Tag Archives: Travel

Return to the Islands

17 May

It’s been a while since I have dropped a line to share a bit of my story and journey. The truth is for me with so much shift, change, questions and uncertainty happening in the world around us I find I have equally the same stirrings on the inside. It feels like a good time, even a necessary time, to step back a little further, reflect, and be with all the whacky feelings and adjustments on the inside as well as those whirling about in the world right now. 

The good news is that I am back in Hawaii. When I returned to Texas a few months ago, I knew it was likely I would get to return to resume my wonderful housesit on Oahu just beyond Honolulu. My time in Texas was appreciated but just the same filled with a fair share of modest discomforts, ups and downs. Some of that was merely the adjustment to “not being in Hawaii” after three months of softer energy, warm moderate weather, tropical landscapes, blue skies and rainbows around every bend. But still there were many things I appreciated about my Texas respite nestled in my sweet little temporary abode.

As my time in Texas was growing to a close, I faced once again the dilemma of what to do with my car. There was no obvious choice of a workable place to keep it long term that was also close to my current location outside Austin, TX.  So I looked about for options, drove myself a little mad and in the end just shouted a prayer out for help and let it go.

In the wake of this, as things sometimes go, I found myself at a local storage facility exploring the option to park it long term. While he didn’t have any parking space available, as “fate” would have it… he was interested in buying my car. So I just went with it, we took it for a spin and by the end of the day he made an offer to buy it. And another day later, it was done. My car was sold and I would soon be off to Hawaii again.

In the midst of this adjustment, I had just a few more things to tend to. Prior to my first trip to Hawaii I had already slimmed down my modest collection of belongings that I kept in my SUV as I drove about the country from housesit to housesit. Now with my car sold and just a very small load – a few plastic bins, some bedding and a few other miscellaneous items – I had to make some quick new choices before I departed for Hawaii. With such a modest amount of items, it didn’t make sense to rent a storage unit. So I took another small leap and got down to the nitty gritty with sorting out the last of my belongings and would only keep what I could pack in my suitcases. I sent a small box to my mom, mailed a few things to a friend and the rest went to the local thrift store.

It did my heart good to see the little tokens of my journey I kept and tucked away in my suitcases. The hand carved wooden spatula from a Christmas market in Vienna, the weathered picture map of Chiang Mai, my magnet collection from all of my destinations, and a modest bag of coins tracking my journey.

I have been back in Oahu for a few weeks now. Arriving this time around was different. It was good to return but still an adjustment to living on a small island after hunkering down in the big state of Texas for a few months.  It was a bit of an odd feeling as I still felt new, but yet also familiar. I felt like less of a tourist and had less of an urge to run out and explore everything and more of a desire to hunker down and lay low.

That said, there is certainly something in my heart and soul that is just undeniably blown away by the tropical beauty of the island. It is an unmistakable pleasure to have the luxury to just take off to the North Shore for the afternoon, sink into the sand and bask in the beauty of the incoming waves and surrounding mountains and landscape.

It does seem that traffic has returned to Oahu since I was last here.  Places that I casually went to before are now loaded with folks and it seems that this time around a little more strategy will be needed to avoid the crowds and even…. simply get a parking spot. That said, I certainly consider myself fortunate to have had a pocket of time here when there really weren’t many people around.

And today, well, it’s a beautiful day.  It’s warm but there’s a gentle breeze outside keeping things feeling soft and cool. The yellow trumpet flowers are blossoming out back.  And earlier with a practically clear blue sky, it was raining… what I have heard described as liquid sunshine.

So I will leave you for now – hunkered down and happy in Hawaii.  How are things in your neck of the woods?  It’s always good to hear from you!

In Love with Oahu

1 Dec

Well I did it. I packed up my stuff. Got rid of some of it. Managed to fit way more essential oils and supplements into my suitcases than I imagined I could and hit the road. Only this time I didn’t quite hit the road…. because I couldn’t.  Instead I boarded an airplane and was island bound. I am in Hawaii.

Recently I hit a barren patch on my house sitting journey and was grateful to be nestled for a few weeks in the midwest in my mother’s home. In the midst of this limbo time I did what I have learned and continue to learn to do… take a step back and allow things to unfold. And unfold they did. Quite unexpectedly. As it sometimes happens on my journey, in the blink of an eye I had two new housesits on my plate which brought a quick redirection. First stop, a return to Austin for a month-long housesit. Second stop, a housesit on the island of Oahu.

