Tag Archives: Bike Riding

Being in Balance

31 Oct

Balance.  Ah… that elusive pendulum… moving from side to side.  I think at some point, afraid of losing my balance…I just stopped moving at all… tried to stay very still.  Frozen.  This is not a good strategy for balance.  It promotes something that is a little more like… I don’t know… a rock…  Unmoving.   Unmoving rock=no balance.  I don’t recommend it.

So here I am starting to move and sway just a little bit in the locomotion of the balance of me… in Europe… in Wettenbostel.  For me, part of being in balance was just taking the leap and buying a ticket to come here over five months ago.  The beginning of motion…. of moving the rock.   A much-needed shift that was somehow essential for me.  I can remember not too long ago in New Orleans sitting at a Tom McDermott concert in City Park listening to his smooth sounds on the piano partnered with clarinetist Evan Christopher… and although I was enjoying the music… I also felt a creative yearning in me… that was somehow denied.  Not just denied, but that I felt like I had lost access to.  I asked myself, my greater wisdom… I know I am creative, but right now I don’t feel anything like creative.  What can I do to access my creativity again?  The answer I got was… leave the United States.  A little more fertilizer for the seed that was already planted.

I have learned that balance for me starts with simple thing… like getting a good night sleep, walks outside and being connected to nature, doing my regular healing practices like yoga and Reiki.  Drinking plenty of water, not eating sugar and eating healthy and balanced (not always easy for me here at the Seminar Haus!…) And remembering simple things like just listening to music makes me feel great… Some areas of balance for me are still being revealed.  When to go out and play.  Learning to set good boundaries with people.  Connecting to and listening to my heart.  Staying grounded.  Learning to work again… with persistence, fun and quality… and learning when, if no-one else will, to give myself a break.  Ah, there is a way.

My bicycling traveling German friend here in Wettenbostel, Jörn… who for the time being is not traveling and really not bicycling either… but still German, has been a good example for me about work and quality.  Somewhere programmed in his German being he has an immaculate work ethic, working thoroughly and diligently on every last detail.  It is really quite something to see.  Now don’t get me wrong… I have tried to influence him with some of my Big Easy, Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez attitude… but there is a time and place for everything, for all of it.  Balance.

Back in New Orleans, even before Hurricane Katrina… I took some time to make a big change in my life.  A move toward balance.  I took myself off of anti-depressant medication after being on them for ten years.  Paxil.  And in that experience, that rebirthing into me… I found there were many things that were no longer that easy for me anymore.  It was hard to concentrate.  Challenging to work.  Challenging to think clearly.  I got overwhelmed and anxious easily and found people and crowds sometimes too much to take.  I was moody.  Emotionally volitile.  At that time I found comfort in a friends who somehow understood or could relate to the intensity of the experience and transformation… one was a recovering alcoholic who had nearly killed himself drinking and the other had a stroke.  With them I shared an unexpected but shared experience of relearning some basic things and getting a new understanding of who I am and how to function in the world.  One day at a time.  One step at a time.

I had a nice conversation with my host while preparing breakfast for the seminar this weekend.  Some of his past experience includes work as a therapist with amazing experience in the healing and therapeutic worlds.  I shared with him my experience with getting off Paxil.  He acknowledged me for getting off of anti-depressents and shared that, in his opinion anti-depressents can really change the chemical balance of your brain and even damage it.  And while I aspire to create healing and wholeness for myself, I do feel impacted by the experience of being on Paxil.  The painful brain synapses that felt like electrical jolts in my brain while going off the drugs were a small indication of that.

So balance.  And learning, exploring and seeing ways of working and living again.  Trusting spirit.  Living today and letting things unfold.  So for today, after a busy weekend of work, I will relax.  Be in nature.  Maybe paint a little.  Just a day in Wettenbostel.  My life for now in Germany, in the flow.  Seeking balance.

