Pursuing Life's Daring Adventure

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Austrian Alps, Up Close and in Living Color

I have to admit, I’m still pinching myself. I guess I’m trying to ensure that this is real—this living in Prague, and traveling Europe with the whole family. I find it amazing to be able to hop in the car, drive through a few countries, and a handful of hours later be standing in the heart of the Alps. Wow! And as we cross borders, to change languages and currencies like we would slip into different pair of shoes … WOW!

Though we’ve taken quite a few trips in the past couple of months, hiking the Alps has always been one of my dreams. This trip tops the rest so far.

Our destination was Patsch, Austria, which is nestled in the base of the mountains south of Innsbruck. From Patch, we took the PatscherKofel cable car up to an Alpine Hutt, where we stayed. The views were beyond spectacular, the hiking was incredible, and the Hutt experience was rustic and unforgettable.

The particular cable car from Patsch was the lift for the Olympic winter events in 1964 and 1976, and still leads straight to the Olympic ski runs. And since the mountains in the Alps are connected by an impressive network of trails and huts, even before snow flies backpackers stopping for bier and schnitzel make for a lively crowd around the huts.

On our first afternoon on the trail, my husband Brian just so happened to help a couple in their seventies with a wheelbarrow full of firewood. Brian pushed the wheelbarrow for them along the steep and narrow trail, not really knowing where they were going… but soon, they invited us into their own Alpine house to share schnapps and stories in Deutsch. And they gave me Edelweiss from their single blooming plant alongside their house. As we left, hearts full, a rainbow appeared—another wow!

But for me, the most memorable experience was climbing behind our three boys, ages seven, eight, and ten, to the highest point on the mountain. With Innsbruck stretched out fifteen-hundred meters below us and a 360º view of the Austrian Alps, we were above the tree line and on top of the world. Not sure it gets any better than that …

I can’t wait to venture back to the Alps again, but I know I’ll forever treasure that first experience filled with Edelweiss and rainbows, with big smiles and pine tree walking sticks, hiking in the clouds and marveling at the amazing handiwork of our Creator.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Festive Angle on Life

Time.com featured a wonderful photo spread on Prague this week. Apparently, they’re naming Prague, and consequently the Czech Republic, as one of the “hippest” travel destinations. What a wonderful spotlight for a well-deserving country! So, now, I guess I can say I live in one of the hippest places in the world. Interesting …

From my perspective, Czech culture has a deep soul. Many days we wake to a rooster’s croon, see the magnificent silhouette of the Prague Castle etched out in the fog, watch the ultra-fashionable Czech women skimming over cobblestones in their four-inch heels, and hear the hum of a nation striving toward a more brilliant future. As if kicking the drab communistic grays goodbye, Czechs choose vivid colors for everything—cars, clothes, houses, art, and food.
This zest is catching, I think.

We ventured to Dresden, Germany, this past weekend—a city leveled to dust in the Second World War. There, we found beautiful reconstructed buildings, and a hearty Oktoberfest. What fun! Live music, plentiful beer, the aroma of bratwurst, and the crisp early autumn air … an experience to remember, for sure.

Honestly, I was surprised by the festive nature, and am continually positively impressed by the Czech and German and Polish people. For where I expected a down-trodden spirit routed from the years of oppressive Soviet communism, I’ve discovered bright eyes, hope, and a cheerful outlook on life.
I’d like to learn from their festive and generous spirit. Despite a dark and gloomy past, life and love can prevail, and move forward expressing an intoxicating joy for life.
Notes: A big thank you to my friend Martha for showing me the Time article. All photos of Dresden, Germany.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Czech Republic, a Country with Soul

We’ve lived in Prague as expats for just over six weeks, and we’re thoroughly enjoying the experiences here. Not only do we get to see the Prague Castle every day, usually hovering in the early autumn mist, but we have enjoyed visiting many sites around the Czech Republic as well. Most recently, we visited Kutna Hora, a silver mining village from the early 1100’s whose wealth was so great it funded its own gothic Cathedral of Santa Barbora (see photos). Incredible! The Czech Republic is a beautiful country.

As we get to know more of the Czech Republic, and of Prague, there is one word we are becoming more familiar with: cizinecs (in Czech), or foreigner. Though we can blend in with looks to the Czech people, and we can try to learn their language, we cannot really relate to the past that defines them.
Here, it has been twenty years since communism fell. Still, Czech Republic is a place where the individual and freedom and religion had been stripped from societal values for so long, and replaced with “the virtues of the tractor” and other state propaganda, the mark is long-lingering. Komunismo (Communism) billboards still can be seen around Prague, fueled by the nostalgia of the time “when everyone had a job.” The Prague Post runs interesting articles, informing us of the struggling Czech government. And some grey buildings, including a Communist-built major hospital I toured this week, still seek to remind of the drab, colorless days before 1989.