I knew there was a possibility out there that a housesit could come together in Hawaii. I made a connection through an on-line gathering of a spiritual community I enjoy. They mentioned they may have a need for a housesitter in the coming months. As someone with experience with things ebbing and flowing, coming and going… I was grateful for the possibility, stayed open to it but also had no expectation or attachments that it would or wouldn’t work out.

And then one day it happened. I got the word. What do you do when someone invites you to housesit in Hawaii?  You say “Yes, please! Thank you!”

Don’t get me wrong…as much as my life has gone with the flow this past decade, I did run into my share of rough currents, resistance to change and sometimes in earnest just pure exhaustion from so much packing, unpacking and driving about. Despite the “inconvenience” of it all, my heartfelt yes quickly aligned my life in a new direction.

Also, notably so, this is my first housesitting departure where I didn’t drive my little SUV packed with the essentials of this life on the go.  As I would leave my wheels behind, I started the process of hmming and hawing over what to keep, what to leave behind and what to take along.  I was fortunate to find a spot to keep my car and remaining belongings while I am away and so now here I am!

With Hawaii’s new Safe Travels program, it was easier than I imagined to get here. I took a COVID test within 72 hours of my departing flight at an Austin Walgreens and got my negative results the same day.  From there I just needed to upload my results, complete the health survey 24 hours before departure and get my QR code.

I flew Delta airlines as I read they were tops in their COVID practices. They have updated their filter system and on my flight from Austin to LAX you could see the air from the filter circulating about like a sci-fi movie. Delta is also currently keeping the middle seat open and from LAX to Honolulu I had the whole row to myself. I slept most of the way, presented my QR code on arrival and as simple as pie I had arrived.

I met with my host and homeowner in Oahu before she left on her own flight the next morning.  She couldn’t be a more kind and generous host and I count myself lucky to be caring for her home and welcomed by her. She even left a few goodies for me to use including a great beach towel and snorkeling equipment.

Since I have arrived I have mostly been “getting my island legs,” tending to the basics and exploring some of the immediate area and territory. Even with all of my traveling experience, I still get nervous when landing in new territory. So I find I am well-served by taking my time and easing into new places.

I had the pleasure of connecting with a few folks at Unity Church of Hawaii and helped just a bit with their campus cleanup. Outdoors and masked up, it was great for even just a bit to see some new friendly faces and meet some locals. I am also fortunate to connect with the Oahu Art of Living Zoom group!  I have participated with Art of Living’s spiritual practices since I took their first course (now known as Sky Breath Meditation) back in 2007. There are regular meetups around the world for graduates and even though we can’t yet meet in person, being with the local group even on Zoom is a treat.

And just this morning… I made my first venture to the beach!  Where to go?  There are so many to choose from! As this is my first time in Hawaii, prior to my plans to come I didn’t realize that Oahu is quite small!  You can get to nearly anywhere on the island in 30 – 45 minutes! So that means, from where I am just a bit west of Honolulu, I have easy access to the whole island!

For my first beach visit I chose Kailua State Beach. Just a 30 minute drive from my current location, plus a lifeguard on duty and… it’s open! (a few locations are closed at this time), it seemed like the perfect place to start.  The drive there wound me through lush green mountains and when I arrived I felt like I landed in paradise. I mean no kidding. I have been to many places but I have never been or seen anyplace quite so lovely and naturally beautiful – from the sweet inlet of water and surrounding mountains and community to the breathtakingly blue water that enticed me like a dream.

The beach had a healthy speckling of beachgoers, enough to feel safe with others around but not so many that it felt crowded at all. There was plenty of room for and respect of social distancing in the backdrop of enchanted mountains, soft sand and welcoming waves.  I took a great walk on the beach, loaded up the sunscreen and just took it in… the unbelievableness, the unexpected oh-my of my current surroundings!

I am back at home now, always happy to be out for a little adventure but equally happy to return to that feeling of home. I feel super safe in the lovely town home community where I am housesitting surrounded with an easy feel and lush greens and palm trees.  As the coming weeks unfold, I imagine I will navigate that balance between the need and desire for downtime, rest and relaxation and the joy of exploration.

So long for now from the island of Oahu – a new little leap in life and my housesitting journey.  My best in health and happiness to all of you!


29 Apr

It’s a quiet Saturday morning in Asheville.  I am enjoying a morning of just feeling more at ease and good in my bones and can’t help but think of the long journey that brought me here.

I have to say, it is good to be in the United States for now and in some ways I am starting to feel at home and appreciating the many fortunate simple things I presently have in my life.  But I am also aware that it was my epic journey around the globe that brought me to this point.

