Therapy by Bonfire: A 20 Year Reunion

She wore black combat boots and had hair that looked like she cropped it herself with kitchen shears. She asked questions. She had opinions. She was passionate about everything. She was the exotic German in a ho-hum Midwestern school.

THE foreign exchange student.

Though I was probably her polar opposite, we became the best of friends.

After I graduated, I sold my car so I could buy plane tickets to visit her in Germany.

We had our adventures. Drove to Italy. I got drunk for the first time in my life. And we even sang Beatles songs in a little German bar (what IS it with drinking, Germans and the Beatles?).  I cried when I left Germany because I ‘knew’ I would never be back again.

*At this point, the universe laughs.

There’s just some kind of magnetism that draws people together. You can’t explain it, really. It has nothing to do with hair color, height or politics. Sometimes you just know a good friend when you find one.

So, it amazes me that twenty years have gone by without much more than second-hand information, and more recently, minor facebook stalking.

It pains me that after eight years of living in the same country, I had never made the three hour drive to see her.

But timing is everything. Even if I had seen her a year ago, I was a different person, and it might’ve ruined this new friendship. And finally, now, at this time in my life, I could finally see my friend.

It was a little awkward at first, being in her home, watching this new/old friend move about her kitchen, both of us with SO much to say, but not knowing how or where to begin.

Thankfully, she still has opinions, she still has questions, and she is still passionate, though the combat boots are gone.

After a couple of hours, we plunged right into the big issues of life: politics, religion, love, life. All the things you shouldn’t talk about in polite conversation.

It was therapeutic.

Sitting in her magical garden by the bonfire, drinking champagne, sharing hopes and dreams and failures.

We are in our forties now, but laughing and dreaming with girls’ hearts.

Older. Wiser. More beautiful. More passionate. With hands rough from building dreams.

As I go through this process of rediscovering myself, it’s good for me to have friends like this. People who encourage me to be myself and to have opinions. People who value my words and ideas. And especially creative people who feed my own creative passions.

Life is hopeful.

And pursing dreams can and should be done.

Using wisdom.

Working hard.

And connecting with others who are doing the same.

 


Being a Super Woman

I’m not always brave or strong.

Sometimes I put on my gray sweats and curl up under my quilt and wonder what the hell I’m going to do.

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do but watch life play out in front of you. Things beyond your control come crashing in, and you can’t stop it. You can only observe.

Once you observe, then you have a choice to make.

Curl up in your bed. In your cozy gray sweats. Under your tattered quilt.

And hide.

Or you can get up.

You can get your ass in gear. Run far. Lift heavy. Stop thinking so much and get things done. Pursue opportunities. Live passionately.

Stop standing in the ruins, staring at the smoking piles of rubble of your old life.

Put on your big girl spandex and explore the new landscape.

Look up.

Walk on.

They say when one door closes, there might be an open window.

And if you put on your cape, you can fly right through it.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shadow of the Cat

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I’m tired of being treated like a mouse.

Expected to squeak and scurry from the shadow of the cat.

I’m tired of the cravings and fears and emotions and other traps that try to pin me down by the neck.

I’m tired of being told what I should think and say and do.

Don’t tell me not to be angry. Anger is an emotion; and I have every right to feel it. It’s what I do with it that matters. If I write a bad word, it lets it out; and then it’s gone.

If I run up the side of a mountain or lift heavy, I can sweat it out; and the anger disappears, so I can be myself.

My real self.

Calm.

Alert.

Content.

I might look like a mouse.

But I have a lion’s heart.

And I’m not afraid of the damn cat.

 

 

 

 

 


Welcome to the Real World, Princess

This is an experiment. I literally have ten minutes to write. 

I’ve been too busy to blog.

Too busy to run.

I have to prioritize, and the kids come first.

Followed closely by CrossFit.

And…coffee with friends.

It’s my therapy.

I’ve been working all week.

At this point you might say, “Boo-hoo. Welcome to the real world, Princess!”

And you’re right.

I was a princess, viewing the world from a locked tower. And now that I’ve busted out, I’m walking around out here with the rest of the world.

It’s hard and sometimes I don’t like it. But never once have I wanted to go back into that tower. Because even the most difficult parts of this journey bring feeling. And feeling is good. Even when it’s bad.

