Tis the Season!

12 Dec tistheseason

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 rainygraz

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 streetsofvienna

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 Stadtpark

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.

Traveling

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 streetsofvienna

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…

schmetterlinghaus

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

viennawalk2

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

viennawalk

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!

lotteryticket

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!…

ceilingFineArt

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

Kunsthistorisches


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!

6 Tips for Surfing Through Uncertainty

27 Oct uncertainty

It’s a cool grey day in Vienna.  Since I last wrote the temperature has dropped about 10 degrees celsius and no sign of sunny skies.  With the change in temperature came the departure of one of my hosts as she left on an adventure of her own in the States. While she is overseas, her husband, daughter and I remain in Vienna. With some timidity and adjustment on all parties, so far we are faring well.

This week I connected with the Vienna Art of Living group, an international spiritual and humanitarian organization led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  I first encountered the Art of Living about 8 years ago in New Orleans where I took their introduction course called The Art of Breathing.  In this course I learned their signature breathing technique called the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful technique for health and relaxation that I still use regularly today. As I travel internationally, I rely on connections through groups like Art of Living to be connected to community, meet new people and receive support.

I was delighted to discover the local Art of Living group meets just down the street from where I am stay in Vienna. This past week I attended an introduction to Ayurvedic medicine hosted by the Art of Living.  Sri Sri and the Art of Living support a complete healthy lifestyle including the use of Ayurvedic medicine.  New to this topic, I loved the talk and scheduled an appointment with the visiting Ayurvedic doctor.  A native of India, he now lives in the Netherlands and has just begun regular visits throughout Europe including Vienna.  I am excited to explore this approach and how it can support my health and well-being!

While waiting for my appointment, I met a wonderful person who herself had done some traveling.  As we briefly chatted, I shared some about my past four years of travel.  I came to realize that there is a bit of an art to travel and the level of uncertainty that often comes along with it.  After sharing with her, I took note of the many lessons I have learned from my experiences. Perhaps it would be helpful to share with you!

We all have uncertainty in our lives. The support of our growth, dreams and life often demands that we tango with uncertainty.  Whether you dream of traveling the globe, are in the midst of a career change or facing unexpected life changes, here are some tips that may assist you.

6 Tips for Surfing Through Uncertainty

1.  Seek Wise Counsel.  Four years ago, many elements of my life fell away at once.  My car broke down, my belongings were destroyed (again), living arrangements dissolved… and my cat ran away. I was in a huge sea of uncertainty.  After I panicked for a bit, one of the first things I did was seek wise counsel.  You know what I am talking about, that grounded but inspired friend, teacher, or professional.  I reached out to someone I trusted who could give me a broader and directed perspective on the situation. Seeking wise counsel gave me a fresh viewpoint, some vision and hope in the space of uncertainty, and ultimately liberation and support. This great time of uncertainty was when I first considered traveling overseas. Initially the idea was just a tiny spark, with no big plans or ideas.  Seeking wise counsel helped me to align with that dream and more confidently move into action.

2.  Have a Support System.  Negotiating the unknown is a time of great creativity when nearly anything is possible. But when I first mentioned the notion of traveling overseas, the idea was like a fragile bubble that someone could have easily and carelessly popped… never to be seen again.  With a healthy support system, the idea quickly grew, blossomed, and continues today.  Keep in mind, not everyone is suitable to serve as support through uncertainty.  Choose your grounded wise friends and supporters who have your best interest at heart but can also be playful and usher you in the direction of “yes” to you dreams.

3.  Take risks.  It is true, in the space of uncertainty, there will be no rewards without risks.  On this journey it has been essential that I leap out of my comfort zone and sometimes take daring action.  Keep in mind, this is not reckless action.  The risks I take are in the space of seeking wise counsel and having a support system.  This combination has made all the difference to assist me in more confidently leaping into the unknown.