I have always loved travel and been drawn to it.  A child of the midwest in a community with little interest in international exploration, looking beyond our borders and having an adventure were always things that excited me.  If you’ve followed my blog you may know that my 20s brought some unexpected challenges my way and I ended up on the anti-depressant Paxil for over ten years.  When I went off of it the withdrawal/discontinuation symptoms nearly flattened me and it took me years to get some small semblance of “I’m alright.”

A few years after this when I began my international journey,  I was thrilled to consider something that brought excitement back into my life and truly lit me up and inspired me.  At the same time, I was still just a shell of myself and experienced many persistent issues that made daily living and “normal life” hard for me.

So here comes the benefit of my journey.  While traveling – my unexpected epic five-year adventure to Germany, France South Korea, Austria & Thailand – lit me up and brought me to life in ways I can hardly express, it was also extremely challenging for me.  Daily I was pushed in small and large ways.  The beauty of this journey and experience is it forced me to grow and develop in ways that I NEEDED to do to begin to get my life back after the impact of Paxil and also the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The scared, limited, wounded shadow person that I was after the impact of Paxil withdrawal and other life challenges slowly began to chisel away, shift, develop and take new shape.

And so with my gratitude for a bit of ease and restoration on “home” territory also comes my appreciation for all the excitement, struggles and challenges along the way that brought me to where I am now.  A new plateau.  I am aware that while I still have my challenges, my abilities and capacities that are serving me now are the fruit of my journey.  This growth could have only happened in foreign territory.  A life abroad helped me to drop my “regular” paradigm and demanded that I adapt and grow to new ways of being. This ultimately brought me some freedom and allowed me to drop some of the limiting patterns and behaviors locked into and stuck in my more familiar environment.

So if you are someone who wants to travel, should travel, needs to travel but hasn’t for a whole assortment of reasons… just know that it’s possible to travel, no matter what your circumstances.  Surround yourself with good grounded people who will support you in this idea.  And know that challenges don’t mean travel (or whatever it is you want) is not for you, it just means that overcoming those challenges will be part of the equation.  And that’s okay.

Not long before I left on my epic journey I had just begun chanting with the Buddhist organization SGI.  I was chanting for true change and growth in my life and that is exactly what I got. Through the excitement and inspiration of my travels as well as facing and working through the MANY challenges I experienced daily, I grew.

Admittedly, I am still under development and my life is still a work in progress.  But I am aware that I am in a better place today as a result of my journey.

I appreciate my current location and being back in the US, but I also look forward to cultivating a life where adventure and international life are again a part of the landscape… in my own time, in my own way.

So for today, I am just feeling grateful for and acknowledging the ride, the challenges and journey that brought me to where I am now.

Christmas Enchantment

26 Dec

It was Christmas day.  I was needing a little jaunt about.  So I walked out the door to see where my feet would take me.  I didn’t expect much other than quiet streets and fresh air.

As I wandered not far down the road I was soon in the familiar museum quarter.  I started to see pockets of people and soon realized that the Christmas market by the museums seemed to be in action… and so I partook!  Despite my full serving of Christmas markets this holiday season, I found I still had room for a little pleasure from one last market.  Just one more glimpse at the hand-made goods.  And, of course, just one more serving of roasted chestnuts, maroni in German… my favorite.

My last Christmas Market of the year located between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art in Vienna.

My last Christmas Market of the year located between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art in Vienna.

Maroni, or roasted chestnuts.  A holiday favorite and my last sampling of the season.

Maroni, or roasted chestnuts. A holiday favorite and my last sampling of the season.

A few things caught my eye and soon I made my first purchase.  It was a beautiful spatula made from olive wood.  I have come to love my host’s wooden spatulas for cooking, and this was a dreamy version of them with swirls and patterns in the wood. Soon after I stopped, mesmerized….but not making a purchase…at was has become my favorite book maker this holiday season, Bomo Art from Budapest.  With their traditional handmade books and rich designs, I am a new fan.  Check them out if you like at their website.

My feet then led me just a little further into the inner city.  I was in good company with a gathering of international visitors and tourists.  Soon I was in the heart of the city and once again, simply enchanted by Vienna.  All decked out in her fancy Christmas decorations, I discovered visual delight around every corner.  It was raining that day which cast a slight gloss on the city, merely adding to her beauty.

Christmas beauty in the inner city of Vienna

Christmas beauty in the inner city of Vienna

Christmas in Vienna

Wet winter streets in Vienna

Wet winter streets in Vienna

I took a peek inside the St. Peter’s cathedral and was simply blown away by the feeling of reverence and visual beauty.  I took in a few extended moments of silence, awe and prayer.  Not long after I wandered again by St. Stephens Cathedral.  I had visited this cathedral before, but had heard there was a great view from the top that I had not yet checked out.  I snooped around trying to find the way to get there and soon found a place to buy lift tickets for just 5 Euro.  Okay, I thought… and bought a ticket.

