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A Time for Retreat and Renewal

Sunburst, Florida Gulf Coast

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” – Albert Camus

It’s been 12 months since I’ve last unplugged and rested, so this vacation is much-needed and heavily felt. My motor has been running hard on every facet of life, and I’ve begun to feel a sputter. It’s possible that every year I say it, but this year I know I mean it more than all the rest: I’m grateful for the chance to retreat, to renew. My heart needed the break in view and routine. My mind needed the chance to unwind the tangles, and my soul feels lighter, happier, with the chance to breathe and renew.

Everyone has their happy place, and for me, it’s at the beach. Feet grounded in sand, toes brushed by saltwater, skin warmed by sunshine, and hair lifted in the breeze, I’m in my element. I love it here.

It’s easy not to get away and let the calendar fill with engagements and the checking account drain of funds. But sometimes, finding a safe haven and pursuing it is important–at least, it is for me.

renewal 

/rəˈn(y)o͞oəl/  re·new·al (noun): the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken

Sunburst, Florida Gulf Coast
Sunburst, Florida Gulf Coast

retreat 

/rəˈtrēt/  re·treat  (noun): a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax; refuge, safe haven, sanctuary

Fog and sea spray, Florida
Fog and sea spray, Florida

 

“We say that flowers return every spring, but that is a lie. It is true that the world is renewed. It is also true that that renewal comes at a price, for even if the flower grows from an ancient vine, the flowers of spring are themselves new to the world, untried and untested.

The flower that wilted last year is gone. Petals once fallen are fallen forever. Flowers do not return in the spring, rather they are replaced. It is in this difference between returned and replaced that the price of renewal is paid.

And as it is for spring flowers, so it is for us.”
― Daniel Abraham, The Price of Spring

Gulf sunsets are good for the soul.
Gulf sunsets are good for the soul.

Where is the last place you enjoyed a retreat? I’d love to hear what refreshes your soul, too…

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Niagara Falls, a Photo Tour

Niagara Falls

“The grandeur of God reveals itself through simple things” ― Paulo Coelho

 

When my family and I lived in Europe, we traveled everywhere we could, as often as we could. Usually by car, a few times by plane, we visited more than twenty countries and learned more in every way than we ever could have imagined. Actually going to a place and being able to fully experience it — to feel the texture of the land, see the colors and the architecture, hear the sounds, smell the smells, meet the people, eat the foods, speak the language — is crucial to understanding, to having a wide world-view. Travel is important.

We visited common places in Europe, ones we knew our boys’ American schoolmates would ask them about when we returned. Most Americans know Paris and the Eiffel Tower, and Rome and the Coliseum. And though we experienced much more than these European landmarks while in Europe, they were also important to touch and see.

It is similar now that we are back in the United States. Our boys are older now (two teens, one preteen) and they’re catching up on their knowledge of their home country. While they can identify every European country on a blank map, give most currencies used there, and speak many words in several of the European languages, they have a deficit when it comes to the US. And so we’re working hard to help catch them up …

12 States and 2500 Miles

Last week, I wrote about and shared a few photos from our summer road-trip … it was wonderful! As I’m getting through the oodles of photographs I took while we traveled, I’m posting some of my favorites here, place by place, for the next few weeks.

Niagara Falls

Our first stop was Niagara Falls, one of our most important US landmarks, one as American as apple pie.

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

I visited Niagara Falls many years ago, from the Canadian side and from one of the tour boats. During this visit, I felt awestruck by the sheer power of the Falls. It is reported that at its peak flow 2,832 cubic meters of water go over the falls each second (a good site for more info).

Niagara Falls, USA
Niagara Falls, USA

I don’t know if it was because this time, we chose to see the Falls from the American side, which involved lots of walking (which is good for teens to burn off some steam!), but also offered a close-up stand-almost-touching-distance from the water view, but the grandeur of the entire Falls was stunning.

Niagara Falls

 

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

And as the sun set, the light caught the water at just the right angle and the Falls became luminous.

Niagara Falls

The sunset was beautiful, too.

Niagara Falls

Certainly, Niagara Falls knows how to show off.

Niagara Falls

Have you visited Niagara Falls? What was your favorite place / way to view the waterfalls?

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12 States & 2500 Miles: My Adventure-filled Summer Vacation

Portland Head Light, Maine

The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams. -Oprah Winfrey

 

When our first son was about a year old, my husband and I, with little more than two dimes to rub together, set off on a road trip to Maine. Having a baby along didn’t deter us. We set up his portable crib in our tent in Acadia National Park, rose when he did (when it became light at 4 am) and enjoyed hiking and exploring the rocky coast with him in tow. But our sights were on the water. While in Maine that time, we dreamed that someday we might get to take a guided sea kayaking tour.

 

Sea Kayaking in Casco Bay, Maine -- my family and me
Sea Kayaking in Casco Bay, Maine — my family and me this past week

 

It’s been almost 15 years since that first trip to gorgeous Maine. So a few weeks ago, when our boys expressed true interest in the Outdoor Adventure Schools through L.L.Bean (they even pulled up all of the programs, and found a hotel room for 5), we knew it was the right year to do it. As my husband jokes, it was the ultimate Man-cation. To tell the truth, though: I had a complete blast.