To feel means that you’re really alive. You’re not just viewing life from afar. But you’re in it, working alongside other people and getting your hands dirty.

And for every terrible moment you walk through, there are also good moments.

No, not just good, but great.

You walk on clouds. You love life. You soak in the sunshine and revel in the rain.

It could be when a friend gives you a compliment. It could be when your child gets up early to hug you before work. It could be when you lift 115 percent of your bodyweight. It could be when you finally win over that stubborn German kid in your English class. These are moments that make up life. These should be savored.

The pain.

Well, there’s a reason for it too. You let it run its course. Let it do its job. Let it pour out and disappear.

And you take another step.

Time’s up.

I’ve got a train to catch.

Another day to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Parenting with Chocolate

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away… and yes, I am pregnant in this picture!

I ate chocolate.

It wasn’t dark, paleo-friendly chocolate either.

It was a big, square Ritter bar with nuts.

I ate two of them.

Not the little squares that you break off the grid–but ALL the little squares.

Two bars’ worth.

After I ate them, I thought: “Wow! That’s weird. Why did I eat those?”

Considering the mountain marathon I have coming up in September, I’ve been pretty good about my diet. I eat lean meats and veggies. No sugar, no gluten (as always), no nuts, eggs, fruits or grains. I ‘cheat’ on Friday with my gluten-free pizza and a glass of red wine, while the kids and I watch a movie; and Pancake Morning (or lately, Crepe Morning) on Sunday. IF I have chocolate, it usually coincides with Movie night. But TWO bars?! This was a first.

Why? I wondered. Why?

I can’t just eat chocolate and enjoy it–no, I have to psychoanalyze it.

I think it started with my eldest son saying he was buying a one-way ticket to Guatemala.

I’ve been preparing myself for his launch for a while, and honestly, I’ve been happy for him. But it’s just that talk about airline prices made the event a little too real.

But I know how it is when you’re waiting for life to start. While I LOVED raising my kids in Alaska, I always had this feeling that life had not quite begun for me. That while I WAS involved in the toughest, most important job on earth (which ironically included mind-numbing bouts of Dora the Explorer), there was always this sense that there was something else out there that would light the fire in my soul. For some women, child-rearing is that spark–and they are good at it. They have their babies, they adopt, they homeschool, and I truly respect them for how well they do this.

But no matter how much I enjoyed it, and no matter how good I was at it–it wasn’t quite me. Not quite.

It’s the same with teaching.

I love interaction with the students.

I love being there when the ‘light bulb’ clicks on.

I love being helpful.

But it’s still not quite me.

The one thing that does ‘light the fire’ is writing. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In fact, sometimes I hate writing. I’ll sit down to the computer, stare at the blank screen and think, ‘What the hell am I going to write?’

But if I stop over-thinking, the words will come. And before I know it, I have something to say.

When I was writing my fiction manuscript, I would read a new chapter to the kids every morning at breakfast–and even though it was course and unrefined, they loved listening to the adventures of the main character. We were transported from those dark winter days, sitting by the sunshine-lamp at the breakfast table, to another world where animals could talk and girls could fly.

While I can (and do) write non-fiction, fiction is my passion, my true love, and hopefully the words I craft can help people along the way. I am a firm believer that even fiction can make lives better. I mean, why do we have such a love for Cinderella stories or happy endings?

It’s because fiction gives us a sense of the good things in life. That life CAN and SHOULD be lived to the fullest.

It’s hard work though. Cinderella did get stuck with all the dirty chores and emotional abuse before things turned around for her. And while we can’t always expect a Fairy Godmother, we can work hard towards our dreams.

Why go through life without dreams?

And so…with the words one-way ticket and Guatemala in my mind… I prayed that I would have the strength to let my son go.

It didn’t take long.

After two bars of chocolate and a little crying, I felt genuinely happy for him.

Because I know how it is to feel stuck. To feel like your real life hasn’t started. And our time on earth is very limited. It should never be wasted.

Marathon running, CrossFit, writing–these things are part of me. They shape who I am as a person. Parenting is also just one part of my life–not the whole of it. Because if my only job is to be a parent, then I lose myself. And it makes launching children into the world nearly impossible.