Photo by Michael Hartley

Moon Over Wettenbostel

12 Oct

I took an evening stroll as the sun was setting.  Fall has found its way to Wettenbostel and as I walk there are gaps in the trees where leaves used to be with sparks of color grabbing my attention.  I looked up at the evening sky and was greeted by the full moon resting on a blanket of clouds lazily making their way over Wettenbostel.  I stepped away from the Seminar Haus through the woods to walk the farm roads outlining the fields surrounded by borders of forest.  A clear sky.  A fullness.  A brightness.  Enjoying the still newness and strangeness of being in Germany tucked amongst the potato fields unburdened by its beauty.

The sun was out today.  A welcome break after two days of rain.  Today we leveled the field  covering up the hole where the sewage pipe was installed for one of the buildings.  The excitement of the chore was our host searching for rocks, digging them up like buried treasure.  We then collected them in piles to be hauled away, happily sitting and kneeling in the dirt enjoying the beauty and phenomenon of “work clothes”… meant to be dirty. What a good time I had today… playing in the dirt with the guys, music blasting in the open field.  I cooked a nice little lunch today with fresh beets and leeks from the garden served with other veggies over brown rice.

I am appreciating tonight the warmth of my jacket purchased at a thrift store in the Netherlands along with my comfy scarf gifted to me by the universe… found on the ground in Amsterdam… now laundered and fresh and ready to wear.  Tonight not much remains but the briskness of the night air… and the optional evening hot tub later.    Our “visiting bicycling traveler”, as I call him,  tells me that you can see your future in the moon… as he considers his own journey and next steps.  It is so bright tonight I will have to take a look and see what it has to say for me.  Then a good night sleep in bedroom of many dreams… I wonder what I will dream tonight…

Photo Autumn in Wettenbostel by Michael Hartley

Grosse Lebensschule

8 Oct

Grosse Lebenscchule.  In english this means “Big School of Life”… these were the words offered to me today while walking with our bicycling visitor from the near-by town of Lüneburg… who is en route to Italy… temporarily delayed in the enchantment of the Seminar Haus and Wettenbostel.  He said “I think Europe for you is Grosse Lebensschule…”   I said, “I think you are right!”

Lesson 101:  Culinary skills.  It is no secret on this blog that work in the kitchen has been mostly a foreign affair for me.  Right next to learning German is the foreign land of the ins and outs of working and happily preparing, serving, and cleaning up in a kitchen.  This domesticy has leaked into my world… and somewhere in there I think i am beginning to see the lesson.  It lives somewhere in the world of generosity… and not far away from being of service. This week I have prepared a meal for our group every day.  Not a world record I know.  Many moms and grandmas and yes even dads I am sure would leave me in the dust without breaking a sweat.  But for me this is… growth. I am learning little by little good things that can be prepared in simple ways and with the inspiration of my host learning to prepare things a little sharp… that is English-German for a little zest!  a little spice! I prepared some vegetable curry the other day.  Very simply cooked with some cocoanut milk added at the end for flavor.  Served over rice.  Today I cooked a lentil soup.  I was teased a little as the red lentils no longer looked red, but I have to say it was quite good… particularly on this cold unmistakably autumn day.

This week has been a little out of the ordinary here in Wettenbostel.  Dan my loyal American companion on the porch was gone for a few days.  But do not fear, for in his place I was and continue to be surrounded by “the guys”… cast includes: our wonderful host, friend of seminar haus/electrician and “regular”  porch member who lives down the road, and our new bicycling friend.  Alway an interesting energy for me to explore… engage… disengage… laugh… go to my room and hide… do some yoga… hang out in the hot tub, go spend some time reading on my own.  It`s a new rhythm for me as someone who has previously spent so much time on me own.  I call it the Wettenbostel shuffle.

I have learned a little German this week.  English seems to be the unofficial language here at the Seminar Haus.  Most of us speak English… collectively we are American, Canadian and German.  But as our latest arrival is still developing his English… it only seems fair that I learn a little German.  It seems kind of selfish to be in Germany and ask Germans to bend to the whim of my English needs.  And yet my German is limited to phrases like Guten Morgen and while at times there is a certain pleasure of exploring the foreign sounds in my mouth… so far they don´t seem to stick.

