Pursuing Life's Daring Adventure

Monday, October 26, 2009

Eight Days under the Tuscan Sun

When I saw the movie Under the Tuscan Sun years ago, Tuscany became a place I yearned to visit. The cinematography in the movie was beautiful, and the lure of a slower pace of life combined with the elements of great Italian foods and wines only accented the gentle beauty of the Tuscan land.

We’ve always been a driving family—we enjoy absorbing the roll and beauty of a country as we pass through it. Since we now live in Prague, Czech Republic, we thought we would enjoy the journey to Italy for our kids’ October break from school. And so began our family vacation to Italy. Every hour of the drive was breathtaking (I’ll have to blog about it for another post).

A region in middle Italy known for its abundant and fine olives and wines, Tuscany is rural, just north of Rome, and is sweetly seasoned with generous people, prolific sunshine, and fascinating history. Italy, and Tuscany, was a wonderful place to visit, especially in the low tourist time of October.

We stayed the week in a beautiful tiny villa on the Mediterranean Sea in the Maremma region of Tuscany in Italy. (http://www.trustandtravel.com/) Since the villa sits on an estate of olive groves and sheep pastures, we found the beach to be completely deserted, with no other villas or residences for miles around. Wow! It was just gorgeous, passing the days playing in the sand, collecting colorful shells, taking long walks, cooking and eating delicious food, and spending quiet time together to absorb the vast recent changes in our lives. The serenity was deeply fulfilling. And for our three boys, ages seven, eight, and ten, they relished the sand and sun, discoveries of washed-up coins, lizards and snakeskins, and encounters with the local fox (including when she stole a shoe left out for the night).

We saw and experienced so many other things while away—Firenze (Florence), Siena, ancient hill towns, Rome, Pisa, the NW Italian coast, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Austria—it seems I have endless stories to share and thousands of photographs to sift through.

Our family vacation in Italy was quite a dream come true, far exceeding all hopes. The velvet blue sky and lush rolling landscape will linger in our minds for quite some time, I think.

Tuscany and Italy have captured my heart …

Planning to share a photo journal of our trip in the next post—Ciao! -JK

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Vote for Real Beauty

Real Beauty shines ...

I have always loved Ralph Lauren. Mr. Lauren’s story is inspiring, rising from immigrant roots to what his brand is today by holding unwavering focus on his dreams. I’ve always enjoyed watching his advertisements, epic in nature and cinematic in execution, and I have thought Lauren’s designs to be exquisite, both the clothing and the models.

Many particular Ralph Lauren campaigns have evoked a feeling of timelessness, something difficult to capture in all of life. Much of the success to the campaigns is due to the photography, but also to the models… one particular model, Filippa Hamilton has been a favorite. And the recent controversy regarding Filippa and the Ralph Lauren brand is something quite sad. I had written something else to post this week, but this morning, I needed to change and share something about this.

For those who haven’t heard, Filippa has worked with Ralph Lauren for eight years, but was recently fired from the brand because of her weight. Apparently, at 5’10” and 120 pounds, Filippa is too large for the Ralph Lauren sample clothes. (Click here to read more, and to watch an interview on Today with Filippa.) But, interestingly, her weight has remained unchanged in those eight years. And to add to the matter, after she was terminated from her contract, a Ralph Lauren advertisement emerged of Filippa so digitally altered that her head appears larger than her hips.

I remember girls I modeled with who were reprimanded for their weight. They were told they had to lose ten, fifteen, or twenty pounds before they could go see clients. And so these beautiful healthy women would ravage themselves in attempt to achieve the desired “look.” It was, and still is, tragic.

Somehow the cycle has to stop—this thinner and thinner version of “healthy.” Women were made to have curves, to glow with healthy skin, to eat great food, to drink great drinks, and to enjoy living. We were made to shine, and to be our very best. And sometime, somehow, we have to know that being our very best doesn’t mean we have to look like the porch railing to be healthy.

Since I’m a mom now, and not a starving model, I maybe understand more fully how important it is to pass healthy living on to the next generation. There never is a perfect answer for weight, as no amount of BMI tests or scale-hopping will have an absolute number for health. But there is the beauty in the knowing that each day we are working to be our very best—stronger, healthier, spiritually fed, more widely read and travelled, so that we can embrace each new day for the gift that it is.