I want them to live their lives and strive for their dreams.

That’s my job.

I just have to let go.

Of the kids, as they become independent.

And of the chocolate.

Because it doesn’t really help after all. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Immersion by Party: In Which I Speak Terrible German, Sing the Beatles and Try Schnapps

 

 

*This is a random stock photo: no lederhosen were present at the actual party!

An innocuous slip of paper in my mailbox began it all. The American translation was this:

  • We’re having a party, so don’t complain if it’s too loud, because we just warned you.
  • We will be grilling, so don’t turn us in to the police if you see the smoke–it’s legal.
  • Bring meat. Lots of meat.
  • Preferably wrapped in bacon.
  • Bring a salad.
  • Preferably wrapped in meat.
  • We will have more drinks available than the Geträngtmarkt.
  • RSVP two days ago.

I’d like to say my RSVP was late because I was busy working. I WAS busy, but the truth is that the invitation sat on my fireplace mantle for several days. I would read it whenever I passed by.

A party.

Not on my street, but in my neighborhood.

With Germans (well…yeah…I live in Germany, this makes sense).

I don’t know any of them.

I sound like a 3 year-old when I speak German. (Yes, me like wine red, please?)

Then I told my kids a story at dinner one night: it was my first day of high school. I was painfully shy. I decided to reinvent myself. So, I introduced myself to the first person I saw during the lunch-break. The poor soul happened to be Mavis, who remains one of my very best friends to this day.

As soon as I told that story, I knew I had to go to the party. I mean, if I was forcing encouraging my kids, who’ve had very little exposure to public school AT ALL, to go to GERMAN school, then I could certainly wrap some veggies in meat and saunter down the block to meet the neighbors.

Besides, I could always leave after a couple of hours.

I filled out the RSVP, wrote a nice card and paid my youngest five bucks to deliver it.

The invitation said to arrive after 18:00. I was there by 19:30.

I wasn’t the first one there, nor was I the last, as people slowly trickled in throughout the night.

You can imagine how awkward it was at first–I’m terrible at small talk, in any language. But the hostess was gracious and got me oriented, while some of the neighbors invited me to sit with them.

There seems to be a set of standard questions, probably issued by the Ausländerbehörde, for Germans to ask before getting to know anyone from the US.

After it’s established where I live (they want to know EXACTLY the house and number and then they tell me the history of my house), the conversation then goes like this: 

“Do you know other Americans in our town?”

“No,” I reply.

“We have a large community of Americans here. We have an American family renting our duplex.”

“Oh…okay…”

“I’ll give you their number.”

“Uhh….”

“Where do you shop?”

“I like PennyMarkt.”

“Don’t you shop at the PX?”

“Not really.”

“Not at Katterbach?”

“No. I go to    [INSERT ANY GERMAN STORE HERE]   .

“Oh.”

Having lived in this area for a while, where the US families come and go like migrating birds, I can understand why Germans would want to connect Americans to each other, and not necessarily to themselves. It’s hard to say goodbye. And while three years SEEMS like a long time if you have a baby or you’re in prison, it’s slips by before you know it when you have a good friend. And it’s been said that if you make friends with a German, then you have a friend for life.

But once they find out that:

A) I have a job with a German company

B) My kids will go to German school

C) I want to live here forever

D) I NEED to become fluent in German

…the conversation changes.

Within an hour, I was asked to use ‘du.’

I listened.

A lot.

But I also spoke some. It was easiest during one-on-one conversation.

“What do you like to cook?”

“I like to grill chicken.”

“Do you bake?”

“No my daughter likes to bake.”

etc.

But sitting at a beer table with several very fränkische people was like the UltraMarathon of my linguistic abilities.

Occasionally, someone would slip up and speak ENGLISH, upon which, someone else would say, “Don’t speak English–she needs to learn German!”

I took that as a compliment.

The night went on. More food was eaten, coffee and cake were served, the stars came out and more wine was poured.

I spoke more.

I EVEN had a conversation about CrossFit! Trying to explain why it is NOT ‘bodybuilding.’ I talked about my training and my marathons and they wanted to know exactly how many kilometers I run daily/weekly/monthly and whether I belonged to a running ‘club’ or not.

