choice in letting him outside at all which was not my intention when I adopted Tony last March. I thought a nice rescue cat would contentedly sit inside with me, happy and warm and play-ful. Well, that is not the cat I adopted! This one wants to roam and have adventures in the world, much like his mother, I suppose…

A couple of weeks after I adopted Tony I walked up to my apartment in the evening and found him waiting in the ivy next to the door. I was relieved that he hadn’t run away, but immediately puzzled at how he had escaped. I had left an upper window tipped open in the bathroom and that was the only way to exit the apartment. The window is about 8 feet off the ground. How on earth did he manage to slip out? A few days later I heard a bit of banging in the bathroom and discovered Tony launching himself from the window ledge, to the top of the door and then slipping out the window! Mystery solved.

This escape was undeniable evidence that Tony wanted to go outside. Which led me to a dilemma, how could I give him some outside time without worrying about him running away?

This is when I did what I thought was a crazy, eccentric thing: I bought a cat leash. A cat leash you say, is that really a thing?That’s what I thought before I saw the entire wall section at the pet store displaying a wide variety of sizes and colors and styles of cat leashes. The first time I took Tony out for a walk in the courtyard I took pictures and posted them on Facebook because I found it completely hilarious. Boy was I surprised when many of my friends responded by also sharing pictures of their cat on a leash! It turned out to not so eccentric, or perhaps my friends are unique?

The window escape story leads me to another cultural fact about Germany. In Germany, there are no screens and pretty much no sliding windows (unless it’s a full door, which is rare). Little known fact, screens were invented in the US to prevent the transmission of fly-borne diseases and mosquito-borne diseases. In Germany, as in most of Europe, there are almost no flies or mosquitoes so, no screens. The windows open by tipping at an angle or swinging open like a door. Which means, sneaky cats can go absolutely batty trying to escape.

I thought it would be safe to tip the window since the opening is many feet off the ground, but one day I heard a series of yowls and found poor Tony with his foot caught in the wedge at the bottom of the tipped window. I carefully lifted him out and decided I’d learn to live with him roaming in and out of the apartment through the open windows. Because now it was becoming summer and while summer is not anywhere near Hot in Germany, it can become stuffy and it’s not an option to keep the place closed up with no central heat and air. It’s not very livable.

This is when Tony and I began a routine. Every morning my iPhone alarm would go off at 6 and Tony would follow me down the hall to boil water for my French press coffee. Don’t get the impression I’m drinking French press coffee because I’m a coffee aficionado, it’s because I’m cheap and I didn’t want to buy a coffee maker in Germany. But I digress, back to Tony…In the morning I would open the living room window and he’d happily hop out into the courtyard roaming the grounds. I was relieved that he didn’t leave the gate to enter our little street. He climbed the trees and brought me mice and cockroaches and one day a very large earthworm. Which, yes, was hilarious! During the warm summer months I would join him and have my breakfast and coffee in the courtyard during the long days. Yes, it was a very idyllic scene. I suspected it would not last.

Over time I noticed him looking curiously down the walkway toward the gate and I knew eventually he would leave to explore the neighborhood. Sure enough one day he was gone and when I went to call for him he came running. Eventually, we just set a pattern where I’d open the window in the morning and evening and he’d roam for an hour or so and return. I had no idea where he went until I began to occasionally go out and call for his return and I noticed he always appeared out of a neighboring courtyard.

So, when he disappeared and didn’t return my first theory was that he was in one of the apartments in the neighboring building. It seemed simple enough to figure this out. Just walk over and ask. But, in a city, where many people speak English, but everyone speaks German, this was a challenge. I also had no idea which buzzer to ring.

As I said, I awoke Sunday morning and Tony was still gone. I had made plans to go with a friend to a German spa on Sunday (the spa will the topic of another post). She also knows Tony well and agreed that going to the spa was nuts, all I would do is worry about Tony. Now was the time to search. I waited until 9 and went upstairs to see if my neighbors could help try to inquire about Tony at the neighboring building. He also loves Tony and quickly bundled up in a coat before we walked next door. We rang the buzzer of a doctor fellow and my lovely neighbor spoke a string of German about his “American neighbor who lost a cat and had he seen it?”?. He had not.

We returned to our apartments and decided we needed lost cat signs to locate Tony. I decided to make one and use their printer to make copies. Well, the sign needed to be in German. Funny enough my neighbor simultaneously had this realization and came to offer that his son could help us write signs. I could provide a picture.

I sat next to my neighbor’s son who also, by the way, is a good friend of Tony’s, composed a Kater Vermisst sign. I scrolled through my iPhone for a good picture of Tony. The experience suddenly overwhelmed me a bit and I realized he could really be gone. I focused on the task at hand and we decided on a picture that showed his face – he’s missing an eye so it’s a rather distinctive face. We printed the signs and I began to distribute them I’m the neighborhood.

As I began down my street my friend walked up to help. We posted signs at all the buildings on my block, in the square nearby and spoke with the people we saw walking about in German. I was surprised at the genuine concern many people
Expressed about Tony and how they earnestly wished me luck in finding him. During the brief exchanges, I was quite surprised at how much I could speak and understand. After a couple of hours the signs were all posted and we had no leads, so we went to my place and I made some chicken soup to warm up.

We tried to distract ourselves with a movie and this is when it really hit me that it had been 24 hours and Tony might really be gone. I had a hard time thinking of life without him in Germany. He’s my constant companion in the apartment. The thought was unsettling.

A few hours passed and the phone rang. It was a neighbor who lived, you guessed it, in the building next door. My theory was correct! Tony stopped by for his normal visit. It was cold, she thought he might be a feral cat and called the Tierheim (pound) to take him somewhere warm. So, they picked him up and I was so incredibly relieved to know he was safe at the Tierheim.

On Monday I drove to the Tierheim to bail out Tony. Happily we were reunited! I recognized the lady at the Tierheim as the same lady who first introduced me to Tony last spring when I adopted him. She remembered me too. I guess not many Americans stop in to adopt a one-eyed cat.

I brought Tony home and then ran back to work for meetings. In the evening I stopped at the pet store to buy a collar and some cat toys for entertainment. The cat collar didn’t last 12 hours, but the toy is still going strong.

Interestingly Tony isn’t quite as obsessed with getting outside, at least for now. He’s on lock down! Although, We shall see. As the says grow warmer, he might get his freedom again. This time I’ll warn the neighbor she might have a friendly visitor. Part of me wants to keep him locked up and safe, but if I did, so many people would miss out on having the chance to love Tony. When he was lost I was touched by how many people cared enough to help me locate Tony. Even far away from my home in North Carolina I’m grateful for the true friendships I have formed in Germany. People who will walk with me up to perfect strangers in the bitter cold to find my cat.

The irony of it is that if I would have kept Tony safe in the apartment my connection with many of my neighbors would be very different. By letting him roam he built a bridge that crossed language and culture. A connection with young and old that can so easily be forged by a furry creature with a gleaming golden eye. I expect that once again I’ll take the risk and share his joy with our little community. For now we’re safe and warm and huddled up for the winter together. All is right in my world. I’m grateful that Meine kater is nicht Vermisst!