Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Driving Fast to the Middle Ages

Early Sunday morning we woke up to rain and did what you should do on a free Sunday when woken up by rain. We went back to sleep until a symphony of church bells rang through Frankfurt and made waking up glorious.

After realizing that Delta had still not delivered my lost luggage, we set out to find some more appropriate shoes for me. (We had left southern California in a heat wave and I had been wearing sandals on the plane.) We wandered around a cold and somewhat dreary Frankfurt for a little while until we realized that nearly all stores are closed for Sunday mornings, so I settled into wearing Kip’s shoes for a second day and we made plans to explore the area around Frankfurt.

Kip wanted to rent a car and try out the autobahn. I wanted to see the Gutenberg museum and reveal in a little history and then drive up the Rhine Valley, so we rented a car at the train station near our hotel and headed off into the realm of international driving.

I was not interested in challenging the autobahn. I had accidentally let my California driver’s license expire, so I had the perfect excuse. But driving on the autobahn was definitely on Kip’s bucket list and he was eager to experience driving without a speed limit.

Without a speed limit sports cars fly as fast as possible in the left lane while other drivers scramble to move over to the right lane. Traffic can stop on a dime.

Kip, of course, did a great job while I sat in the passenger seat pleading, “careful, careful, careful, please careful.” He was able to top 100 mph in our little economy sized, fuel-efficient car.

It could have been very difficult to navigate driving in another country with different rules and signs exclusively in German, but we rented a GPS with our car and it was amazing. I am so used to using Google Maps that I rarely use a  GPS anymore, but in this environment it was extremely helpful.

The Gutenberg museum was great. I have been to other museum exhibits on printing, but it was inspiring to actually see a Guttenberg Bible and realizing how it changed the world in so many ways.

Sunday afternoon plaza filled with families walking around shopping. It seems to have been Fashion Sunday in Mainz. There were several little runway shows.

These girls are modeling dresses made entirely from newspaper.

Trying to look cool in Kip's shoes.

After the museum we wandered around Mainz, enjoyed walking with the crowds of Germans out enjoying Sunday afternoon shopping and snacking. We tried the delicious döner, a popular Turkish/German sandwich that resembles a gyro in German bread instead of traditional flatbread. I understand that Turkish workers arrived in Germany after World War II and stayed, although never quite assimilating into traditional German culture. In a way the popularity of the döner is a validation of their growing subculture in a changing Germany. We Americans take multiculturalism for granted.

Who needs a museum; every food stand is a legacy to history and culture?

And going back further into history, food and how it shapes a culture, we headed out of town and into the Rhine Valley. We had spent a little too much time in Mainz, so we only had a few hours of light to see the epic Rhine Valley with it’s medieval villages and castles lining the Rhine River. In this notorious corner of Germany vineyards cascade down steep river banks, providing what seems to be the only other industry other than tourism.

When we realized we would be soon losing light we pulled over at Bacharach, a town with 700-year-old half timbered houses and cobblestone streets. Once we walked through the old city gates it was like waking up in Disneyland’s Fantasy World. I am quite sure Walt Disney studied this area in designing his early films and theme park. He recreated it well.

This little town is famous for its wine festival celebrating their traditional Riesling variety. The name of the town literally means "Alter of Bacchus."

We climbed the 14th century city tower that once stood as one of several ramparts around the city and followed a path where the wall once was. It was the first time of many times this week that I was glad for our Malibu hill training. It’s nice to be able to run up mountains for fun.

You can climb through the tower and walk along the path that was once the old city walls.

As it got dark we found Altes Haus, literally translated Old House, and tried some of the local Riesling wine, reibekuchen (potato pancakes) and something that was like country fried pork. It was pretty good, but characteristically heavy. I liked German food, but we often had to split meals and eat only twice a day because the cuisine was so rich. And then after walking more we found the local Italian gelato place and had their tourist specialty – Riesling ice cream.