This weekend we have a group of five sisters visiting for Bed and Breakfast and other than that just the simple excitement of the mixture of all of our lives and energies at work, rest and play.  My computer has been struggling as of late so this week it received some tender loving care from two of our kind and caring cast members and will soon be getting a new hard drive.  I have had less time to write without a computer but am glad to sneak a little time now on a borrowed laptop.

Surrounding farmers have been harvesting recently as I am surrounded by potato mountains on walks. I am layered up in my strategies for staying warm in Northern Germany for someone who has spent the last twelve years living in the sultry heat of the Louisiana bayous.  Nonetheless, so far so good.  Warm tea helps.  A little heat in my room and on occassion… a nice hot dip in the hot tub.

Learning to flow

1 Oct

It’s Saturday morning at the Seminar Haus.  It’s later in the morning.  The group visiting this weekend has been fed and Dan is in the kitchen listening to music on his computer.  Can’t tell what music it is… but it has kind of a reggae hip hop beat.  It’s a beautiful sunny day but there is still a little crispness in the air.  Leggins and a long sleeve sweatshirt suffice for warmth and comfort.

I have already ventured out this morning… 11:00am being not all that late in the morning for me as I slowly weave into the day.  I took a little bike ride this morning.  Fun, but sometimes a little challenging as the bicycle I use only has one gear.  A gear that is suitable for riding flat, but once you ride up a little hill it feels like peddling a brick.  Plus I must say I am spoiled from years of living in FLAT New Orleans.  A land so flat, they built a hill at the zoo called Monkey Hill so kids could experience an actual hill…anyway, I digress.. it is still bike riding nonetheless and it was good to visit the surrounding fields and bicycle paths as the potatoes are being harvested.  On my way back I visited our hosts neighbor and harvested a few beets, leeks, tomatoes and pears for a little lunch later.  Then back at the seminar haus, more harvesting of apples from the many apple trees…set out for the guests to enjoy.

And here I am in the flow of the day.  Sometimes it zings this way… Sometimes that.  Sometimes it’s quiet and still… wondering what is around the corner.  And the degree of flow here is… new to me.  Oh sure I had some practice of flow during and after hurricane Katrina as well as living in New Orleans.  But I think somewhere recently I just got so tired of shifting I thought perhaps if I could just make everything be still and unmoving… everything would be okay.  Well… that doesn’t work.  So here I am at the Seminar Haus in Wettenbostel.  The land of constant movement.  And practicing going with the flow.

Yesterday was some good strengthening of my flow muscle.  The was a bit of a “breakdown” shall we say here at the Seminar Haus.  Just hours before the guests were to arrive.  So, we all had to adjust… move… and flow.  Guests needed to be moved from one location to another… new rooms to clean and responding to the situation at hand.  We are still in the midst of that breakdown this morning… so far in a more peaceful settled kind of way.  It worked out that there was a smaller group this weekend so the flux was easily accommodated.

A little break for now until more bustle with the preparation of lunch.  Our host just arrived… likely a business will start to pick up.  Time to… ya know… go with the flow.

Being at Home

22 Sep

Nothing is permanent.  That’s what the Buddhists say.  And I am all too often reminded of that… 6 years ago when my apartment and the world I knew were submerged in the waters from Hurricane Katrina…  the somewhat vagabond life that followed… living in Texas… here for a while then there.  And then returning 18 months later to a still unstable New Orleans.  My most recent year in New Orleans, I house sat in other people’s homes… 6 months here… six months there.  And now here I am again, wandering… in Europe this time.  How does a Gypsy begin to be at home?

I started this morning with some of my typical rituals… continuing to build my spiritual backbone… knowing, wanting…and sometimes seeing and experiencing that there is a way and place where I am at home… in spirit.  That is the ground from which I build my foundation. Every day.  This morning I read a passage from A Course in Miracles… reminding me to be open to seeing, experiencing and hearing God in and through all things… that God is an echo beyond what we see and experience.  Oneness. And in that space, home to me sounds and feels a lot like “om“!