Campaign for Real Beauty has run some fantastic short videos on healthy body image. (Click here to view.)

To me, the confidence found in trying to be our very best is the picture of health, that which we need to pass on to our children. The media world will continue to desire stick figures as role models only as long as we as consumers vote for stick figure women with our wallets.

Today is the day to start the vote.

I'd love to hear what you think ... Thank you in advance for posting your comments and thoughts below (click on comments, and type your message).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Gluten-Free Year

I was rescued by a hurricane.

It’s true.

The problem started soon after I had our first son. Every time I ate, I had so much pain I had to lie down on the couch. When I had my second son, I realized I might have lactose intolerance, an idea inspired by an infant’s struggle with indigestion. But, truthfully, even after cutting out all lactose, I still dealt with the same pain. And, I often wondered how I could feel so terrible after eating something plain like Saltines or pretzels.

Fast forward to September 2008 …

The Cincinnati area dealt with the 80 miles per hour winds leftover from Hurricane Ike. We didn’t lose our roof like most of our neighbors, but we did lose power—for days. With the power out, we had to improvise with our cooking. That was the trick for me.

Having eaten only rice from Whole Grain Rice-a-Roni with carrots on the side, I couldn’t understand what could’ve caused me so much digestive pain afterward. Then I read the box. The only debatable ingredient that jumped off the box was GLUTEN. Actually, something like “extra gluten added”.

Once we had our power again, I read every website I could about gluten. It didn’t take long to discover the autoimmune disease called Celiacs, wholly caused by gluten. A few tests soon confirmed that the excruciating pain I’d felt for eight years was indeed due to Celiacs Disease. But, amazingly, medicine doesn’t help with Celiacs. The symptoms only disappear by cutting gluten out of all consumed food. Thus began my gluten-free year.

Apparently, gluten (or the proteins found in whole wheat and other grains) acts like little burrs when it passes through a digestive system. Scraping the digestive tract of someone with Celiacs, it causes every problem imaginable (including cancer), along with every symptom. I could write for days on the topic, but since I don’t enjoy gory details and am not a physician, I’m providing further links here (if you’re interested).

In one year, I can say my skin color has darkened about five shades to its rightful color, I feel more energy and strength, and I haven’t felt an ounce of the pain I used to have to suffer. It hasn’t been easy, not eating anything with gluten. Bread, cakes, cookies, pies, pasta—you name it—everything good has gluten. But I have happily resisted, because I can’t even begin to tell how truly great and healthy I feel. No pain anymore. Amazing! All because of gluten.

So, I’m writing all this now as a sort of celebration—to one year of digestive health—and as a huge thank you to Hurricane Ike, for saving me.

Given how great I feel now, looks like I’ll be going gluten-free for life.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The View Heading East

A surreal experience: driving Sunday evening from the West to the East.

Since we hiked the Austrian Alps this past weekend, we drove back to Prague through Germany on Sunday. We passed through the flatlands around Munich to the rolling hills of hops fields in Eastern Germany, past the German rest stops with the automatic cleaning toilets and toward the step back in time at the Czech border. As we drove, the sun set in brilliant tangerine-orange across the Western sky behind us.

We headed toward the darkness, toward the inky hills and rural countryside. Toward the East.
I think for all of us, passing the sprawling, rusting former communist checkpoint at the German-Czech border was chilling. It was just dark enough out to send shivers under the skin. To think of the years from the sixties to the late eighties when countless lives were lost trying to escape to the West at that very border crossing …

Unsettling. We all have thoughts—where are we living? Where is our home? We’re going back?

But, as we stopped to refuel a few kilometers inside the Czech Republic, we remembered. While paying, I inadvertently spoke in German to the cashier. The amazing look of surprise in his eyes! And then, one of our sons said so innocently, “Finally—we can speak Czech. We’re almost home.”
It was at that moment that we realized that yes, we were almost home. To Prague. The former East. A beautiful country with a priceless soul.

Let Freedom Ring …