Pursuing Life's Daring Adventure

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Shot of Floral Color for the Dead of Winter

"God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December." -J.M. Barrie

Every year at about this time, my eyes feel deplete of color. Whether this year it's from the thick froth of snow blanketing my world white, from the soft gray European light, or from the daily veil of Prague fog, I don't know ... but this January, I need a shot of color. So I thought I'd share ...

This floral beauty is the Lavender Illusion daylily, from our former backyard (top photo, also) in the States. Somehow, creation flaunts hues impossible to replicate by humans. This color, a lavender veined in soft lilac and highlighted with delicate pink, has a magical sheen in the sunlight-- as if a fairy sprinkled each day's lily with enchanting pixie dust. Adding the vibrant lime-colored throat and neon stamens, the whole flower is a carnival of color.

Thanks for enjoying a taste of summer's beauty with me.

Starting the conversation: (leave a comment below) What are your favorite flowers from summer?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ten Must-Haves for Expats Living Abroad

We have lived in Prague, Czech Republic, for six months now, and I thought I would write out a list of the top ten things we feel we can’t live without, as US expats living in a non-English-speaking country.

So far, our experiences have been exhilarating, stretching beyond what we thought possible, and more unexpected than what we thought before coming. Some friends and former expats gave us advice on Must-Haves before we left Cincinnati, and my hope is that this list helps others along in their adventures abroad, as well. Please leave any items you would add in the comments section, below.

Ten Must-Haves for Expats

1. iPhone:

I’m sure other cell phones work well, too, but my iPhone has been my constant companion. The email, internet, weather, text messaging, music, video, contacts, and other standard functions have worked when every other function in our home (i.e. Internet, phone, etc.) has failed. Skype is wonderfully handy when on wi-fi. Also, the active maps function, along with units conversions, and just about every other app imaginable have saved the day for us many times. Note: US-bought iPhones usually are bound to US phone companies with high international rates. After our US iPhone fried (literally), we bought an unlocked iPhone, which can use any prepaid SIM card in any country.
My suggestion: Do a bit of research before you invest, and be sure your iPhone is factory unlocked.

2. Skype:

Wow! This has been our lifesaver, for connecting with family and friends, and even business back in the States. The standard Skype is free through a standard internet connection, but for only a few dollars a month, Skype offers US phone numbers for purchase, with the same per/minute rate being free. This allows us to have a US phone number that folks in the US can call like a normal phone call without the international rates. My suggestion: set up a Skype phone number through your home country so you can stay in touch as if you were at home, in country.

3. A great digital camera:

Photographs have come so far in so little time, it’s hard to imagine the technology getting any better. For expats, going digital means having the ability to download the photographs and share them with family and friends instantly, back home.
My suggestion: a digital D-SLR like the Nikon D-40, a great starter, or my favorite, the Nikon D-90, with 18-200mm lens.

4. A great computer:

Buy a great computer in the States before venturing abroad, unless your new locale is renowned for better prices. Here in Prague, computers cost at least two times more than in the US. A great computer can serve as your entertainment depot, a means of uploading current movies, music, news, and television from the US. My suggestion: buy the fastest laptop you can afford, with the largest memory. Then load it up with iTunes (television, movies, music), Picasa (for photo-sharing), and Facebook (to easily stay in touch with friends around the world).

5. A good pocket-sized phrase book / dictionary:

This is one thing we carry with us at all times, especially in a country with a highly-difficult and complex language. Usually, they’re fairly easy to find in bookstores in the US, based on the English language. But once in country, the phrasebooks are usually backward (Czech to English), which only frustrates efforts to communicate.

6. Bose speakers:

An expat friend recommended we buy one of these pricey speaker systems before we moved. We thought and thought, but eventually bought one. It has turned out to be one of the best comforts (great music!) in a foreign country, and is one of the few appliances that has lasted.
My suggestion: Find the nearest Bose outlet in the US and save a few dollars by buying one there.

7. Outlet converters:

Electrical outlets are different all around the world, and sometimes it’s difficult to find out what type you might need. For laptop computers, and other adaptable appliances, these are a must-have.
My suggestion: Buy a few more than you think you’ll need at your local Radio Shack. The type we need is unavailable here in Prague, though they carry converters for other nearer countries.