It’s quiet today at the Seminar house and it has been good to be able to take my time. Grounding.  I’ve been tending to the basics.  Cleaning this.  Organizing that.  And today, Dan, my fellow American here in Wettenbostel, and I had a big adventure and rode bicycles into the nearby town of Amelinghausen. A neighboring town just 8 kilometers away… it is the closest source for groceries and other basic needs.  Armed with bicycles… that were in need of a little tender loving care… we braved the ride, the two, maybe three hills and safely arrived for a little shopping and a coffee break.  It was my first time “breaking out” of Wettenbostel to Amerlinghausen without the escort of one of our hosts and their vehicle. Being there on the bicycle passing the fields of corn, beets and potatoes just felt good and kind of reminded me who I am.  Nothing exciting or dangerous… but just the pleasure of being on a bicycle… seeing the fields expand and feeling the coolness of the wind.  I had to laugh when on two different occasions I had to swerve my bicycle to avoid hitting a stray potato on the road.  Only in Germany.  Land of the potato. We returned to the Seminar Haus, me feeling victorious at having successfully returned to the mother ship.  My legs were stretched from the exercise and my heart was moving faster.

And now, here I am… back at home.  There is a familiar feeling in spending time at Wettenbostel that gives way sometimes to the peace and ease of home.  But I am aware, in true gypsy form, that my life is still a home in motion.  And I like that.  But in the meantime, I do need to take the time to just be.  Be me.  Ride a bicycle.  Work a little in the garden.  Have some time to relax… work a morning in my pajamas. Watch a movie at night.  It seems with all the chaos not so long ago in my life… that perhaps I was lost.  But every day little by little, in the magic, the ways, the experiences of my life and new adventure…in quiet still ways.. I am found.  I am at home.

Goodnight, Alkmaar!

8 Sep

Well it is Thursday evening and I just returned from a bicycle ride into town.  Marijke’s home is in what we might consider the suburbs of Alkmaar.  But in truth it is not far from the center of town.  Just a short bicycle ride away.  The weather outside is cool and accepting.  It was a good night for a ride.

My time in Alkmaar in nearing an end.  I have been here, in truth, longer than I realized as time sneaks by me in my often timeless world.  Over four weeks.  But it has been good.  The time.  The connections.  And the generosity of Marijke of not only extending her home… but her consistent way of offering her hospitality and keeping me in mind as a part of her daily way.  To that I say, Dankjewel!  From the bottom of my heart!

As my final farewell and parting words to Alkmaar and for now the Netherlands, I off my appreciation in the form of the “ode to the bicycle”… Never before have I ever… ever seen such a place that pays homage to the bicycle the way the Netherlands does.  It may be normal life for the Dutch.  For me it is…well, out of the ordinary!  Just tonight I had my premier experience with the Dutch and bicycles.  It is essentially valet parking for bikes.  Okay, perhaps not that formal… but pretty good.  In town this evening we parked our bicycles in a free (gratis) underground parking garage for bicycles.  On the way down the stairs I prepared to struggle with my bicycle as is typical for me when escorting a bicycle down a flight of stairs.  But the Dutch are too smart for this.  First their premier levee system, now this.  Going down the stairs, on the outside, the perimeter of the stairs there is a… how would you describe it… a narrow, smooth track for your bicycle that allows you to easily roll it while you walk the stairs.  Incredible.  And then, when you arrive at the bottom in the garage, the friendly man gives you a numbered ticket… half on your bicycle, the other half with you.  And then you park!   Marijke’s tire was flat, so the nice man used the premier bicycle pump mounted to the wall to put a little air in her tire before she parked.  Outstanding.

I appreciate this the most about the Netherlands.  It’s persistent bicycle culture that has, indeed, put me to shame.  It wasn’t unusual to see someone almost twice my age passing me on their bicycle as I reluctantly asked Marijke, “how much longer now…”  A bicycle ride in the rain… just another day for the Dutch.  And then there’s Marijke’s neighbor… a grandpa who rides his bicycle over 20 km to work every day.

As I say farewell to the Netherlands, I prepare to return to Wettenbostel… leaving early Saturday morning. I am so grateful to have  a friendly welcoming place where I can return.  But for now I say Goodnight. Goodnight to the wind and the windmills.  The bicycle paths lined with cows and sheep.  The unexpected showers and expansive sky.  Goodnight!  Goodnight sweet Alkmaar!

