Altitude High

Traveling to far away places and writing about them can be exhilarating.  But so can wandering to places near your own backyard.  It really makes you appreciate what you have…especially when its’ very existence is threatened.

 

17129066_G
Two boys view Spring Creek wildfire near LaVeta

 

Colorado Wildfire Update:  Spring Creek Fire has grown to over 100,000 acres

Third largest fire in Colorado history

Reading headlines these days can be heartbreaking, especially when it’s so close to home.  Spring Creek is located in the southwest mountains particularly in the Spanish Peaks area, home to some of the state’s most beautiful scenery and epic hiking/climbing.

 

DSCF3445
East side view of Spanish Peaks

 

Just three weeks ago, we were enjoying a camping trip with friends to Spanish Peaks.  Our campsite was at the top of Cordova Pass, nestled at the foot of the 13,600′ West Spanish Peak mountain.  We arrived on a Wednesday evening, set up camp and then headed out on a short hike to view the “beast” we hoped to summit the next day.

 

IMG_9718
West Spanish Peak. So close, yet so far.

On Thursday morning, we were grateful for a chill in the air as we started out on the trail.  The short hike to tree-line was enough to warm up the bones but it didn’t prepare us for the long haul up the face of the mountain which involved scrambling up a steep stony slope covered with loose shale and scree for another three hours.

DSCF3427
Halfway point rest stop

We summited mid-afternoon and were rewarded with 360 views from what seemed like the top of the world.  If you’ve ever hiked a 14’er, then you know what I’m talking about.  Rocky Mountain High never felt so good!

DSCF3431 (1)
Summit – West Spanish Peak

 

We are thankful for the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful part of our country just two weeks before the devastating fire that has gobbled up land and homes around little towns like Cuchara and LaVeta.  Our prayers are with those residents who are left homeless and traumatized by the carelessness of one camper.

And we hope that soon the skies will be red with nothing except the awe-inspiring southwestern sunset.

Version 2

 

 

 

Mamma Mia On Crete

IMG_9039 (1)

Writing a book is like birthing a baby.   Except the labor has been over two years long.  There were moments I literally screamed, “I CAN’T DO THIS!” but it was there inside me demanding to be born.  And I knew that the labor would produce a happy ending.  A beautiful reflection of my soul.  Or at least I hope so.

Things are moving fast now and I’m “pushing” to the end of this project.  Manuscript edits are completed, as well as cover design and back cover text.

And I have a name picked out:

Uniquely Crete:  Life Redefined on a Greek Island.

Now the big push for book release this summer.  Then comes the hard work…announcing to the world that my baby is out there for everyone to see…and love.  Of course, I’m fully aware that not everyone will see my baby in the same glowing light as me.   But I don’t care.  I’m a proud (and exhausted) mama.

More to come on that later….

As I was writing this travel memoir I had so many flashbacks to my years of living on Crete and many opportunities to revisit this island both in my mind and in the flesh.

Sunset at the Venetian Lighthouse at Chania, Crete, Greece

On one of my recent visits back to Crete, I sat down with a friend who immigrated there from Zimbabwe when she was just 22 years old.

Meet Jeannie – a modern day Mamma Mia.  An entrepreneur with a flair for hospitality.

Jeannie always had a heart for the sea and dreamed of living by the water someday.  When she turned twenty-two, she packed up everything she owned, immigrated to Crete and started looking for a job in Hania. She cleaned hotels, waitressed, cooked and was a self-proclaimed “jack-of-all-trades.”

“I pride myself on being a very positive thinker.  I could be mopping floors and be thinking about new ideas for my next venture.”

She married a local Greek when she was twenty-four, but even when that ended in divorce, she stayed “because of the love of Crete, not a man.”

Never one to sit still, Jeannie took odd jobs, eventually landing in management positions at various resorts.  Her newest venture is managing and promoting the Clio resort hotel outside of Hania.

IMG_6889

When I lived on Crete, the Clio was a tired deserted-looking hotel in an absolutely stunning location.  I remember thinking, “This place just really needs some love.”  Jeannie thought the same thing.  Only she did something about it.  When the owner announced he was going to close down the Clio for good, Jeannie approached him and said, “Take a chance on me.”  (Cue music from Mamma Mia.)