8. Medications / vitamins / over-the-counter aids:

My experience: Buying basics at the Czech Lekarna is not easy. Besides the language barrier, we have to go through a pharmacist to get even simple needs like ibuprofen.
My suggestion: Stock up.

9. International Driver’s License:

Costs less than $20 at an AAA in the US, and takes less than ten minutes.
My suggestion: Check on the regional driving rules, but apply for one before you leave the States.

10. Garmin:

This tiny screen that mounts inside any car for giving accurate directions and maps has opened up worlds and countries without which we never could have found, and seen.
My suggestion: Buy the downloadable maps for your target country before you leave the States.

Finally, one thing that is needed more than all the others, but the one that money can’t buy: an open mind.

Everything is different in a foreign country—the language, the roads, the food, the customs, the drink—even the way they take out the trash. To succeed, an expat must have an open mind, a flexibility to the things that are different, and a heart happy to explore and try something new—even when everything is new.

The Prague Post has published oodles of shocking human rights news stories, including rampant discrimination, human trafficking, and forced sterilizations. It is heartbreaking. And in this post-Communist country, customer service has very little value, if at all. Nothing here is the same. Nothing here is easy. But, we are guests in their country, and believe we are here to help influence change for the better, one day and one person at a time. We have one huge hope for when we leave: that we will help leave the Czech Republic a better place, and that we also will leave bettered by our experiences here as well.

Starting the Conversation: (add your thoughts by clicking on the comments link below): What would you add to the list? What have I missed?

Have a great week!


A big P.S.: I apologize for all the problems I've had with the comments program I had running. After weeks of working with their coding experts, and not gaining a solution, I've uninstalled ... so we're back to basics. I'm hoping this continues to work, as working comments are essential to having the conversation go two-ways. Thanks for your patience!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Uncharted Trail

“Our dreams are only big enough when they include a miracle …” -unknown

Not too far from our home in Prague, we drive along a highway overlooking a mysterious castle in the near distance. The façade of pale ivory creates a striking contrast with its slate blue roof, and the surrounding dense forest. Even though the city surrounds the castle, the details and whereabouts of how to reach the castle were difficult to find. But last week, in the peak of our recent snows, I packed my D-SLR camera as I loaded up my boys for school, in the chance I might be able to find my way through the snow-laden roads.

With the help of maps and my iPhone, I did find the vicinity of the castle, but a high wall surrounded the whole area. It looked private, and closed, and the difficulty of the Czech language almost kept me back. But just as I turned around to head home, I saw a thick wooden gate in a break in the wall where the gate stood ajar. After parking in knee-high snow, I followed a cross-country skier across the open field, and dared to continue in through the gate. What waited for me on the other side of the wall captivated me with its beauty.

the trail leading to the Star Summer Palace

A trail cut into the dense forest led straight toward what I believed to be the mysterious castle. Because of the frozen fog, I couldn’t see what waited for me at the other end of the trail, about one kilometer long. But I dared to find out. The Letohrádek Hvêzda, or Star Summer Palace (not a castle, like I thought), was far more beautiful than I had imagined, especially in the snow, like a magical scene from a fairy tale.

Somehow, life is like the path leading to the Star Summer Palace. We can’t quite see what it is we are heading for, but we know what we hope to find along life’s path—the fulfillment of our dreams.

When fear creeps in, we rein our dreams back to be smaller and more manageable, allowing less risk, maybe staying only in the safety of what we already know. But when we do that, we miss out on the world of possibility.

Daring to explore the uncharted trail toward a dream much bigger opens up the opportunity of discovering a grand and surprising beauty waiting at the end of the unknown path.

Besides the basic human needs of love and faith, we have the strong need to become, to grow and stretch, to walk down a new path that furthers us as humans, one that helps us to reach our full potential.

Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, the fulfillment of our biggest goals begins by daring to dream. Imagine the grand and surprising beauty that waits on the other end of the journey toward fulfilling life goals. I choose to believe every step along the uncharted trail will be worth it, even when the rewarding end seems far out of sight.

Here’s to taking that first step, and dreaming the big dreams …


Starting the conversation (by leaving a comment below): Do your 2010 dreams stretch you, and pull you down a new path? What difficulty(-ies) almost keep you back?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Benefits of Snow

Never before has my world been so white. I look outside my window, and all I see is snow.