The astounding beauty and reverence of St Peter's Cathedral.

The astounding beauty and reverence of St Peter’s Cathedral.

As I boarded the tiny elevator with five other guests, I said a silent prayer that I didn’t have a panic attack from feeling claustrophobic.  This, as it turns out was the wrong prayer… because when we exited the elevator I was shocked by another tiny area – but this one was at the top of the cathedral giving way to the outdoors and the city.  There were no solid floors, but grated floors and walls leaving me feeling completely vulnerable and triggering my fear of heights.  “Oh… I should have thought about this before hand…” I said aloud to myself and no one else in particular.  After exiting the elevator, I stayed glued to a small patch of wall and solid floor, as panic flashed through my eyes.  I did my best to breath and relax for a few minutes until gratefully the elevator returned and I quickly made my exit.  Phew.

It was still a beautiful outing nonetheless.  And another of those simple but powerful moments that remind you what travel has to offer… unexpected moments of beauty and enchantment in a way the feels fresh, new and alive.

With that, I wish you much peace, comfort, rest and delight with the remaining time on your holiday season, wherever you are in the world.  And rich blessings for the New Year!

The Three Days of Christmas

21 Dec

It’s a cool evening on the solstice in Vienna.  I am tucked away in my room in the midst of a bustling city preparing for the holidays. Christmas trees are being sold on every corner and the Christkindl markets are still in full swing.

Today I returned from a one-night get-away with my generous hosts here in Vienna.  We snuck away to a neighboring town, met with friends, and attended a holiday concert featuring… Irish Music.  This event has become an annual tradition in my hosts’ household, each year showcasing a new selection of traditional and more contemporary Celtic music.  This year three groups were featured, my favorite being the vibrant sounds of Beoga.  They were the last act of the evening and when their music burst into the room the feeling was… Yes!  Their sound was fresh, fun and alive…in a traditional Irish sort of way.

There was some strange weather in the air this solstice weekend.  It began with the explosion of color in the sky at sunset that looked like lava flooding the clouds.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  I was told it came from warm air that is somehow distinct because of the surrounding mountains.  This picture below doesn’t do it justice, but gives you an idea of what it was like.

Fire Clouds

Fire Clouds

Earlier this week I took a little departure to the Christkindel market at the Schonbrunn Palace. It was an impressive welcome with the Palace and grand traditional Christmas tree.  I took in what has now become the familiar elements of an Austrian Christmas Market…  the holiday Punch, a spicy wine concoction; holiday favorites like goulash soup and, my favorite, roasted chestnuts. The goods at the market reflected Austria’s serious approach to the holidays with its traditional Christmas gems and crafts.  It’s quite a treat to just hop on the underground and be able take in events such as this.

Christkindel Market Schonbrunn Palace

Christkindl Market Schonbrunn Palace

Today has been a quieter day for me with a simple stroll around my Vienna neighborhood and lunch at a local eatery.  I still appreciate just the simple beauty of Vienna and my neighborhood.  It’s great to have a quiet day simply to just take it in.  Here are a few photos.

My neighborhood in Vienna My neighborhood in Vienna

Today at lunch, as I was preparing to leave the restaurant, the owner handed me my left-overs bundled up and ready to go.  He was so kind and I wanted to show my appreciation. I had to laugh as my natural inclination after nearly two years in South Korea is still to… bow… and I did, without even thinking about it.  In truth I am still a big fan of the bow… as well as the two-handed Korean wave good-bye.  I suppose new habits die-hard.

Bye the time I leave Austria, I imagine my greeting and leaving habits will be all twisted up.  In both Korea and Austria the familiar American hug is often met with suspicion and confusion.  I can still remember the time I innocently reached out to hug a young Korean friend after sharing a personal moment.  As I went for the hug I saw the look of horror in her eyes. I quickly pulled back recalling, that’s right… in Korea you don’t hug.  In Austria one says hello and good-bye with a handshake or a kiss on each cheek.  It is still a bit odd for me negotiating with new friends and acquaintances what is appropriate.  I am sure wherever I am next, I will carry over these Austrian traditions and be some sort of a multi-cultural hugging, bowing, kissing American.