Today, the Clio is a vibrant but quiet retreat with spotless rooms and view to die for.  There’s no better place to view the sunset.

IMG_6843 (1)

Jeannie’s secret to success?  “Believing! I focus my attention on what I want to do, see the  opportunity and take it.  I don’t hold back. I’m always looking forward, not back.  And when I hit a snag, I get through with prayer. I believe my difficulties are what make me strong and that I am a winner with God on my side.  My confidence comes from deep inside because I believe.”

Great advice for a writer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savoring Mexico City

IMG_7617
Local handiwork shop in Roma neighborhood

Our first travel adventure of 2018 started out as a seed of an idea to accompany my nephew and his wife on a easy(?) trekking holiday in Patagonia.  After reconsidering the amount of time and hassle to get there for only a week’s time, we looked into Nicaragua or perhaps Costa Rica.  Same problem.  We finally settled on an easily accessible location that promised warm weather, good (and cheap) food, and friendly people.  Put that in the mix with some pretty epic history and great urban vibe and you have a very cool place to spend a week – Mexico City.

IMG_7560
La Angel – Monument to Independence

We’re into our fourth full day and night here and I have to admit, while we’ve done miles of wandering through this city on foot and by bike, we haven’t done much lingering.  Traveling with millennials that have boundless energy can have that effect on you.  But one thing we all have in common – the quest for that good cup of coffee…perfect cup…third wave over the top espresso cup of coffee.  I knew my nephew was serious about this “coffee field trip” when I saw his wife’s google map with every high end coffee shop in the city marked and categorized.  They obviously had done their homework and now we were reaping the benefits.

img_7663.jpg

Our favorite place was just blocks from where were we staying in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City.  Rafael (owner of Forte) is passionate about coffee, and he took the good part of a morning talking coffee lingo with us.  Home baked croissants and pastries (as in made fresh from scratch right there on the premises) were the perfect companions to our morning cappuccinos.

IMG_7612
Forte coffee shop in Roma

We’ve been getting around the city primarily on bikes provided by EcoBici, the city biking program.  It’s a breeze to use once you get registered and we chose the “temporary one-day pass” for a whopping 94 pesos.  That’s $4.86.  Sure, this city is incredibly crowded but there are more parks and green spaces than any city I’ve been in that comes even close to this size.  Biking through the parks or a tree lined avenue almost makes you forget that you are one in 9 million people that buzz around this city.

IMG_7599
EcoBici city bikes

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about this city is how affordable it is to enjoy a visit here.  We’ve sampled street tacos, visited museums, ridden in taxis, eaten in great restaurants complete with drinks and have always walked away with reverse sticker shock.  Yesterday, we ate lunch at a local Mexican taqueria in the Historic District and walked away completely stuffed for under $5 – per COUPLE.

IMG_2239

And a table with a view at the upper terrace of the Gran Hotel overlooking the cathedral and palace was priceless.  But the four of us managed to have our afternoon espressos and a phenomenal designer dessert for less than $6.00.

IMG_7651
El Zocolo Plaza – the heart of the historic center of Mexico City.

Mexico City is not for everyone.  It pulses with people, pollution and frenetic energy – all the time.  The air carries a mix of the aroma of Mexican street food and the stench of pollution.  I have to admit, I’m looking forward to taking a deep breath of clean Colorado mountain air when I return home.  But until then, bring on the fresh pastries and tortillas, the colorful characters and murals, the colonial architecture and green parks.  Wash it all down with some of the best coffee in the world and that’s what I call an adventure – city style.  Ciudad de Mexico.

IMG_7665
Street Market – Condesa neighborhood

Wander, Linger Savor Christmas

DSC_0015

I’ll come right out and say it…this is the hardest time of year to write a blog post about slowing down. I’ve already failed miserably at not “shoulding” on myself.

I should send out Christmas cards.

I should bake all those cookies.

I should have my shopping done.

I should have the tree decorated by now. (Oh wait, I don’t even have a tree yet.)

Guilt, self-criticism, failure, Bah Humbug!

Not exactly a good start for preparing my heart to soak in the true meaning of Christmas.