4.  Stay in Action.  Sometimes in the space of uncertainty, we may have an idea or concept about where to go or what is next, but it still isn’t clear and we really are not sure just what to do.  At this time I find it important to stay in action.  Keep doing things daily that take us in the direction we want to go… even if that is just a vague concept.  For me, staying in action helps to keep my attitude positive and to never give up.  It also gives way to unexpected opportunities.  I look at it like scattering seeds. I try to stay unattached to what “works out” and what doesn’t and then watch what blossoms and grows.

5. Practicality.  Of course, there is a practical element in the waves of uncertainty.  Even with the opportunities that uncertainty can present, it can be daunting at best.  When living into uncertainty, I do my best to handle the practical.  Make sure the details that I know to handle are all cared for.  I also seek to provide myself with some practical comfort that may help me ease through the uneasiness.  I ask myself, what do I need to make myself feel better at that point?  Maybe it’s an outline of a plan… even if that plan doesn’t come into fruition.  Perhaps it’s a spreadsheet of options, contacts and ideas. Or maybe even a job, any job, just to bring in some income. Whatever it is, tend to the practical to help ease your mind and being.

6.  Spiritual Practice. Whether you travel the globe or not, life is uncertain.  Things change unexpectedly beyond our control. However, my experience is that through cultivating spiritual practice, we can connect to that unchanging space of spirit.  I view it as building a foundation on something far greater than the ever-changing unpredictability of any life.  As I connect daily with this space through spiritual practice, it helps to ease the discomfort of uncertainty and provides a greater stability for negotiating this space.

Spiritual practices for me include reiki, chanting, yoga, and the Sudarshan Kriya.  I spend some quiet time in these practices nearly every morning and night.

You may enjoy these practices.  But spiritual practice for you may look different.  Perhaps it is meditation, a tradition in your religious practice, or a walk in the woods.  Whatever it is, taste it daily.

How about you?  Any waves of uncertainty you are surfing through?  Any tips or experiences to share?  It’s always great to hear from you.

Now that I have arrived in Vienna, some of my huge waves of uncertainty have settled a bit to make way for some seedlings of stability.  I pick up my little Austrian friend from school today for the first time by myself and prepare to tend to the little things that will help out this family while mom is away.

Good-bye for now from the cozy flat nestled in the busy (but not too busy!) center of Vienna.

Featured photo is a treasured corridor in Vienna en route to my German course.

Parting with Familiarity

22 Oct familiarity

A friend of mine recently submitted the new featured quote for this Gypsy Woman blog.  Her chosen theme couldn’t have been more timely… or appropriate.  It’s message is, simply, that if we want to grow we will have to part with some things we are attached to… including, and at its base, habits and ways of life that are familiar to us.

While I admit there is nothing wrong with a gentle dose of familiarity… sometimes our cherished habits and ways of being can set limits on our dreams, goals, wishes and desires.  After nearly four years of international travel, parting with familiarity has in its own way become familiar to me. But still, it seems that each new destination requires that I strip off a layer of familiarity in the name of my own growth and development.

The larger truth of this gypsy escapade is that growth has become a lifeline for me, a required text for this course in my life.  And while for me there are elements that are UNCOMFORTABLE as I face each new experience and circumstance, it is undoubtedly true that without this discomfort… I would not grow…

I write this presently with an equal doses of pleasure in the foreignness of my new surroundings coupled with the inevitable sense of loss that comes with departing more familiar scenery.  Each day in Vienna offers somethings new and inviting, but simultaneously are daily entanglements with my losses of familiarity. After living in South Korea for nearly two years, Vienna comes with certain comforts for this American bent mind. Most notably, it offers an alphabet I can recognize and a culture that is more at ease with speaking English. But oddly enough, in many ways Korea too became familiar to me… and so that is swimming in my pool of loss, change and growth.