Snow on the balcony, even, a step beyond where I write. Sure, on a mountain pinnacle, overlooking the next ski trail to carve down a snow-covered mountain, I’ve experienced lots of snow. But the snow in Prague is different. For even though we have a deep blanket of snow now painting the world clean, ever-mysterious Prague is also shrouded with fog. It’s amazing, really. And in my mind, I continuously hear the great song by U2, "No Line on the Horizon", because of the fitting name for my white world. There truly is no horizon line.

A few days ago, the thought occurred to me that I love living in a place with distinct seasons. Without four dramatic changes, I feel as if I haven’t had a year. But winter—well, it’s easy to bemoan, but I think it also has a few great benefits.

I’m quickly learning that to “drive” through two feet of unplowed snow is remarkably similar to off-roading. Fun, sometimes.

In winter, we can hibernate. All the usual demands of daily life somehow fade into winter’s chill. And we can rest, if we let ourselves.
Winter transforms the normal into a magical world of fairy-dust snow and architectural hoarfrost.

We can be kids again: skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, ice skating, and countless hours making snowmen, snow forts, snow angels … winter brings an uncommon youthfulness, one I cherish.

Winter ushers in quiet time for reading by the fire, steaming coffee to warm hands and friendships, and soft blankets under which we can snuggle little ones.

Winter gives us time to catch our breath and reprioritize the pieces of life most important.

Oh—and winter is a perfect time to write. So while I cozy up with a latte, blanket, and laptop to write, I’m grateful for winter and the opportunities it brings … time to slow down and fill back up.

Enjoy the snow ... -Jennifer

Starting the conversation: What do you appreciate about winter?
(Leave your comment below by clicking on the word "comment".)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Art of Re-Framing

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. -Helen Keller

It’s January, and we’re back to the time of year of taking down the Christmas tree, wrapping up the sparkly lights, and scooting back into the groove of daily living. But this year, daily living looks a whole lot different for us, as I’m sure it does for a lot of you.

the incredible view over Prague's Old Town and spires from Petrin Hill

Instead of seeing a fleecy layer of snow covering our former neighborhood street in Ohio, USA, we now look out onto the snowy streets running by our cozy expat house in Prague. I love when the sun peaks out from behind its foggy mask, and the snow comes to life with a million glimmers. But here, without curbs to dam back much of the mud and without fixes to cobblestone potholes as big as the Czech Šköda cars, the condition of the roads here quickly transforms the snowy Prague wonderland into piles of black slush. Somehow, January’s cold gloom makes seeing the grimy slush in the streets easier to see than the snow sparkling across the tree limbs and rooftops.

It is then I need to remember the art of reframing.

today's sunrise from our balcony in Prague

For me, it doesn’t take many days of problems with service with basic things here in Prague for me to begin to feel frustrated. Frustrated at the size of our dorm-sized refrigerator and our tiny eco-friendly washer and dryer (for a family of five). Bothered by the way our internet works on some days, and does nothing but frizzle on others. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera—the list for expats in a far-behind country is long. Really.
BUT, if I reframe the situation, and I look through a different lens, I can remember the benefits, see the hidden beauty, and find new pieces of life for which to be thankful. For me, if I didn’t experience the drawbacks, I wouldn’t have a chance to experience the beauty—of seeing Europe as a family, of gaining immeasurable amount of writing material for future novels, of our children getting the chance at an incredible education, and so much more.

The truth is we all have problems and heartaches in life, yearly, monthly, daily, even hourly. Certainly, one of the great abilities in life is to find the good and to choose love, and develop a thick patience for the irritants. For when we can, a whole world of possibility and adventure rests at the doorstep to our lives. All we have to do is choose to open the door… and life becomes a take-your-breath-away adventure.

I hope you are having a super start to your new year, to your 2010. Here’s to the daring adventure of watching for life’s beauties, practicing seeing the snowy rooftops instead of the slushy streets, (and finding new ways to fit more into my refrigerator door …)

Starting the conversation: What ways have you learned to reframe pieces of your life?
(I'd love to hear your comments in the comments section, below)