 

Imagine if God had a list of “shoulds” for that first Christmas.

I should’ve sent my son to a wealthy, firmly established Roman family instead of an unmarried, poor Jewish couple.

I should’ve waited until they got back from Bethlehem so they wouldn’t have to travel while she was pregnant.

I should’ve provided a cushy, comfortable room with qualified medical personnel to assist with the birth of my son.

I should’ve proclaimed the glorious news about the savior of the world to influential people that would immediately get the word out to other influential people…instead of the lowliest of humans – uneducated, unclean shepherds.

Point being…it wasn’t a Norman Rockwell perfect Christmas. But through the ages, painters, sculptors, retailers, and even churches have tried to glamorize a very messy, scary, confusing event that changed the history of the world. The Light of the World arrived on earth and for those who recognized Him, they would never be the same.

God had no shoulds. His timing and execution were perfect. And once again I’m reminded that He is God, and I am not. Perfection is His alone.

Evergreen
Winter morning in Evergreen Colorado

This year I’m not aiming for the perfect Christmas – that was already done 2000 years ago. This year I’m looking for ways to:

Wander through a pine forest knee deep in snow instead of neck deep in chores.

IMG_3401

Linger over a few precious words about the first Christmas instead of trying to come up with the perfect Christmas sentiment in my own cards.IMG_3253

Savor a cup of coffee with a friend in need instead of shopping for things nobody needs.DSC_0036

My tree is up and lit but I don’t know if I’ll get around to actually putting ornaments on this year. And that’s ok. Because all those details pale and seem unimportant when the lights go on.

May the Light of the World illuminate your days with Love, your nights with Peace and your life with Hope.

Winter in Crete
Quiet Christmas Day on Crete

 

 

 

 

 

Savor Autumn

IMG_7230
Nature’s Decoration

I walked into our local Home Depot yesterday and was immediately accosted by a forest of pre-lit Christmas trees and animated Santa figures.  For a fleeting moment I panicked thinking , “Wow!  I haven’t finished (or even started ) my Christmas shopping.”  I felt strangely off balance, like I’d been whisked ahead into December.  For a split second I couldn’t remember the day, or the month.  Stopping in my tracks to pull myself together and check my calendar, I realized it was October 20th.  Not even Halloween yet.  My first response was relief.  Then aggravation.  Then outright indignation.

In an effort to get a jump on preparing for a future holiday, we many times miss the beauty of lingering in the present.  And presently, it is a sunny and crisp day in the Colorado mountains.  A few yellow aspens leaves cling with their last strength to the trees in front of the house and they shimmer in the breeze.  Today I will bake apple cake (see recipe below) and decorate the house with pumpkins and pressed leaves of yellow, orange and red.   I vow to not put up Christmas decorations until after Dec 1.  And I savor these moments even longer, by lingering over some of my favorite Autumn photos from near and far travels.

IMG_7151
Colorado Gold

APPLE CAKE WITH CRISP TOPPING

Cake Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 ½ C sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ C oil
6 medium Gala, Fuji or Honey Crisp apples
¾ C chopped walnuts or pecans
2 C flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Crisp Topping Ingredients:
2/3 C rolled oats
2/3 C packed brown sugar
2/3 C flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ C (1 stick) chilled butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, cinnamon and oil. Peel and slice the apples and add to mixture in bowl (coating as you go to keep apples from turning brown.) Mix together baking powder and flour and add to the ingredients in the bowl. Mix well until all of the flour is absorbed by the wet ingredients. Pour mixture into a greased 9×13” pan.

For topping:

Combine first four ingredients and cut in butter till coarsely mixed. Sprinkle over cake.

Bake for approximately 55 minutes.