Christmas now is just a few days away.  I am grateful to be spending the holidays in Vienna in the comforts of my new “home” and host family.  Christmas is a little different here.  In total, there are sort of three days of Christmas in Austsria. Typically, the 24th is the big family celebration and that is the day presents are exchanged.  The presents are not delivered by Santa Claus but instead by the Christkindl, a symbolic figure who I am told looks like an angel sort of person with blond hair.  Here is an image I found of the Christkindle.  The following days, Dec. 25 and 26th, are also official holidays and typically spent more relaxed in the company of family and holiday food.



Ah, so now a bit more time relaxing into my evening.  What about you, what will you do for this holiday?  Any new traditions?  It’s always great to hear from you!

Tis the Season!

12 Dec

I am feeling a little lighter today.  It is Friday and I completed my verbal final exam for my very beginners German course.  It was easy.  What a relief.  I am not saying that I spoke eloquent German during my exam, but I understood most of what she said and I had a response… in German.   I also received the results of my written final exam taken earlier this week and I did well!  So… A-2 German, here I come!

I won’t say that I am loving German.  But I won’t say I hate it either.  I find I appreciate having a sliver of life dedicated to beginning to speak and understand a new language.  But it is still a challenge.  At dinners with groups of German speakers, or even one on one, what I don’t know far outweighs what I do.  And that’s okay.  As my German teacher says… completing A1 German I can’t yet expect to be conversational.  I have learned to introduce myself, say a few things I like, tell the time, read numbers.  And so it goes.

I recently began a language exchange with a new friend from the local Vienna SGI Buddhist group.  We speak German for a half hour… then English for a half hour.  After our first meeting I am … encouraged.  It is nice to have an opportunity to connect with someone local and to share language.  Of course when we speak German it is the simplest of words, questions and terms. And when we speak English it is a bit more… conversational.

The holidays are creeping closer.  You can’t mistake that it is the Christmas season if you live in Vienna, with holiday decorations and Christkindl Markets on every corner.  This past weekend a Christmas tree market opened up practically outside our door.  I am told on the weekends now the streets of the popular Christmas markets will be flooded with tourists. Tis the season!

This afternoon I took a shopping break and then met with my lovely host for a little outdoor harp concert.  The concert was at a Christmas market in an area called Karlsplatz.  You couldn’t ask for a better scene – historic buildings, twinkling christmas lights, quality hand-made items at the market.

Holiday shopping streets in Vienna

Holiday shopping streets in Vienna

Children in Vienna up close and personal with the music.

Children in Vienna up close and personal with the music.

Christmas market in Karlsplatz

Christmas market in Karlsplatz

How about you?  Anything new bustling in your neck of the woods around the holidays?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Featured photo (at top) a little Christmas fun at the Christkindl market.

Rainy Days in Graz

8 Dec

I recently returned home to Vienna after a weekend in Graz, Austria.  It was a gentle 2 1/2 hour drive, picking up radio stations from Slovakia and Croatia along the way.  After a soggy weekend, we enjoyed periodic flashes of sunny skies on the way home, catching my first glimpse of the eastern edge of the Alps.

Where the heck is Graz?Graz, Austria

For those of you who may not know, Graz is the second largest city in Austria (to Vienna of course) with a population of about 250,000 people.  A modest echo to the stature and presence of Vienna, it is beautiful and gracious in its own right with is mediterranean-esque colors and secret corridors opening up to festive courtyards. About 200 km (125 miles) southwest of Vienna, it is the largest city in the state or county of Styria.  The county is known for its coat of arms, distinct culture, and all things pumkin – pumkin lasagna, pumkin soup, pumkin oil, pumpkin streudel.  Traveling to Graz is a good reminder that eastern Europe is there just on the edge waiting to be discovered with Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary kilometers away.

I was fortunate to travel to Graz with my Vienna friends and hosts, who graciously invited me to join them as they traveled there for their mom’s 75th birthday celebration.  The intensions of the weekend for family fun and sightseeing where a bit dampened by the persistant rain and cold weather.  But even in the rain and cold, a wet glimpse of Graz was worth the trip.

View from the Top

One of the highlights of the weekend was a quick walk up a daunting series of steps on the side of a mountain-like hill in the center of town.  Despite a few flashes of anxiety and heart racing on my part (I don’t like heights…), the view of the city and looking out over the rooftops made the modest effort worthwhile.

A sea of stairs going up the hill in town center, Graz

A sea of stairs going up the hill in town center, Graz

View from the hill in Graz City Center

View from the hill in Graz City Center

Charming rooftops viewed from the hill in the center Graz

Charming rooftops viewed from the hill in the center Graz

We stayed in a welcoming hotel in the outskirts of town.  Ever the tourist in Austria, I was grateful for the burst of hills I viewed from my hotel window.  The weekend was filled with wet taxi skirmishes, warm food and family gatherings.  We even went on an enchanted fairy tale train ride inside the mountain for the benefit of our youngest companion.