There are many positives for the Czech people. Theirs is a country overflowing with priceless history and natural beauty, a warm and rich culture, and an ingenious entrepreneurial spirit. We can only hope and pray that with coming days and years, the Czech spirit will continue to grow and flourish in freedom, and as cizinecs, that we will continue to learn from the Czech people’s rich soul.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Using Distraction for Good

Distraction: /di strakshen/ n: something that diverts attention, something that interferes with concentration or takes attention away from something else.

This week, I’ve worked very hard at creating and polishing the synopsis for a novel. It’s been great fun (because I love this stuff!), but also was difficult considering the distractions thrown my way. We were able to buy cars here in the Czech Republic over the past few days, which honestly is an enormous relief and blessing. And also, at the end of our quiet Prague street, a laugh-out-loud situation unfolded involving a neighbor’s clogged sewer line, and the maintenance guy stripped down to his skivvies spraying raw sewage with a pump into the neighbor’s yard. Yes, that was quite a distraction.

These days, surely I’ve adapted to many of the constant disruptions characterizing the life of a mom of three boys. Despite the accidents resulting from being distracted—the raging oven fire, diapers and crayons and other things thrown into the laundry, etc.—our lives haven’t suffered too much from my mistakes.

But on a personal level, I’ve had to deal quite a bit with the long streamer of distractions perpetually stuck to my heel. There are always committees for which I’m asked to volunteer, groups to join, shopping to do, parties to throw. By the end of each day, it would be so easy to miss out on spending time with the people and doing the things that we love. Maybe that is my definition of distraction: those things which take us away from the people and activities we love most. The pieces of life which pull us in a million directions, and lure us from excellence into mediocrity I also call distractions, because our attention is constantly pulled from the main thing.
Each of us has a different definition for the main thing, for mediocrity, for goals, and life, and living, and thriving. And each of us has to find a balance if we want to become excellent at a few main things, rather than spread thin to cover everything. Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald, is a tremendous book for guidance on finding and pursuing the main things, and gaining order in our own worlds.

I think there is one benefit of distraction, however. We are able to long for the main things when we’re distracted. I find when I’m tending to the other things in our lives that need my attention, the anticipation within me builds, waiting for time to immerse myself in the main things, like writing, or spending time with my family.
Life will always be filled with distractions. Perhaps, though, in turning the distractions into good, as springboards into the things in our lives that matter to us most, then we can find peace with the distractions, and harmony with the daily-ness of living.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Some Czech Follies Thus Far

Some things, I have to say, are the same on the other side of the world. The sun often shines in a cerulean sky, mothers lovingly push babies in strollers, children wear bright backpacks to school, and harvesters gather ripe wheat before a rain. Somehow, living on the other side of the world from the States has opened our eyes to just how small the world really is.

But, in the same breath, I also have to say that some things are quite different. After living in Prague for over a month, we’re heartily aware of some of the differences. Instead of the alternative, we’re choosing to laugh—because in many ways, our learnings really are funny. And so, I’d like to share some of our Czech Follies, thus far.

· Driving: Yes, we’re driving in Prague. Many things are the same—cars speed, buses plod, motorbikes careen, and trams hit cars. In Prague, the trams do literally hit cars, because they apparently have the right-of-way. Yikes! I stay as far from trams as I possibly can in my little rented Sköda. Not only does the engine whine (like Americans would expect a tiny Eastern European car to do), but often flooring it just doesn’t quite get the desired result in the beautifully hilly, winding roads near where we live. In my ignorance to Czech driving signs, I did not realize, until a Volvo saleswoman instructed me, that here, on certain roads, the cars stopped and entering from the right-hand side have the right-of-way. (Ohhhhh! Now I understand why many Czech’s shake their hand in the air as I pass by. Oops!)

· Cell phones: For some reason, Czech cell providers don’t have many folks to help customers even in broken English. Armed with a few vital Czech words and phrases, I obtained a prepaid card soon after our arrival in Prague. But, as time has gone by, I’ve wondered what the plethora of cell provider text messages have said. (Have I mentioned that Czech is a very complicated and difficult language?) One night, with my husband still away at work meetings, my cell coverage stopped working in the middle of a horrific thunderstorm. With no other form of available communication, I linked onto the internet and ordered a recharge for my cell phone … or so I thought. The next day, I received six boxes of fifty Koruna phone cards ($2.50 apiece). Not quite what I thought I ordered, even with Google translator in action. Um … still haven’t figured this one out, except that last night, I was able to decipher the O2 text message: I’m completely out of coverage. A new adventure for today, I think.

· Grocery Store: The nearby Hypermarket seems so similar to our wonderful Kroger in the States. Of course the food is different, but we have everything we need there, which is such a relief. The one thing about the shopping experience that brings me to a cold sweat even now is the checkout. Let’s just say I miss having baggers, or someone to help me load and move my groceries before the cashier throws the next three people’s groceries onto mine. I’m learning to cope by telling new grocery stories at the dinner table at night, and enjoying sharing the laughter.

There’s nothing like a little laughter in the midst of a lot of change. Because a smile, I think, and laughter translates into every language, and can brighten any corner of the world.