New to me on this journey is studying a language. I am taking a German course!  So far on this international road I have found it quite possible to travel many places speaking only English.  More and more, it seems English is a global language.  However, when the opportunity to take a German class while in Vienna was presented, I thought it was a no-brainer to finally take a leap and explore a new level in my travel.  The idea of speaking another language has always appealed to me… it is the practicality of it, the sea of new words and rules and my adult English-formed neural pathways, that always seemed to get in my way…

After five ultra beginner German classes, I am already knocking loudly on the door of unfamiliarity.  My instructor shared just the other day that to speak German we will slowly have to let go of our own language… and not try to translate every word from German to English as often… you can’t. When first she said this I felt a little panic like being asked to give up a favorite childhood toy or blanket.  But as I relax more with the German sounds and phrases we learn in class, I can see this makes good sense.

Unfamiliarity and foreignness do have an allure and charm of their own. There is the innocence in exploring a new language and land.  The child-like pleasure of learning to count to ten again and communicate the simplest of things in a new way.  The simple pleasure of doing ordinary things, like going to the grocery store and finding new foods or spending new money.

In my present circumstances, I am living with and assisting a family with the care of their child and family life. This too in many ways is unfamiliar. In my past years of wandering, I have taught the youngest of students and at times lived in community with a wide array of “others”.  As most of my adult life has been independent living and the past four years a gypsy, family life lives in the realm of unfamiliar. It is new to me to sit next to my new young German-speaking friend and let her head rest on my lap as she trickles tears and wipes her nose after her mom and dad leave her alone with me for the first time.  And still new to me to find my place, be of service, and meet my own needs within the life and patterns of an established family, generous and giving as they are.

So this new beginning, as the others have been, is met with the push and pull of growth and loss… joy and challenge.  And for now, for this moment, I am content with the balance of the two.  After a lovely morning attending my german class, and now some quiet time in the afternoon to write, do yoga, drink tea… I am delighting in the balance.

How about you?  Any stories of growth to share?  Any new explorations being met with resistance?  If you’d like to share, it’s always great to hear from you!

I was told yesterday would be the last warm day until April.  Yikes!  I woke up today to grey skies and chilly temperatures.   Good-bye for now from the newly fall weather and historic streets of Vienna.

Exploration

15 Oct Donaukanal

It is early afternoon and I have recently returned from my second German class.  This class is a pleasant experience, but humbling nonetheless as I gently wade into the pool of speaking German.  Intended for the very beginners, instruction is delivered all in German with students from around the globe including Turkey, Mexico, Spain and South Korea… and me, from the USA.  It seems it will be a while before I can converse in German. But after two classes, I can ask your name and sort of… count to twenty.

This past week has been a gentle introduction into the world and life of Vienna and Austria.  In truth, much to my natural pace, I have been exploring little bits at a time.  I have just begun to see the sights of my neighborhood, the 7th district in Vienna, and appreciate simple finds like snacks at a local bio (organic) store suitable for this health-conscious traveler.Outdoor break

My hosts have been generous with their weekend, taking time to show me around.  Twice we hopped in their car, not their standard mode of transportation in public-transit-friendly Vienna, and set out beyond the city limits.  Saturday we had a lovely dinner with friends of theirs and also took a quick look at the Klosterneuburg Monastery on the way.

On Sunday we headed out to Gumpoldskirchen (say that three times fast…) and took a little stroll among the vineyards and countryside.  We couldn’t have been luckier with blue skies and a sunny summerish day.  After aAmong the vineyards modest hike we took a brief respite in a perfect outdoor spot featuring local wines, grape juice and light snacks.  We sat with others amongst the tables and haystacks for chairs and just let the beautiful weather sink in.  Next we went to a near-by restaurant called a Heuriger featuring the local wines of the year and simple local foods.  We found a sunny spot on the deck on the second floor and finished the day with a leisurely meal and some good company.