View of the damp hills in the distance from our hotel in Graz.

A cool peek inside the hill in center Graz, featuring a fairy tale trainride

A cool peek inside the hill in center Graz, featuring a fairy tale trainride

I was reminded that Austria is a Catholic country with the ever present Christkindel holiday markets and the annual ice sculpture of the nativity scene.

The annual nativity scene ice sculpture in Graz

The annual nativity scene ice sculpture in Graz

And now we have returned home.  Today, Monday, December 8, is a bank holiday in Austria so we’re enjoying the benefits of no work, no classes. While the busy family life of my hosts continues this afternoon with holiday party obligations, I am grateful to be at my Vienna home noodling around with some things in my life.  My companion for now is a cup of tea as I am busily engaged with my computer, donned in a wool sweater and scarf to ward off the cold.

Ah, and so some time unwind…. and feeling grateful…for Graz.

An Eternity to Learn German

22 Nov

The cool nearly winter air is slowly finding its way into Vienna.  It’s funny, last week it was warmer in Vienna than it was in New Orleans, my former home and current location of my Austrian hostess.  The word here is that the fall in Vienna has been much warmer than typical, and that is just fine with me.

The past few cooler weeks have brought a settling in of sorts to current life and rhythms in Vienna.  With “mom,” my Austrian hostess, still on her New Orleans adventure, most weeks for me have included a fairly regular syncopation of German class, studying, meal preparation and child care.  My young German-speaking friend and I continue to find our way with one another. Often there is a comfortable silence, or singing or playing.  I do my best to use my limited German knowledge to communicate the simplest of ideas.  My young Austrian friend (she is 6), the daughter of a linguist, is a discerning audience. I have to try my very best when pronouncing words or else meet with her disapproval.  I did have a recent success with her.  I read her a children’s book….in German.  It turns out it is possible to read fairly well in German without understanding what you are saying. I went along and read the words and she chuckled and laughed along the way.  Her dad asked if I did a good job reading and she nodded an enthusiastic yes… so while my German is slow in coming, apparently I have gained something.

I am feeling easier with my German class although my hesitation to try speaking and using German remains.  Last week I tried a few words with some new Austrian friends.  Apparently, instead of not I said naked… ah, and so it goes…  I am mostly enjoying my regular German class with my bundle of classmates sharing the journey through its thick woods. Our class is taught all in German and at times I can keep up and understand what she is saying.  At other times I am lost and have this glazed look upon my face.  I sit wondering if she will call on me next, and when she does I feel like a deer caught in the headlights.

I am often surprised at little things I discover in the German language…  the many rules that make no sense and our teacher just laughs and sighs encouraging us to just memorize it… and reinforcing that yes, German is an interesting language…  I often think of Mark Twain’s famous quotes about German including, “I never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.”

We were practicing numbers in class the other day.  At first as they were written I thought they were presented as a puzzle or a trick… but in fact they are actually written that way… in one long stream of words.  For example, 6744 is written as sechstausendsiebenhundertvierundvierzig.  Got it?…

As I continue to find my way in Vienna, I am glad to have connected with the local chapter of SGI (Soka Gakkai International), an international Buddhist organization.  It brings some ease to my life here to have local friends to connect with.  I still enjoy the beauty of the city, but somehow it is even better as the backdrop for participating in ordinary life and events. The Vienna SGI chapter is quite relaxed and they make it simple and fun even though I don’t speak German.  Most members I have met so far speak some English and they are at ease and helpful at translating for me.

I appreciated when attending my first meeting, at the end of the meeting a long-time member from Japan read something in Japanese.  As she read the quote, another member translated that into German.  And then another member translated it from German into English.  All with ease and grace.

I had a birthday this week.  A new age has slipped into my life.  In many ways as the years continue to add-on…. it gets easier and easier.  I feel less burdened with a new age than I did when say I was in my 30s.  It feels like the previous year was spent laying a stronger foundation, and so this year has new strength to stand on.

For my birthday I celebrated by taking a little break in the afternoon to get a massage.  In the evening my host was kind enough to take me out for a birthday dinner.  He said that he was used to having a date on that evening as his wife has the same birthday as me.  Before departing for dinner she and I had a quick birthday Skype from New Orleans. That night she celebrated in New Orleans and her husband, daughter and I celebrated with dinner at a local Vienna eatery, Restaurant Witwe Bolte.  A quiet little nook down a narrow road not far from their house, it was a great birthday meal.