Where there is a will, there is a way

16 Aug

Hmmm… it’s a good phrase.  Not even sure where I heard it the first time.  When I was designing and selling greeting cards in Austin, TX one of my cards had that phrase on it… where there is a will, there is a way.  But what is this actually about?  I have found that my own “wilfulness” only gets in my way.  But I suppose there is a greater will, a greater wisdom that leads the way… that can be heard when I listen.   I consider this phrase when I look at my journey here in Europe… starting out as a month-long exploration…. extending it to a year, not knowing what will unfold, where I will go, and how I will afford this journey.  Ah, I guess this fits somewhere along the lines of faith…. paying attention… and sometimes going with the flow.

Going with the flow brought me here to Alkmaar.  It has been a mellow encounter so far. I am most grateful that my host, Marijke, too has a love for the outdoors.  This weekend we embarked on a bicycle ride to an area known here as the dunes.  A scenic ride down those lovely paved bicycle lanes and yes, flat roads brought us to a more hilly wooded area, the dunes, close to the sea.  We were not alone, surrounded by other dutch families enjoying the fortune of a sunny warmish day.  We stopped midway at a coffee shop nestled in the woods and enjoyed a cup of cappuccino for Marijke, her signature drink, and herbal tea for me… a standard compromise for me with my no-caffeine no sugar policy.  As we made our way through the dunes and near-bye tourist friendly neighborhoods, we took a break at one of Marijke’s favorite dutch lunch spots.  We both enjoyed a traditional dutch pancake… me thinking, I can’t eat pancakes… I can’t eat sugar!… but alas, put all fears aside, this is a lovely savory pancake filled with things likes onions and cheese and mushrooms.  Yum.  Quite tasty.  And a Big pancake, like a small pizza!

And now, Marijke has returned back to work as her summer vacation is complete. The past few days I have been taking it slow with more time to myself.  A bicycle ride here.  A walk there.  I can now find my way to town on my own by bicycle and took a short ride there early yesterday evening.  I wandered a bit aimlessly through cobblestone streets lining the many canals.  I took an adventureous diversion down a small cobblestone street only to retreat in embarrassment as I discovered it was sort of a “red light district.”  Only identifying this idea with Amsterdam, I wasn’t expecting to find this in sweet little Alkmaar.  But there it was.  Innocent enough.  Red curtains, pretty women in lingerie sitting in the windows like merchandise.  Men lining the street.

Today has been a moderately peaceful day … some sun, some tea, and oh yeah, way too much struggle with myself.  Perhaps its that will of mine again.  With so much time on my hands and uncertainty, it sometimes gets the best of me.  Surely, I think, there is something I should DO!…  As a student of a Course in Miracles I am exploring the idea introduced in one of the recent workbook lessons, lesson 135.  It says “a healed mind does not plan.  It carries out the plans that it receives through listening to wisdom that is not its own.  It waits until it has been taught what should be done, and then proceeds to do it…”  Perhaps that is the will that leads to a way… the will of a greater wisdom… even for a young(ish) woman exploring her way through Europe…and ultimately exploring a better way to be… fun, peace, play and plenty… with no plan.  In that way, this trip is an experiment in faith.

And in the meantime, while I wait or don’t wait or… sometimes just don’t know… I am grateful.  I am grateful to be here in the Netherlands and that someone as kind and generous as Marijke invited me to visit with her.  I am grateful to have some time and space to go slow.  And I am grateful to let go a little… of which is required of a journey of this nature.

So there is a little more sun to enjoy for the day.   And tonight, having some fun and doing my best to listen to the will… and discover the way.