The name Altes Haus is no joke. It was built in 1368! The food was pretty good too.

Are we in Disneyland?

It was a wonderful day, and really just a small sample of a small, but famous area of Germany. I would have enjoyed spending a week riding bikes up the Rhine River and taking in the beauty. Maybe next time.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

German Hospitality and the Wurst Way to Get a Hot Dog

Beer and brats at a Saturday volkfest in Frankfurt.

Our European adventure began like all other modern transglobal expeditions – at the airport. With a six hour flight to New York followed by a nine hour red-eye to Frankfurt, Kip thought it would be cool to spend our four-hour layover running into the city to see the 911 Memorial. I was craving a NYC street  hotdog, so I set aside my concerns and decided to go for it. It was a fun idea to race around train stations and the subway, but by the time we got to the 911 Memorial we discovered we need a timed ticket to go inside and it was already time to head back to the airport. We found our hot dog and barely made it back to Kennedy as the last passengers were boarding the plane. And maybe that is why my luggage went to Paris instead of Frankfurt.

On the quest for a NYC street hot dog. What were we thinking?

So much for a hot dog,

I should have known we were headed to the very birthplace of sausaged meat.

When we got to Frankfurt Saturday morning we immediately checked into a chic cheap hotel with a recycled jeans theme and took a jet lag nap. We woke up hungry and disoriented and decided to take the advice of the German travel guide I picked up at the library before we left and we headed out to find the Saturday farmers market.

We walked a mile or so through Frankfurt and found the most delightful farmers’ market I have ever seen. Fall was in full swing and there were stands of local apples and squash and everything you would expect to see on a fall table. Frankfurt is famous for its Apfelwein, a cross between apple cider and weak beer, so several vendors were selling wine glasses of the yellow stuff. I tried to use a little German to order and was reminded that Germans count “one” on their thumbs so holding up an index finger and saying “I’d like one,” is likely to produce confused looks from the server and two glasses. With the help of a couple English speaking students we managed to get one glass to share.

The real treat at this mini Oktoberfest was a mobile restaurant serving up plates of sauerkraut, bratwursts, pork, fried potatoes and everything else characteristically German. Everything was heated over gigantic cast iron frying pans and handed to customers on real ceramic plates which they expected patrons to return for a one Euro deposit.

We got steaming plates of food and found a place at a crowded picnic table. Having read that it was acceptable etiquette to ask if you could join a table, we found a friendly couple and joined their conversation. They had lived in America, spoke perfect English and were delighted to include us. The husband who was a proud Bavarian told us all about that area of Germany. He was wearing the traditional Bavarian coat and had just come from Munich for the opening of Oktoberfest there. When we got ready to leave they invited us to join them later that evening for dinner with the rest of their family.
Tired and jet lagged but happy

Sharing food and stories with our new friends. The "grandmas" were the best. They laughed the entire meal. I have no idea what the jokes were about, but they seemed to be enjoying their beer too.

We took our new friends up on their offer and had one of the richest cultural experiences a tourist can find. The crowded restaurant was a traditional eatery with long narrow tables each occupied by large groups sharing pitchers of Apfelwein and plates of savory meats, sauerkraut and pork. The couple and their adult children and their childrens’ friends filled the long table almost uncomfortably, but when we arrived they squeezed together and made room for us. They treated us like celebrities and wanted to hear all about our travels and our life in the US. They explained everything about the food, including the tip that most of them watered the Apfelwein with soda to make it more palatable, and then they insisted on treating us.

Sharing a toast of peach liqueur with the German family at Adolf Wagner's.

Kip and I have always valued hospitality and we try to be generous to friends and strangers, but we were both astonished at this German family’s eagerness to welcome us. It was the kind of kindness that has life power. Once you have experienced such hospitality you want to offer it to someone else. 

How Adventures Come to Be

Great opportunities rarely come at opportune times.