And now the weekend continues.  Enjoying some of the comforts of home.  Preparing to spend Sunday at a workshop with the Art of Living in Vienna.  Good night for now from my Vienna home.

Photo enjoying the beauty of ordinary life in Vienna.

Life Without Sugar

14 Nov

It’s a gray Thursday afternoon in Vienna.  Today I have few plans or responsibilities and I have treated myself to a day of leisure spending most of the day in my pajamas. I appreciate having a day to myself to tend to the quieter indoor things that I truly love and need from time to time.

As many of you know, a big part of my life, traveling and living in foreign lands, includes negotiating a way to eat healthy.  For me this means eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, healthy protein and carbs, as much as possible no glutten, and absolutely… no sugar.  This is not always an easy pursuit within the larger adventure of living in new places around the globe.  But the benefit for me far outweighs the complications.

Considering the health benefits that life with no sugar has brought to my life, it seems worth mentioning here from time to time.

The truth is, life without sugar and eating healthy has become sort of my… hobby. When traveling, I actually enjoy diving in to new “bio” or organic shops, finding new and healthy foods to eat.  I have become a bit of a health food nerd.  In Vienna there are plenty of options which is a big change from the more limited selections in South Korea.  But still, it is an adventure…  Learning to read labels in German.  Asking strangers for help translating when I don’t understand something. Over the years I have learned, paying attention to what is in my food is of the utmost importance for myself and my well-being. So, regardless of the discomfort or inconvenience, I take the time to find out what is in my food.

Ten Years of No Sugar

I first quit sugar about ten years ago.  I was going through a terrible health crisis and was willing to do simply anything to feel better.  A friend at the time had read the book Sugar Blues and was trying out life with no sugar.  “What the heck!” I thought and bought the book too.  Bottom line, the message of this book is sugar is poison… and we shouldn’t eat it.  End of Story.

After reading the book, I went “cold turkey” and stopped eating sugar.  I immediately noticed some difference in my health and well-being.  What was most interesting, however, was how I felt, after quitting sugar, when I accidentally (or on purpose!) ate some sugar.  It was off the charts.  I was 100% clear that sugar made me feel terrible, emotionally and physically.  I had eaten sugar all my life and until I quit it, I had no idea what it actually did to my body.

My body has a negative physiological reaction to sugar, but the most notable reaction for me is my mood.  When I eat sugar my moods are dramatically more erratic.  My anger is easily lit like a fuse. So after years of experience, I do my best to stay away.


It is not always easy to live in other countries, be with new people and maintain this diet that is healthy for me.  When I lived in Korea I had a friend write a note in Korean saying that I did not eat sugar and please recommend something on the menu without it.  I took a picture of it with my phone and had it available for when needed.  My experience is often in other countries they just don’t GET why someone would not want to eat sugar… when it is such a wonderful treat. When I was in Germany I was told that people actually think that sugar is good for their kids and give them a spoonful of sugar for their health. In Korea, sugar is added to MOST of their foods. In restaurants it is often considered rude to ask for food a special way or ask what is in it.

In the United States, more and more people are considering that sugar is worth taking out of their diet.  When I was back in the States recently, it was  a relief to discover a restaurant or two that didn’t scowl at me when I asked what the ingredients were and even happily provided a meal for me with no sugar, guaranteed.

The tricky thing about not eating sugar is that is is everywhere.  In the States (and other countries as well) it is hidden in the spaghetti sauce, kidney beans, corn, salsa, turkey… just to name a few.  I feel like I have to be a super-food-detective because if not, likely some sugar (or other terrible things!) will sneak in to what I eat.  The other challenge here is there are foods that can react in your body like sugar. Some of these are obvious, such as alcohol.  Additionally, simple carbohydrates like white rice, white bread and pasta break down in our bodies more rapidly and turn to sugar quickly.  Other foods for me that trigger my body like sugar are potatoes and corn.

Is Quitting Sugar for You?

I can really get that people don’t want to give up their sweets!  But if you are struggling with physical or emotional challenges, it is worth taking a look at quitting sugar.  The truth is, you don’t really know what it is doing to your body until you stop eating it. If you would like to explore a bit more, here are a couple of good resources:

Hungry for Change
This popular video on health and nutrition is a good introduction to changing our eating habits.  Their discussion includes the topic of sugar.

Sugar Blues by William Dufty
This is the book that I read ten years ago that first opened my eyes to the hazards of sugar.