Feeding My Soul

13 Aug

I just finished reading the book Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, the same author who wrote the book Eat, Pray, Love – a book and now movie of her year adventure overseas after the end of her marriage.  Committed is a continuation of the “love” story from her first book.  One of the things that struck me in the book was her description of her now husband, “Felipe”, as a traveler.  She says what makes him a traveler is his ability to make himself at home anywhere in the world.  He likes it simple.  He might even be boring… but he has a capacity to carve out his world anywhere that he is in the world and make himself at home.  Now, I am new to traveling and definitely new to being in countries that don’t speak my language, but I think if I would have to call myself a traveler… that is the kind of traveler that I am.  Like Felipe.  Knowing and liking some things that feed my soul and seeking to create those things around me wherever I go…

There are some things I just love, that light me up, and finding and connecting with them brings me peace no matter where I am.  Yes, there is a particular delight in experiencing some of these things in new places… What is great about new places… especially for me in Europe… is that just going down a new road or new path can be a sheer delight!

Top on my list of feeding my soul is bicycle riding.  How great it is!  My dream, my wish when living back in the Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, and considering where else I might live, was the next place that I lived would be a fun place to ride my bike.  At the time Europe wasn’t even on the map, but when it comes to bicycle riding Europe has far exceeded my expectations!  Now here in Alkmeer, Netherlands, this place is so bicycle friendly that there are roads created just for bicycles – no cars allowed.  And we’re not talking just paths alongside the main road, which of course they have, but distinct roads just for bicycles (and scooters…)  that easily pave their way around the community and into town.  These roads even have street names… like a real road. Amazing.

Yesterday Marijke and I took a bicycle ride into the center of Alkmeer.  She has two bicycles and was kind enough to lend me the newer, fancier one.  Ah so smooth and good to ride!  We easily followed the path from her home along the canal-lined bicycle road… and in only four kilometers we parked our bikes and enjoyed our tour around the cobblestone roads and stores at the center of town.  Holland is nice and flat like New Orleans since it too is below sea level which is great for endless and tireless bike-riding. It feels so good and independent to me to just hop on a bicycle and go somewhere… particularly somewhere beautiful.  And, this same path into town takes you to the train station… and from there you can go… anywhere!…

I have to say that it also feeds my soul to have access to  a car… not necessarily my own personal car, but wheels nonetheless.  I love the feeling of being able to just pick up and move… movement.  Just last night I asked Marijke if she would like to join me for a stroll… her response was… would you like to go for a stroll at the sea?… the sea, I thought.  Well of course!  I had never thought of that… not knowing we were so close to the sea and that it was easily accessible for evening strolling.  Being an American chick, I had not yet been to the “sea”… but to the ocean, the gulf… The sea sounded great!  So we hopped in her car and within about 15 minutes and a beautiful tree lined drive, we were at the sea!  At first I didn’t believe her as there were dunes blocking the view to the right.  But she said, and over those dunes is… the sea.  And I walked a little… and looked… and there it was… in its beautiful magnificence.

Which brings us to the next thing that feeds my soul… beauty!  Particularly natural beauty!  Love it!  It was about 9pm and the sun was starting to set and the water spread out like glass.  The tide was low and the water stretched out from the beach clean and long.  Its smoothness spoke like a sea… so calm and alive.  Marijke said that if I swam out into the sea… and just kept on going… I would reach Britain.  I took her word for that.  But, with just a quick snappy drive we both enjoyed a stroll with a scenery and a world that was utterly satisfying.  And a full moon, too!

Apart from these outer-worldly soul soothing activities, this traveler also needs to satisfy my soul from the inside.  Simple things like a regular dose of Course in Miracles… a short read of the text and nearly daily practice of the workbook in back.  My daily practice of the Art of Living Sudarshan Krya… and of course Reiki.  These spiritual tools are priorities in my travel backpack and feed my soul whether I am in Marijke’s home in Holland or hanging out at the Seminar Haus in Wettenbostel.  And with these tools I am willing to travel… to places new to me and undiscovered… both inside and out.

So, here I am, learning to feed my soul no matter what the scenery… what the location…  Right now I am in Marijke’s kitchen watching the rain pour on the canal outside while her cat Sil keeps me company on the kitchen table.  Much rain here.  They say it is not typical for this time of year.  So for now we dart out when we can during the dry times.  Sometimes we see a spec of sun.  And when it is not dry… well, staying warm and dry someplace inside.  Enjoying a cup of a tea, a good book.  Ya know…

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