Then the schnapps came out, and we were inexplicably singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ and other songs in English (with lyrics provided by someone’s smart phone).

I did learn a few valuable lessons:

  1. The things that take courage are often the most rewarding experiences
  2. ASK questions if you don’t know something (like, which Metzgerei is best)
  3. Friendships are an investment–what you put in is what you will get out, but use caution because not every scheme is solid
  4. A glass of wine improves your German
  5. Schnapps does NOT

The day after the party, I went to retrieve my salad bowl, which I’d forgotten in my late-night exit. (I ended up staying at the party MUCH longer than anticipated). The hostess said it had been brave of me to come to the party, and that we should get together more often.

I can hardly explain how good I feel about the whole thing. How much better life is, because I did something that was hard. How great it feels when you have friends.

How a simple piece of paper shaped the course of my life.

Someday, I’ll laugh with my friends about how weird I sounded all those years ago.

Someday, I’ll have a barbecue for my neighbors.

And I’ll invite the Americans renting my duplex.


Don’t Let Failure Win

 

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Sometimes life seems to be one steady stream of dropping the bar.

  • The dog eats the vacuum cleaner.
  • The side-view mirror randomly falls off your car.
  • Your toenails are the color of rotten robin’s eggs.
  • You don’t front squat as much as you would’ve liked.

But the fact is: this is life.

I don’t think life has ever been perfect for anybody.

While the past is etched in stone, it doesn’t mean you have to tie yourself to it.

But you should look at it from time to time.

Read it. Learn from it. And move on. 

I’ve been SO wrong about SO many things; and I can either let mistakes sideline me, or I can write a better game plan and jump back in.

I am working towards a goal–a dream.

And anyone who’s actually ever lived a dream knows it comes with a shit ton of hard work.

I want to stay in Germany. To live here. To work here. To become fluent in the language and be part of the community. But it’s intimidating. It’s a lot of paperwork. It’s a lot of mental work. I have fears and misconceptions to arm wrestle.

This week, I stepped foot into a German school, something entirely alien to a homeschooling mom (homeschooling is illegal here for Germans–illegal, as in: people go to jail rather than send their kids to school). So, German schools must be like prisons, right?

Not so much. At least, not in our little town.

Everyone was friendly. The staff seemed happy–laughing, smiling, joking. They brought me cake and coffee. They made me, this strange American former homeschool mom with four *gasp* kids, feel welcomed.

The Principal kept shaking his head and blowing air through pursed lips while he put our information into the computer.

“I’m giving you a challenge, aren’t I?” I asked, between mouthfuls of cake.

“Yes, yes. This is a challenge, but it will be more of a challenge for your children.”

“They’re up for it,” I replied.

And they are. I know they are–even if they don’t think they are. Moms, like great coaches, know these things.

Life is difficult.

But I truly believe that those horrible, difficult times scrawled on the pages of my tear-stained journal have been for my benefit.

I appreciate the millions of good little things better than I ever have in my life: Laughter at the dinner table. Meat on the grill. Lesson plans to prepare. Someone saying, “Hey, I read your blog!” and they don’t roll their eyes.

The hard work, the hard times have incredible value. Why NOT go for the challenge? Because even ‘failures’ help shape us into better people, as long as we don’t quit.

My son told me that I need to re-write my book (I have several manuscripts in various stages) because I’m more ‘vibrant’ now.

Standing hip-deep in this strange circumstance has made me more real, more alive, and so maybe, all of this has made me a better writer. Maybe the fact that I can’t beg, borrow or steal a full-time job means I’ll have more time for writing. Maybe I’ll look back and say, “I’m glad I DIDN’T get that job with Adidas.”

Who knows?

Sometimes desperation inspires greatness.

All people fail.

Some of us fail again and again.

But the key is to never fail the same lesson twice.

Pick up the bar.

Take some weight off, if you have to.

Work your way back up.

It will be intimidating. It will require sweat and perseverance and your hands won’t be quite as smooth as they once were.

But it’s totally worth it.

Just don’t quit.

Because if you quit, then failure wins.

And that shouldn’t be an option for anyone.


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