Radiant Recovery
This program is based on the research of Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D. who introduces a concept called sugar sensitivity.  She offers a simple and balanced approach to eating a healthy diet that supports emotional health and well-being without the need for refined sugars and other overly sweet foods.  The foundation of this diet is, every meal, eat healthy carbs and protein.  Her approach is simple and clean and when taken one step at a time, a great way to easily get sugar out of your life.  She also features a child-friendly site called Little Sugar Addicts.

Sugar Free Recipes

I am a steadfast collector of no sugar added recipes on Pinterest.  Most recipes featured include simple, healthy ingredients and no sugar added.  When cooking sugar-free I never add artificial sweeteners and also do my best to stay away from or minimize even natural sweeteners like agave nectar and honey.  Here are some links below if you’d like to check them out:

Healthy Soups and Sides

Crockpot Recipes

Rice Cooker Recipes

Breakfast and Desserts
(I have learned it is best for me to mostly stay away from sweet things of any type.  It just feeds the need for sweets.  But still, here are some healthier sweet recipes options…)

The bottom line when exploring a no sugar and healthier diet is to pay attention to your body and see what does… and doesn’t work for you!

Here is wishing you happy eating adventures!  If you have any no-sugar or healthy eating adventures to share, wherever you are in the world, I would love to hear from you!  And feel free to ask any questions you may have.  I am happy to respond.

Good night for now after a quiet day in Vienna!

Featured photo, a sweet day in Vienna at Stadtpark with my Austrian hosts.

Life in Vienna

7 Nov

It is a coolish Friday (Freitag… learning the days of the week…) in Vienna.  I am enjoying my lunch break after a morning of my still very basic German lessons.  I am satisfied with seeing some growth in the German department.  Our instructor speaks only German, unless it’s absolutely necessary to speak English to help us understand something.  At first I was intimidated by this, but now I am beginning to appreciate it more and more as my comprehension is expanding in tiny increments.  It is satisfying to understand SOME THINGS in German when just a few weeks ago this was not the case.

My German class often has me thinking about my time teaching English in Korea and now empathizing with my students! There are many things I did and demanded as a teacher, that I now get can be challenging for students. For example…. sneaking a peek in the dictionary to figure out a word I don’t know without calling big attention to myself.  This was something typically not allowed in our classrooms in Korea, and not encouraged in my class here in Germany.  In Korea as teachers we would always say, “Just ask!  It is better to ask and practice your English!”  I now understand, sometimes you just want to just silently take a quick look and get the information unnoticed.  Today in class I found myself trying to hide my dictionary while looking up a word so my teacher would not “catch me” and make a big deal out of it… As a student you think that if you are careful, the teacher can’t see what you’re doing… but as  a teacher I know that we see ALL THINGS!

Earlier this week we had a mid-fall burst of warm weather.  It was the perfect balance of warmth with a hint of crispness in the air.  The skies were crystal blue.  The golden fall leaves were blowing in the air. And my surroundings, well, they just couldn’t be beat.  I took a long and leisurely walk feeling like a kid in a candy store with a true visual delight around every corner.  It was perhaps my best afternoon walk ever.  Here are a few highlights…


Beautiful Art Nouveu building home to the Schmetterling Haus, or the butterfly house.


A slice of Hofburg Palace viewed from the “people’s garden.”


The back view of the Weltmuseum, part of the Hofburg, as seen from the Burggarten.

Not long ago, I made my way for the afternoon to Austria’s Fine Art’s Museum, called the Kunsthistorisches Museum.  It is still such a pleasure to simply walk down the street to this and other historic buildings and attractions.  While waiting in line to get my ticket, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and let me know that if you had a lottery ticket, entrance to the museum was free on that day. Then she handed me a lottery ticket and gave me free entrance.  Hooray!  A nice treat!


When I first entered the museum, I was blasted by its beauty and history.  I took a moment to just be there and heard the words of my high school art history teacher, who always reminded us when entering a building, “Class, always remember to look up… and down!…”  I looked up… and this is what I saw!…


I spent the rest of the afternoon lost in not only the art in the exhibits, but the beauty of the building itself.


Kunsthistorisches2Kunsthistorisches3When I am not in German class or exploring Vienna,  I am finding my way tending to regular life in the household of my Austrian hosts.  Especially while mom is away, I am here to help and there are things to be done.  Meals to be prepared, a child to help care for, basic errands to run. Much of this is a bit foreign to me after years of independence.  But it can be unexpectedly fun and sometimes even touching… to fetch a little one from a playdate or take her to school for the first time.

Speaking of which, my free time is ticking away and my mind is filling with ideas of what I need to do next…  before I pick up my little friend this afternoon.  With that thought I must say… for now…. Auf Wiedersehen!

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