Three things I love about Crete

DSCN8779

Gazing out of the clouded airplane window, I absentmindedly take note of the expansive blue beneath me, We are flying over the Mediterranean Sea in route to the island of Crete. A German voice over the intercom jolts me out of my daydreaming and soon the english translation follows. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are beginning our descent into Crete. Please keep put your seat backs in the upright position…”. I tune out the rest and crane my neck around to catch the first glimpse of the island that was my home for five years. The Rodoupou peninsula comes into view in the hazy distance, and then closer I recognize the shape of the small island nicknamed “Kri-Kri Island”, sanctuary of the wild and elusive kri-kri goats of Crete. Tucked into a cove and out of view is the historic and picturesque Venetian port of Chania. But my favorite sight, the one that causes my heart to jump and my eyes to mist over is the foreboding cliffs of Stavros. How many centuries, millennium have those cliffs blazed red in the setting sun and been the inspiration for ancient and modern poets alike? Have they changed at all since the Minoans first called this island home? I doubt it. A sigh escapes my lips and something deep and spiritual, like warm honey, sweet and warm, flows into my soul.

IMG_6963

Even as I read these words, they sound a bit superfulous, yet still not enough to describe my feelings when I see Crete. All the chaos, confusion, and ugly realities of this crazy place give way to the the beauty and magic of the feeling that I’ve somehow come “home.” After living here for many years, I had become quite enmeshed in the fabric of the community, or at least, the community had oozed into the fabric of my being. What is it about this island that has such a hold on me that I spout adjectives in volumes greater than delicacies at a Greek wedding feast? Simply put, it is the simplicity of life that Crete embodies and embraces and clings to, while the rest of the world works itself into a frantic state of animosity and ambiguity. More specifically, it is three things that keep me coming back.

The Sea
I’ve often described the Cretan Sea as liquid silk. On a hot sultry summer day, it looks almost oily as it shimmers in changing shades of blue, green and gold. Some days it can be as still as lake water in the early morning hours. On other days, it’s as restless and unpredictable as a hormonal teenager. But on all days, it defines beauty.1000FC1A-ABCD-4E51-927A-952C97204AB3

The Food
Simple and fresh. No annoying gravies covering an indescript pile of meat and potatoes. If you’re English or German your mouth may be watering for this type of cuisine (which is a significant improvement on processed American food as a whole.) But for this girl, I love a tomato that tastes like the color red, and olive oil that tastes like Greek sunshine. It’s the kind of food that demands savoring. There are cultures (namely mine) that see food primarily as fuel. Then there are the cultures that see food primarily as an inspiration for social gatherings. The Greeks have mastered this activity, engaging in generous meals that last for hours, or as long as it takes until the storytelling and laughter subside. As long as the wine keeps flowing and the food keeps appearing, there is no end in sight. And why would you want it to end when the food and the fellowship rival each other for best memory makers ever.4211673C-7D61-46E2-906B-73F10AFF1192

The People

I love the Greek people – they are so blatantly proud, generous and determined. Everything has significance, nothing is by chance. As a result, what seems like superstitious nonsense to us has a traditional, time honored “truth” to them. A draft can kill you (that explains why most Greek establishments are devoid of any air movement.) If you talk about death, it is a bad omen (spit, spit to keep the evil eye away.) The wild herbs of Crete have miraculous medicinal effects. (Actually, I do believe that last one is true because when I use Cretan herbs in cooking or in cosmetics I just FEEL better.)
Have I ever met a Greek I didn’t like? Of course. Human nature is not completely subject to the culture in which one is raised. So you will find cheats, liars and bullies everywhere. But in general, the Greeks honor their families and their faith above all, and that goes a long way.

It’s not just the Greek people that I love, it’s people in general on the island of Crete. Just like stress can bring out the worst in someone, the laid-back lifestyle of Crete brings out a childlike wonder and lightness of heart to those who will linger long enough to let it all sink in.IMG_6862

I suppose it’s not so much the island as the feelings it exposes that I love the best. My best self emerges here and I feel God’s smile on me more often. Perhaps because I slow down and become more intentional about listening for His voice. Or perhaps I recognize His touch that brought me to my knees and lifted me up at the same time when I lived here so many years ago. Such a place of dichotomy – of brokenness and healing, of chaos and serenity. Of being keenly aware I need Him every moment to survive and to soar.  The simple truth is that every moment holds a treasure, even in the hard places.

For today, I revel in these simple facts;

A big Greek salad, fresh bread with olive oil, a sizzling plate of calamari and a carafe of wine = 18 euros
A day rental of beach umbrella and 2 lounger chairs = 6 euros
A luxurious swim in the clear turquoise waters of the Med = Free
Friendship and wellbeing on the island of Crete = Priceless.