Some people are skilled at making plans and casting off into safe waters. Our only talent seems to lie in holding hands and charging straight into the unknown. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but most of time, when I am with Kip at least, we seem to have the best adventures. It might be that we work well together, but I think it is more than that, I think that God has blessed us over and over again. He knows our hearts and He delights in giving us adventure, beauty and opportunity to see His hand at work in the world.

The weather in Germany changes rapidly. This vibrant rainbow spanned the skies over a rural road at the beginning of our road trip.

A German Adventure

I like to move. I love to run. I love to hike. I love a good road trip. There is just something incredibly special about looking at a map and finding yourself there, in real time, taking pictures to prove it.

But I was not really prepared for this trip to Germany. It came in late September, just after the kids had started a new school year. Micah had just started a new homeschooling high school program, and I hated to take a trip just as she was getting into the new routine. We had also just returned from a two-week vacation with my family that included a six-day road trip to Seattle and week-long cruise to Alaska. It didn’t seem like the best time to go to Europe, but Kip had a conference scheduled and enough sky miles for me to fly for free. My parents said they were available to host the kids in Oklahoma. So we decided to seize the opportunity.

To be honest, I half expected German food to be bland and the people to be somewhat cold. When we traveled through Norway we found people to be polite but distant, and I was expecting the same in Germany. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Almost as soon as we arrived we found Germans to be some of the warmest people we have ever met in our travels. And the food was great too. I had sauerkraut about a dozen times over the week we were there and it was always different. The German Brotkultur (bread culture) is inspiring too. There was no shortage of delicious and diverse breads at every meal and I found myself looking forward to trying my hand at baking again..

Bakery in Dinkelsbühl

Kip getting German with the bratwurst, sauerkraut and beer at an inn along the Romantische Straße.

We rode trains, stayed in unusual hotels, ate amazing local food, met great people, rented a car and drove on the autobahn as well as on cobblestone streets of medieval towns. We explored castles and vineyards and museums and Gothic churches. Towards the end of the week we decided to scrap our plans to go to Oktoberfest in Munich and headed south on an unlikely road trip to Venice. We made it to Venice around sunset and spent the evening walking Venice streets, eating pasta along a canal, watching the gondolas and feeling completely amazed that we were there. It was an adventure of the best kind and it is going to take several blog entries to tell half the stories.

The end of the road trip. Venice.

Monday, April 30, 2012

With My Head in the Clouds

These are quiet, clouded-in, creative days interrupted only by driving down the mountain to take someone to church, to go to the library, to get something at the store. Today I am taking my son to a class, otherwise, we would stay here. The house is in a cloud. One kid is reading, another has been watching endless video demonstrations of science experiments. Now the video is off and he is building an electrical circuit with batteries and wires and light bulbs.

Hello sparrow, help yourself.

 These days offer the kind of solace that makes me want to create, to learn. I’ve been fascinated by birds lately. I picked up a nature guide from the newly remodeled Malibu Library last week and I have been pouring through it, trying to find our little feathered friends. So far I have identified a cute little house finch pair and a flock of California quail, several red-tailed hawks, as well as sparrows and blue jays. I suppose it is a simple interest, not one that will solve humanity’s problems, but it just makes me happy to see them and know what they are. They are beautiful.

I’ve also been learning about gardening. I joined a CSA co-op, so I have been getting fresh organic fruit and vegetables delivered to the door every other Friday morning. I’m not sure it is the best “deal” in the world, but I get some kind of simple pleasure out of discovering what is in the box and finding new recipes for new foods. I’ve discovered chard and leeks and rekindled my love of lentils and quinoa. Those don’t come in the box; they just seem to go so well with farm-fresh vegetables. I read an inspiring excerpt from Scott Jurek’s upcoming biography about his career in long-distance trail running and becoming a vegan. It was interesting, maybe even compelling, but I love cream in my coffee, butter on my toast, salmon of all kinds and an occasional sushi splurge. I think I could give up most other meats, although I might have to make an exception for my brother’s carnivorous food truck delights. His dry-aged burgers from The Flatiron Truck are about the best thing beef can ever hope to be.