 

12 States & 2500 Miles: My Adventure-filled Summer Vacation:

For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing bits of the adventure here, from our beginnings at Niagara Falls to Maine to Boston to New York City. Until then, a few of my favorite photos (these, iPhone photos–better ones to come later) …

Learning to Fly-Cast, Fly Fishing like in A River Runs Through It
Learning to Fly-Cast, Fly Fishing like in A River Runs Through It
Niagara Falls
Part of our Road Trip: Visiting Niagara Falls (the sunset was amazing that night!)
Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

 

Maine docks
Maine docks
Me, at Portland Head Light
That’s me, out along the rocks at Portland Head Light, taking a photograph of … (next photo)
Portland Head Light, Maine
Portland Head Light, Maine
Learning to Paddleboard
Learning to Paddleboard in Maine on the Royal River
the Statue of Liberty before the NYC 4th of July Fireworks
the Statue of Liberty before the NYC 4th of July Fireworks
Sun setting behind Trinity Church from Wall Street, NYC
Sun setting behind Trinity Church from Wall Street, NYC
Sunrise in NYC: I'd always dreamed of bringing my family to show them NYC
Sunrise in NYC: I’d always dreamed of bringing my family to show them NYC
Boston's Brookline Booksmith bookstore
Boston’s Brookline Booksmith bookstore: We visited many friends in Boston & stopped in this store to pick up gifts…
All the Light We Cannot See (my favorite book)
All the Light We Cannot See (my favorite book)
Map of Ohio
Sometimes the best adventures begin simply: by stepping beyond our normal places

I’m still working through revisions on my novel (#1 priority work-wise), but the adventure will continue through photos in coming weeks. Thanks for joining me and sharing in the journey!

For you: What is your favorite road-trip vacation?

 

 

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Maine

Lands End, Maine, USA

“I could never stay long enough on the shore; the tang of the untainted, fresh, and free sea air was like a cool, quieting thought.” – Helen Keller

 

On vacation … headed to …

Maine

Lands End, Maine, USA
Maine, USA

 

“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.” – Sarah Kay

Sunset Color in Maine, Lands' End Harbor of the Atlantic Ocean
Sunset Color

 

“At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides, and follow the sun.” – Sandy Gingras

Portland Head Light, Portland, Maine, USA
Portland Head Light

Have a wonderful 4th of July and soak up summer while it’s here!

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St Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland: Stunning Beauty, Incredible Skiing

St. Moritz, Switzerland

Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads.  -Author Unknown

In Winter, there is no better way to spend the dark, bleak, cold days than to hop on a pair of skis and enjoy the snow. Growing up, I skied often at the Purgatory Mountain resort in Durango, Colorado, where my grandmother lived. It was fun, exhilarating, and delightful, but also dangerous beyond belief. I love to ski.

Engadin, Switzerland
Engadin, Switzerland

When my family moved to Czech Republic, we skied downhill in the Austrian Alps–great experiences filled with deep snow, steep slopes, and frequent stops at the traditional Austrian huttes. But back at our home in Prague, we had snow, and snow, and more snow. The community farms and public parks in and around Prague were covered in deep snow for months, and cross-country skiers were everywhere. It was after the first winter in Czech Republic that I realized I was embracing the wrong kind of skiing.

St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland
St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland

I asked for a pair of used cross-country skis for my birthday our second year in Prague, and the day after my guys gave them to me, it snowed. Since roads aren’t plowed where we live, I could ski right out my front door (no more lugging heavy boots and skis), and after the first time out on the new (used) skis, I was hooked. So was the rest of my family, who also tried out my skis. We bought 4 more pairs of cross-country skis the next week.

With my husband, Brian, our first cross country ski outing in Czech Rep
With my husband, Brian, our first cross country ski outing in Czech Rep

Since then, we’ve skied every time it snows enough to cover the ground. We’ve traveled and skied in the Italian Dolomites, and last month, we brought our skis to Switzerland, to the Engadin lake region of the world-renowned St. Moritz.

St. Moritz, Switzerland
St. Moritz, Switzerland

Without a doubt, St. Moritz and Engadin have the most beautiful, pristine, well-kept, well-groomed, first-class ski conditions I’ve ever seen in my life. The trails go for 125 miles around lakes, up and down hills, and are used by novice and professional skiers alike. My husband and I and our kids (ages 14, 11, 10) skied only 15 or so miles, and it was the most beautiful trail I’ve ever imagined.

Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views (from my iphone), at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland
St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland

 

If you enjoy being outdoors in the winter, I highly recommend trying cross-country skiing. And if you enjoy cross-country skiing, there is no place in the world like skiing the Engadin lake valley of St. Moritz.

St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland
St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland

For You: Have you skied Engadin / St. Moritz? Where is your favorite place to cross-country ski?