IMG_6952

 

Hidden Heidelberg

IMG_6583.JPG

On every leg of our journey, God gave us protection, provision and especially people who made our journey memorable.
The German people work hard and play harder. If there is a way to make a game of it all, they will figure it out – strict rules included, of course. They can be stoic and rigid but they know how to have fun. And they are more than ready to show you how, or just help you out before you even ask. The language barrier never stopped any of them from offering help with a smile. If it weren’t for their open willingness to lend a helping hand, we might still be wandering off the beaten path towards Croatia or stuck in a Bahnhof waiting for a cancelled train. We found most Germans to be very accommodating and self-confident especially when it came to fashion. Hairstyles of all colors and shapes were common especially amoung the younger set. Even the older conservatives could show a little leg and not be bothered in the least.FullSizeRender

The last leg (pun intended) of our biking tour was a short 40 km so we took our time to walk around Eberbach in the morning before departing.

IMG_6716
Eberbach town square

The town dates to the 12th century and the four towers of the fortifications are still intact. Across the street from the tower Rosenturm is an austere little monument dedicated to Eberbach’s Jewish population that was wiped out during WW2. The bronze carvings on a stone map depict the family names and their home locations throughout the town. It was a sad yet intimate portrayal of those who were forced to leave and never return to their homes in Eberbach.

As the Neckar River curved around to reveal the city of Heidelberg we anticipated the first sighting of the massive Heidelberg Castle. It had been over five years since our last visit to this city and the castle was just as impressive as the first time we laid eyes on it.

IMG_6768
Schloss Heidelburg

The streets were also just as crowded with tourists. Travel guru Rick Steves barely gives it a mention in his books except to say it is overrun by Americans (true fact mostly because until recently the American army base housing over 16,000 soldiers and their families was based in Heidelberg.) When the Americans closed up shop and left Heidelberg, it was nothing short of an economic crisis for the locals. But they have obviously bounced back because business is booming especially along the commercialized Haupstrasse pedestrian street filled with stores and restaurants.

We steered our bikes down the Haupstrasse to the Hotel Bayrischer where we were greeted warmly by pretty frauliens dressed in dirndls offering us glasses of cool sparking wine. Our room was spacious and very comfortable but we didn’t linger there very long. It was our last night in Germany and we were on the hunt for a cozy out of the way winehaus to enjoy our last supper. Walking around Heidelberg can be overwhelming with the sheer number of restaurants offering every type of cuisine so we finally resorted to consulting our faithful Lonely Planet. Score!

IMG_6731
Weinstube Schnitzelbank

We had a few hours to kill the next day so on a tip from our Stuttgart friends, we passed on the crowded castle tour (did that last time), and headed back over the bridge into the little visited Neuenheim district.. This mostly residential area of the city boasts some great local shops and beautiful mansions that dot the steep hillside. It is also where a mountain path called the Philosophenweg or Philosopher’s Path leads to the Heiligenberg area. Since our cycling days were over, we decided to hike the “hill.” We heard that the path led upwards along the side of the mountain and offered spectacular views of the old city and the river. Very true!

FullSizeRender
View of Heidelberg from Heiligenberg

Our destination was at the top where the old St. Stephens monastery was in ruins but even more interesting was the stadium built by Hitler in honor of himself during the height of the Third Reich. The Thingstaette is an open air amphitheater with eerie roots. First hallowed as a magical place in the deep forest by the Celts, Hitler chose it as a local rally place and had the Heidelberg people build it for him. To this day, a local will usually tell you about it only if you ask and even then it’s with an apology. Every country has its own stain of shame. America had slavery and German had Hitler.

IMG_6759
Thingstaette in Heiligenberg

But at the end of the day, the sobering visit to Thingstaette made us appreciate even more the strength of the German people to forge a future out of the rubble. And as the greatest party of the year approaches, cities and towns all over Germany will once again redefine their national identity in a deluge of dirndls, lederhosen, bratwurst and beer. Prost Oktoberfest!

IMG_6782
Not your typical Macy’s