Make some room

Make some room

“Make some room”.

“MAKE some room”.

Barked my Sparta Class instructor as he restlessly roamed the circuit class floor.

We had just finished a solid hour of weight training exercises executed in pairs – 24 exercises total. My breath was labored. I was covered in sweet. A deep thirst filled my being. “What could possibly come next?” I thought, then I found out.

“50 Burpees” came the command.

Many groaned. I didn’t have the energy.

I wondered : “Can I do this?”. I had never done 50 burpees. 25, yes. 30, yes, but 50, never. Especially after giving everything I had to a circuit weight training class that was heavy on chest and back exercises. Could I make it to that impossible sounding number?

Before I had too much time to ponder, my partner hit the deck and I followed. I think this is one of the reasons for the partner: peer pressure.

Hands on the ground, I jumped my legs back into plank position. Sunk down into a solid push-up. Sprang my legs back in and jumped up. “One” rang out in my head.

The first 5 were solid, then it started to become a bit harder. I considered cutting out the push-up. Out of habit, it remained.

Suddenly I was at 25 – halfway there. I started my count over at 1 to spare my brain and spirit. Just 25 burpees now.

At 45, my partner was finished, and I was going slower. She then did the unthinkable and jumped in to finish my last 5 with me. I started to call the numbers out loud. My form was as good again as the first 5 and soon we were done.

I had completed 50 burpees. A feat in and of itself, but after an intense 1 hour workout, I was elated. I gulped down some cool water and thanked the instructor for showing me I could do something that I didn’t know was in me.

And that is why I train. I love finding the edge and pushing through it. Respecting what my body can do and knowing when it’s the right time to take it further.

It occurred to me that I do the same thing at work. I love finding an impossible challenge, grappling with how to solve it, adapting along the way and ultimately completing the goal. The outcome might look very different than I originally envisioned, but if it is fit for purpose, then it works.

As you start this week, make some room. Make room in your life for a new challenge. Look for an impossible goal and achieve it. As we close this year, finish strong! Go into next year with renewed confidence in your ability to push your limits and overcome. Then, nothing will be impossible.

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#optoutside

#optoutside

There is this thing in America which begins earlier every year and is increasing in strength and ferocity. We call it “Black Friday”. Immediately after giving thanks for everything in our lives, we either take off after the evening meal, or wake up at the crack of dawn to join thousands of other Americans to go shopping. I tried it once years ago – there was no place to park, crowds in stores were elbow-to-elbow, and to top it all off, the prices were not good! So, I decided then – never again.

Delightedly, this year I learned of a new tradition called #optoutside. Instead of heading in to a store for shopping, or sitting on your couch watching tv, thousands of Americans decided to opt outside for some time in nature.

We pulled up the google maps, located some new trails, and then headed out. Our trail selections were just about 2 miles from each other but about as different as night and day. Our first stop was at Spring Creek Bluffs. We parked in a small gravel lot, leashed up our hound dog and took off. The trail started in some scrubby woods and quickly we found ourselves in a high bank overlooking Spring Creek. Chas found a log that had fallen across the Creek creating a natural bridge and walked across it with Desi. It was mid-afternoon and the light glowed through the colorful leaves creating a scenery that looked a bit like the stained glass of European cathedrals.


We wondered if these were the Bluffs and hoped that wasn’t true. Soon enough we came to a point where the Bluffs appeared, with straight, tall Beech trees sporting yellow leaves standing like guardians on the slope.


The slope quickly climbed steeply to the peak of the Bluffs and as we reached the crest we met some folks who spoke with an English accent turning back because they thought the trail had ended. We enjoyed the view for a bit before continuing on.


Good thing we continued because the trail became even more breathtaking as we followed the ridge and meandered down to a greenway that bordered a neighborhood. We met a runner who jogged by with ragged breaths and a haggard expression on his face. Boy, I know that feeling, I thought. After a few hundred yards we turned back on to our trail to loop back to the beginning.

A short distance later we rejoined the path and walked along the ridge and down the slope before winding up on a surprisingly long boardwalk. The place must be swampy in the summer time. At the end of the path we found a beautiful placard engraved with this poem. Nice inspiration on our day opting out in nature.

After completing this trail, we drove the short distance to Hemlock Bluffs – a nature preserve that had a beautiful nature center and what turned out to be very well-developed chip bark trails.

Such a contrast to our first trail experience of the day. At Spring Creek Bluffs we saw maybe 10 people and one dog. Here groups of families, many with happy hounds tugging at the end of a leash, strolled along together enjoying the fine fall weather. Because we were still traveling the same bluff (I had assumed), I expected the scenery to be the same. As it turned out that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This park hosts a rare grove of Hemlock trees – a type of evergreen that is normally found in the mountains of western North Carolina – that thrives here because of a unique cold and swampy microclimate.

The preserve also has a large population of beech trees and what blew me away was the color of their leaves. Here the trees were wearing golden brown leaves, while on the other bluff the leaves were bright yellow. I still don’t know why this phenomenon would occur, but you can bet I’ll be doing some research on it.

We hiked all the trails at the park (about 3 miles worth), sometimes racing to stay ahead of noisy families, other times enjoying a rare human-free moment. I was impressed with the infrastructure and think it would be fun to return in the summer for a hope at a glimpse of the many salamander species that make this preserve home.

Today was sunny and warm and we headed off to San Lee for a mountain bike ride. Another gorgeous day on a challenging terrain made a bit more treacherous by the coating of colorful leaves.

I’d recommend checking out all of these parks if you have some time to explore in the area of Cary and Sanford, North Carolina. And if you didn’t do it this year, I’d encourage you to join us next year as we #optoutside!

HOME

HOME

H…umid

O…utdoor

M…otorcycle

E…xcursion

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

10 countries in 10 weeks

10 countries in 10 weeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swamp thangs

Swamp thangs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

The Gift of Being Present

The Gift of Being Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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