The brave little tomato plant.
I also decided to be brave and try gardening again. I reclaimed part of the yard and pulled grass out of one small terraced section. I tilled the ground, added a little compost and planted some green pepper seeds. I don’t have much faith that little green spouts will actually rise from the earth. But I am going to at least give it a try. So far the tomato plant I bought the same day has been flourishing, so maybe the container garden will at least be successful. I’m hoping that the deer won’t venture up the back porch to the container garden area anyhow. If they do, I hope I am there with a camera.

I have also been making bread, not with a mix or a bread maker, but from flour and water and yeast – all kneaded out on the kitchen counter. It started out as a “school” project with my 9-year-old son. But it was fun and rewarding and somehow cheaper than buying good bread in the store; so it has become my latest quest to create better bread. So far I have worked with what I have on hand, whole wheat and white flour, but yesterday I bought rye flour at the store and I plan to make a good rye bread later today.

Now that I am recovered from the marathon I have been running up a private road behind our house. It’s an 800 foot incline through a private neighborhood that ascends to the very top of the mountain where there is a spectacularly rewarding 360 degree view of Point Dume to the north, the port of LA to the south, the entire Valley to the east and of course, Catalina Island and the ocean to the west. The view still amazes me. Even after dozens of treks to the top, I still feel amazed and privileged to be there and have gotten their by my own feet from my front door. I like the feeling of running for the pure pleasure of it. Training for a race has it’s purpose, but for now I am just enjoying running for running. Maybe that is the theme of this season, learning for learning sake, running for running, appreciating the gift of being present.

Not planted or planned, these iris beauties established themselves behind the trash cans. Just because ...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

House Under Feathers

Flying high at our house on the top of the world

Life at the Malibu house has been a surreal experience in so many ways. Seven months ago we traded the whine of city buses pulling up to the bus stop in front of our apartment for the sounds of birds chirping. Sometimes it’s quiet enough to hear the swoosh-flap of a large raven or red-tailed hawk sweeping overhead. But today the world has been especially quiet. This morning I paused near our dinning room window and watched a red headed bird sing. I hear him all the time, but today I could actually see his throat vibrating and his tiny beak opening. A little lady bird joined him and they flew away. It’s that kind of place up here.

When we first considered moving to this house, I was a little nervous about all the details. It would mean a long work commute for Kip, and the kids and I would have to re-evaluate all of our extra-curricular activities. I worried that we might have a difficult time finding a roommate to rent out the bottom half of the house. I started praying about it. I really wanted God to speak to my soul about whether or not we should move out here. Instead of a simple yes or no, I felt that still small voice ask, “What does Piuma mean?”

Piuma is the name of our road. I didn’t know what it meant then, so I Googled it. It means “feather” as in plumage. That meant something to me. All summer, as we were going through the somewhat painful process of trying to sell our condo and prepare to leave life as we knew it behind, I was meditating on Psalm 91. I memorized it and had the kids do the same.

The word feather immediately reminded me of the imagery of Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. … (v 4) He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” The whole Psalm is a beautiful promise of God’s protection. When I realized that Piuma meant feather I had a strong sense that God was providing a place of refuge and rest for us, and that we would have the opportunity to offer that refuge to others. So far that is exactly what our experience at this house has been.

The last few weeks have been especially busy with friends visiting. First we had a family of camping refugees who called one Saturday night, just before a rainstorm to see if wanted company. Heavy clouds surrounded the house in a complete white-out and they ended up staying a couple days until the torrential rain ceased and road crews cleared the fallen boulders from the main road. We even made s’mores on the kitchen stove.

My dear friend Heidi and our kids

Then my Uncle Jim, Aunt Candy and their two daughters came for a night. They live in Idaho now, so my daughter was especially happy to see them again. She is almost the same age as their younger daughter, even though she is my first cousin.