On my own I have found my way to a few local places including the Belvedere Palace and most recently a long stroll down the Donaukanal (“Danube Canal“) that runs through the heart of the city.  I have found folks in Vienna so far to be friendly and helpful.  Many are willing to speak English and offer a kind word or… directions when needed….Belvedere Palace

I have taken note of a few unexpected things so far in Vienna.  I learned that Vienna has the best drinking water right out of the tap!  In fact there is a pipeline that brings water direct from the alps! Amazing!  I was also surprised to see a taxi that was a Mercedes-Benz.  A far cry for the modest models of taxis in the States. I asked, “Is it typical for taxi’s to be such nice cars?”  “Yes,” they said.  In fact, they shared that all taxis are mostly Mercedes or Toyota hybrid cars.

With Fall still somewhat at bay, I continue to slowly sink into my new chapter in Vienna.  Reaching out to a few new connections and possibilities.  Knocking on a few doors for freelance work opportunities.  My hosts’ daughter and I are gently getting acquainted.  As I only speak English (for now…) and she speaks German, we have a funny little dance of getting to know each other…. a common word here and there, a few German words on my part, translation from mom and dad. In less than two weeks, her mom and my host will be off an adventure of her own.  While she is away, things will change here for me as I take a larger role in childcare, cooking and the like.  After nearly two years of living on my own in Korea, that too is an adventure in its own way.

Early evening is setting in.  Tonight I cook my first simple meal for the family.  And tomorrow, well, more exploration.  Good-bye for now from the historic streets of Vienna.

 Featured photo at top taken along the Donaukanal in the heart of Vienna.

Hello Vienna!

7 Oct A view from the window in my room in Vienna

I am at home on a cool Fall afternoon eating delicious leftover goulash.  But this home is none that I have known before.  I have left the midwest and my business in DC is complete.  After a three-hour layover in Istanbul courtesy of Turkish Airlines, I now find myself… newly at home in… Vienna.

How one gets from South Korea to the US and then to Vienna is no common road.  I did not simply wake up one day and think… hmmm, perhaps I will go to Vienna.  It seems, somehow that it was Vienna that wanted me to come to her… with of course, some mutual agreement.

It began simply with an introduction.  A friend noticed on Facebook that I have the exact same birthdate (day, month and year) as a friend of his in Austria.  “Perhaps it would be fun to connect you?” he shared.  Whole heartedly I agreed and we began exchanging stories of ourselves and lives, comparing notes from where our personalities and preferences were similar.  She soon shared that she would be traveling twice to the US this year to work on an e-book project.  When she mentioned her need to create a way to support her husband and child while she was gone, it didn’t take long for both of us to have the thought… that I could come to Vienna!

A little anxiety, some well-organized planning, and an unexpected Visa trip to DC later… and before I knew it I was leaving Dulles airport on my way to Vienna.

Over my past 3 1/2 years of travels, it has been purely by accident that each major destination is separated by a time of respite in the States.  And so just as my mind and body start to sink back in my American ways, it is time to leave again.  This transition is frequently met with at least a little distress but overshadowed by the excitement of what is to come.  I find as I transition from one “life” to the next, it is easiest for me to stay in the present moment, take it one step at time, and allow the change to unfold in my reality as it happens rather than in the fortress of my mind and imagination.

I was greeted at the airport in Vienna by an exuberant friendly face. I felt a rush of emotion as I saw face to face the woman I had been writing to and came to think of as friend.  Her home was a pleasant taxi ride away from the airport and just minutes after my landing, I entered into the world of Vienna.

My first experience of Vienna was unlike any city that I had ever lived in before.  Beauty and history gently surrounding me.  When we arrived at her home, I was shocked and delighted to enter into a lovely courtyard in the heart of the city decorated in Viennese historical stature.  “This is your home?”  I thought in delight.  And for now, for a little while, it is also mine.