 

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Finding Seashells

Gulf of Mexico Sunset

Finding Seashells

Come walk with me
Along the sea
Where dusk sits on the land
And search with me
For shells are free,
And treasures hide in sand.  -Author Unknown

Gulf of Mexico Sunset
Gulf of Mexico Sunset

This week, I’m vacationing with my family at the beach … one of my very favorite places and things to do in all the world. I love spending timeless days along the seashore with my loved ones, collecting shells and walking the powdery sand.

Have a wonderful week and time leading up to Independence Day! And enjoy your time with your family and friends.

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7 Ingredients of a Great Getaway Vacation

my favorite Getaway spot, along the Italian coast

Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.” -Leonardo da Vinci

 

I once had a friend ask me how I could enjoy taking vacation. Looking back at her, I didn’t know what she meant. She explained further. “I don’t get to relax at all when we’re on vacation. The kids are always at each other. Mealtimes are the worst, and they never want to ride in the car, or airplane. It’s like we shouldn’t even try to go, because vacation never turns out like I hope.” I didn’t really have an answer for my friend on that day, but the conversation has never left my thoughts.

Since we’ve lived in Europe, my family and I (my husband and I have 3 school-aged boys) have had the incredible opportunity to travel extensively. But, we have taken advice from very wise friends before we left the US. They encouraged us to travel as much as possible, because the expat assignment is such a unique opportunity to see the world with our family. We have taken that advice to heart. So far in our 2 1/2 years in Prague, we’ve traveled to 21 countries, and in this year alone, we have stood with our toes in the Baltic, North, Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian, Ligurian, Adriatic, and Aegean Seas. (the 7 Seas!)

Dreamy. Absolutely!

But, all travel comes with its hardships. I have learned a little about travel and what suits me and my family.

One thing is this:

Travel in and through foreign cities is not relaxing.

It doesn’t matter if I’m overlooking Prague:

 

Prague
Prague

Rome:

 

Rome
Rome

Amsterdam:

 

Amsterdam
Amsterdam

London:

 

London
London

or Athens:

 

Athens
Athens

Traveling in and through dense crowds of people does not equal a restful and relaxing vacation.

Instead, I am learning what is relaxing, and what makes up the kind of vacation (the one I highly prefer) I call a Getaway. Because it is just that, a getaway from the busyness and stresses and pressures of everyday life. An escape.

My definition of a Getaway: to step away from it all, to let the soul catch up to the body Continue reading 7 Ingredients of a Great Getaway Vacation

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Sea Side: Retreat along the Mediterranean

Tuscan Sunset over the Mediterranean

Along the Sea
Come walk with me
Along the sea
Where dusk sits on the land
And search with me
For shells are free,
And treasures hide in sand.

-author unknown

Tuscan Sunset over the Mediterranean
Tuscan Sunset over the Mediterranean

This week, I’m in Italy with my family, on a retreat vacation, soaking up the Tuscan tranquility I have so grown to love.

One of my favorite things about a beach retreat is being able to collect shells. In Tuscany, where shells match the colors of sunrise and sunset, my boys and I marvel at the jewels of the Sea, walk the deserted beaches along the Mediterranean, and collect our favorite shells … that’s what I’m doing until next week, when I’ll share photos and stories of Italy.

Have a great week!

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Paradise Found: My Fourth of July in the Austrian Alps

Paradise Found: St. Gilgen, Austria and the Zwolferhorn

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet, 1803-1882

Paradise Found: St. Gilgen, Austria and the Zwolferhorn
Paradise Found: St. Gilgen, Austria and the Zwolferhorn

When I was a girl, I read all the time, and the first book I remember wanting to reread was Johanna Spyri’s HEIDI. If you aren’t familiar with the children’s classic book, HEIDI is about an orphaned girl who comes to live in the Alps with her reclusive grandfather. Like most fans of Heidi, I relished the notion of finding hope in the face of hopelessness, but I also loved the setting of HEIDI: the rugged and beautiful mountains of Europe where man and mountain thrive together. There is something about being in the mountains that connects with who I am. Whether it is in the Tetons or Rockies of the Western United States, the coastal mountains of Maine, or the Alps of Austria, Switzerland, or Italy, my heart sings when I am in the mountains. Luckily for me, my family feels the same way … Continue reading Paradise Found: My Fourth of July in the Austrian Alps

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Prague and the Longest Day of the Year

Painted Lady on Lavender

“If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.”  -Bern Williams

In Prague, there is one sure way know that it is the longest day of the year: it is officially dark  from 11:30pm to 2:30am. Yes, we are at the shortest night of the year, and I can hardly imagine how people North of Prague are able to get any sleep … it is a really strange sensation to see light along the horizon when it should be the middle of the night.

But, I have to say now that we are officially at the Summer Solstice, that this past Spring was the most beautiful of my life. While the rest of the world has been wrecked with tornadoes, earthquakes, violent storms, and tsunamis, Prague and the majority of Europe has coasted through Spring 2011 with sunshine, 75*F, and a few rain showers. We have so many reasons to be grateful:

Swans Paddling the Canal in Brugges, Belgium
Swans Paddling the Canal in Brugges, Belgium

Continue reading Prague and the Longest Day of the Year