The cousins

My brother Tim, his wife Heather and their darling little baby also came out to see our Idaho family. Tim is an amazing chef. He made a bunch of spinach turn into some kind of amazing Asian fusion thing, and he even liked my grilled salmon, despite his earlier skepticism about marinating salmon. Tim runs his own food truck in LA’s hotly competitive food truck industry and has come to make a name for himself in high quality steak from a truck.
Cooking and cooing ... so talented.

Kip was worried I wouldn't give her back.

The youngest cousin of my generation holds the youngest cousin of my kid's generation. Aunt Candy offers a hand.

Cousin A with Cousin S
Reading to a new friend

Later that weekend our dear friends from our West Virginia college days came by with their two kids. Once again we were “clouded” in and didn’t mind the excuses to just relax and catch up on the years that have passed since we spent any time together.

This week I invited a group of homeschooling families that I know from Community Bible Studies up for an Easter brunch/play date. It was the first time most of them had been there, and after the shock of how long our windy mountain road drive is, I think they had a great time. I always like taking pictures of the kids playing together. I think it is funny how the uninitiated always worry that homeschooled kids are lonely, friendless and unsocialized. My experience has been that homeschooled children excel at co-operative play. I love to watch how quickly they work together as a multi-age group and come up with creative solutions. I wish ALL children got the luxury of playing more.
They all love Hex bugs.

Random homeschooled teens and tweens. I say "random" because they like that word. There is nothing random about these guys.

Flying high on the rope swing.
Someone is getting fancy on the rope swing. He was fine. No injuries today.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

LA Marathon 2012

A marathon is a marathon and there is no other word for it. It is a 26.2 mile foot race. It’s tough. It’s humbling. It exhausts perfectly good athletes. And it is addictive.

But I almost always have the same experience around mile 18 or so. After about three hours of running, I begin to think that it would be okay if I never ran another marathon. By mile 20 I am thinking about how there is nothing wrong with just running half marathons. You can get in great shape training for a half marathon. And after the race is over, you still feel like going out for breakfast.

And by the time I get home, hang up the well-admired medal and take a much needed shower, I’m still thinking contented thoughts about it being my last marathon. But then, something weird happens while I sleep. (I think it might just be that I sleep.) But in the morning a small spark of something has germinated in my mind and I actually start thinking about next time.

Then sometime during the day after I talk to a marathon friend, and there is that discussion about marathon times and how they could be improved, and how we feel pretty good, you know, considering. And then before you know it, I’m hooked.

This year I decided pretty early in the year that I wanted to run the LA Marathon again and that I wanted to be an official Students Run LA mentor. I had run with an SRLA team in the past, but I had never committed to being an official mentor. This year I decided I wanted to be part of the team, help out with Saturday practices, run all the mid-season races. I wanted to see the kids go from start to finish in the training.

Shalom encouraging some of our SRLA team after our last Saturday morning training run before the marathon.

Of course, that goal became a little more complicated in September when we moved to Malibu, more than 20 miles from the South LA high school where my friends coach the SRLA team. But I still really wanted to be a part of the team, so every Saturday morning before dawn I drove my rattle-shaken minivan down our mountain, into the city to run with my kids. I know I only saw them a couple times a week, but I really developed an affection for each of them as I saw them go from running their first 5K to completing the marathon. They worked for it, each of them. And they made it. All of them. I’m so proud of them.

Although the kids all ran at different paces, SRLA coach and my long-time friend Shalom and I ran close enough to the same pace that we could run side-by-side every Saturday morning. I grew to really appreciate that weekly appointment for long distance running and hours of catching up on our lives.

Shalom and I are in the middle of the road. I'm waving over that other runner who is wearing black sweat pants. Kip, my kids and Shalom's parents ran around LA, catching us four times along the route for pictures and encouragement.