I slowly began to move through my jet lag, spending much of my first day on my own in my pajamas.  Today, however, I ventured out into the neighborhood a bit.  I can’t help but be giddy and perhaps a little intimidated by the beauty, culture and architecture that surrounds me. Never before have I taken a walk around my local block only to easily stumble upon historical empires, museums and theaters.

I left armed with a simple map and no real plan except to turn left when I exited the small corridor where their apartment is located.  After being in Korea for nearly two years, it is a noticeable difference to begin to negotiate a city that, while still foreign to me, at least has an alphabet I can recognize.  I couldn’t help but take note of how comfortable and at ease I felt wandering around.  My friend and host shared that Vienna is a safe city.  And while you may still have your pickpockets from time to time, there is not much to be concerned about.  That was apparent in my little outing today.  Even when I had ended up in an area where I was “not quite sure where I was”… I felt in my bones that all was well.

And now here I am, content to have successfully negotiated my way home.  And more content to feel the warmth of inside and enjoy more of my hosts delicious cooking.

I begin to delve into the German language on Monday with a beginners German class that will meet three times a week.  It is a great treat for me to be entering a new country with the opportunity to study the language in a more formal way.  My hosts are quite generous giving me time and space to first settle in and adjust to my new environment.

Good-bye for now from my new place in the world.  I am grateful for some quiet time as I ease into a new chapter of life and adventure in Vienna.

 

Featured photo:  A sneak peak of the courtyard from my cumfy room here in Vienna, Austria.

Wind of Change

29 Sep Outlook in Shenandoah River State Park

After nearly two months at home with my mom and family, change is once again sweeping through my life. Perhaps it is akin to the change in the wind notorious for shifting the lives of Mary Poppins and Vianne from the movie Chocolate, both seemingly at the will of forces greater than themselves.

“Where is the wind blowing me this time?” you may ask.  For now I have drifted still within the boundaries of the continental US, to Washington DC and surrounding areas.  I have a new opportunity that requires I first handle some business in DC before I take my latest leap once again heading for international territory.  And so for now it seems my fate, my will, or simply the wind continues to direct me to new destinations.  And while I must admit I go through a sea of anxiety with each transition, I am truly content to continue my adventure.

My business tending in DC has brought with it some comforts and joy.  I am most grateful to have connected with a high school compadre who lives in the area and have enjoyed her quiet respite and engaging company.  I wandered into DC on a rainy fallish day and handled my important business of the day and then leisurely walked the city.  I found my way to the DC SGI Buddhist Cultural Center nestled comfortably on embassy row.  I took some time to chant there before continuing my extensive promenade down Massachusetts Avenue to Dupont Circle.

DC has such an international flavor as I passed the embassies from countries along the row.  It was fun to catch a small sampling of each country in the architecture and the diplomats coming and going.  I navigated my way through the streets of DC with a fair amount of ease. After being in Korea, it makes a BIG difference simply to be able to read the street signs and maps and ask for directions.

I am now spending a few more days just outside the DC area near the Shenandoah National State Park.  I connected with a woman through helpx.net who was generous enough to invite me into her space while I am awaiting the completion of my DC business.  I am tucked away in a tiny town nestled in the shadows of the surrounding hills and mountains.

 

Days here have been reflective of the surroundings… simple and quiet.  I have enjoyed a walk in the neighborhood of mostly trees and hills with the occasional neighbor. I have soaked up some quiet time near the stream that flows through her property.  I have been glad to share heaping amounts of reiki in the afternoon mostly with my host, but also her cat Bob has joined in. We have the most lovely spot for reiki, the message table set up in her outdoor pagoda alongside the stream.

Just a few more days for me here and then with some luck I finish my DC business and… I am off… again!  In truth this is a bit of a challenging time in the wake of my father’s passing and leaving my family. I am still feeling the shift of the big changes in my life while also on the precipice of the next chapter in my journey.

Where I am off to next… remains with me for now.  But soon I will share.  My flight is just around the corner! Good-bye for now from the coolish mountain land in the northeast.

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