We were hoping to set a PR and get in around 4:30. But marathons being what they are, we slowed down somewhere around mile 20 and I had to settle for 4:39. It was about three minutes longer than that first marathon I ran in 2009, and only five minutes shorter than my worst time in 2011 when we battled torrential downpours.

But aside from the chip times, I really enjoyed most of this marathon. The weather was gorgeous, and I made a point of noticing everything we passed. I love LA. I love the mountains and the ocean and the diversity of our communities. I love the people.

The race started at Dodger Stadium and went through Chinatown, downtown, Little Tokyo, Olvera Street, and that was just the first few miles. We ran past familiar places in East Hollywood where Shalom and I have spent so much time working with Kairos and Hope. And then there was the touristy section of Hollywood and West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. By the time I got to Beverly Hills I was ready to listen to a little music and stop noticing everything, but I still enjoyed the now familiar mile 18 crowds cheering along the stretch through Century City and then the endless road through the Veterans.

Somewhere in the middle of the race I realized that my inner thigh, groin muscle was tense, hurting. By mile 23 it was really hurting and around mile 24 I started walk/running and I wondered if this would be the year I crawled to the finish line – the year I took 6 hours to finish. Just about the time I decided to give up, I heard a friend screaming my name. She jumped into the street, taking pictures. She was so excited, I couldn’t help but smile. And smile. And then I was running again.

Then I saw my family standing at the corner of San Vicente and Ocean, just a little over a mile from the finish. I decided to run it in. I don’t think I slowed down from that point. I just looked up at the finish and ran. If there was anyone I knew on the sidelines that last mile, I am sure I didn’t see them. I was locked on that inflatable “Finish line” bridge over Ocean Boulevard. I saw the clock. I heard the announcer. I think he was apologizing for making a joke when I was crossing. I knew I hadn’t made my time, and I was disappointed that I had lost Shalom somewhere around mile 20. But I made it.

That is another funny thing about finishing a marathon. Sometimes I have felt elated. Other times, I have felt a let down. This time was somewhere in between. I think sure, I made it, but I could have done so much better. That is the nasty thing about comparison. It always robs you of the joy of just delighting in the present. A Chinese woman who I had passed back and forth several times over the course started talking to me as we walked through the finisher’s corridor. She must have had a limited command of English because she kept saying the same word over and over “Unbelievable! Unbelievable! It is unbelievable! I did it.” That made me smile too.

I guess I need to embrace that word, “unbelievable.” It is amazing that I can run that far.  And I am so thankful to be healthy. I am thankful to have a family that supports my running and friends that don’t roll their eyes and say “she is doing it again.”

As for next year, I don’t know. I am going to enjoy this race one step at a time.
It's no glamor shot, but I am smiling after running 25 miles at this point.

Back home

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back on Blog

I ran a marathon on Sunday. And there is something about running a marathon that makes me want to write. I think that it was running that inspired this blog three years ago. That was now five marathons ago. Wow. Time flies. My marathon time, however, seems to hover near to 3:40, but I'll get into that later.

I left this blog hanging, not because I didn't have time to write. I wrote a really bad 50,000 word novel in November. I abandoned the blog because somewhere in the middle of selling our condo this summer, packing our life into little boxes and adjusting to a new place, I lost the narrative. I just wasn't sure where the story was going to go. It was easier to write fiction.

The whole summer, literally from Mother's Day to Labor Day when we moved into the new house, was a time of uncertainty. I didn't know if we were making the right decision. I didn't know how it would all work out. In the end, it more than worked out well for us. And during the in between time I dug a little deeper into my faith and asked God to provide. He did. And I felt like I got to know him a little better. I know that is the purpose of all striving in life -- to find our way into conversation with God.

Anyhow, I found it difficult to blog during the summer. And then it was hard to get back into it. The blog was hanging. And I wasn't sure where to pick it up.

But Sunday I ran a marathon, and a marathon is worth a blog entry.

So ... more to come.