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Two years ago, I began a blog about my journey from couch potato to marathon runner.

Though I wanted to keep the blog purely about health, I found funny things, like my kids, kept creeping in. Because at the core, whether I’m keeping the couch warm on a daily basis or getting my Merrells routinely muddy, I’m still a mom.

I’ve come to realize that not a single component of the mother/writer/runner amalgam can be extracted without making the other elements weaker.

Looking back through my blog, it’s apparent I haven’t met all of my health goals (I can barely hold myself in plank position for 30 seconds before falling in a quivering heap, let alone do an actual push-up), but I am much healthier than I was two marathons ago.

I’m not worried about the fact that I still have many items on my “goal” list because it gives me more to strive towards. And I’m the kind of person who always needs some goal or project to keep me from the fuzzy warm blanket of lethargy.

“Auf die Dauer,” is the German equivalent of “In the Long Run,” which is especially fitting for my life as a mother/writer/runner living in Germany.

Everything we do (or fail to do) has an impact in the long run.

It is finding the importance in each of the hundreds of little daily events, which will lead to something greater. Whether it is plugging away on a languishing manuscript, taking 5 minutes to let my teenager vent, or running a few miles, each step gets me closer to the goal.

It is a new year, and I have a lot of goals: some old, some new.

While I still hold fast to the Auf die Dauer philosophy, I’ve decided to start a new blog. It will be the same me…just a different name.

Auf Gehts, Mama! will contain more about my life as a world-schooling, noveling, solar-powered, running mama, who is encouraged and motivated (often literally) by her children, and who also happens to live in an incredible (often literally) place in the world.

So join me in the new year at AufGehtsMama.com

Let’s go!

Our fingers were frozen, and our toes were frozen, but a Christkindlesmarkt just isn’t authentic unless it is bitterly cold.

Besides, you could be digging a ditch with Libby and still have fun.

Right on the heels of the Katie•Mommy Day was a Libby•Mama Day. I don’t exactly know why the girls have each chosen a different diminutive for me, but I’m just thankful neither refer to me as “mother,” which for some strange reason, conjures the image of someone who beats you with kitchen utensils.

Libby and I arrived at Rothenburg painfully early, mainly to avoid the combative parking arena; and thus we found ourselves walking around the quiet town, waiting for the market to open.

Libby is eight years-old, but she still gets excited about those colorful rides that do nothing more than go round in a circle.

As the man took the tarp from the carousal, Libby plotted which critter she would ride first. Soon, we had purchased four tokens, and Libby was on the unicorn, lifting her feet so they wouldn’t drag on the ground. She had a bit of trouble in the frog car too: with her knees nearly to her chin, she could hardly unfold and get out by herself.

When our hands were sufficiently numb, we went to our favorite restaurant, by the clock tower. The waiter lit a candle for the two of us, and we ordered coffee and hot chocolate to warm our fingers and souls.

Libby was delighted when her cocoa was served to her on a ‘silver’ platter. She said it was the first time EVER—and it makes me happy that it happened while I was with her.

We enjoyed our lunch, and she enjoyed having a captive audience. She says she wants to be a doctor someday, and if she does follow that line of work, I know she’ll be awarded the “Best Bedside Manner” prize. Libby’s charm and cheerful nature could probably heal most people without the use of medicine.

Walking through the market, we picked up a few Christmas presents for the other kids, and then we spied the nut stand. If you’ve never been to Germany, then you may not have heard about candied nuts they have here. Though they’re not laced with anything stronger than cinnamon, they are highly addictive, and should come with warning labels.

As Libby was deciding which nuts she would choose, she suddenly spied the chocolate-covered apples. We usually shy away from foods that have the potential for disaster, but in this case, as an ‘only-child’ for a day, Libby got her wish: her first chocolate covered apple E-V-E-R.

Surprisingly, it did not end up all over her face, hands, forehead, or ponytail, nor on her seat in the car.

We strolled in the shadows of the medieval walls, non-sticky hand in non-sticky hand, simply enjoying each other’s company. 

The fourth child is perhaps the luckiest, because when she comes along, parents finally figure out how fleeting and precious time really is.

It is nearly Christmas, but my best gifts have already been given to me.

WILLIAM*KATIE*NOAH*LIBBY

My mother used to tell me, “I hope when you have children, you have one JUST. LIKE. YOU!” and she didn’t seem to mean it as a compliment.

How unfair! I couldn’t help it that I was a stubborn, self-willed, independent child—it’s just how I was born, or maybe it was my parents’ fault for not raising me better. Right?

Fast forward to my second born.

She was the first little princess born to me, and subsequently she got her way a lot. She was opinionated from birth, whimsical, and when she was old enough, she loved to bend the rules in order to torment her legalistic older brother.

People who know my lovely eldest daughter can’t quite believe some of the stories about her early years, which include many temper tantrums. She was strong-willed, independent and…well…a lot like me.

I won’t say she’s just like me—her strengths, such as mathematics and music—were always my weaknesses. She bakes and cooks and sews. And every friend is a sister to her. She also has the most tender heart I’ve ever seen, and she wears it right on her sleeve.

And yet, she has a toughness about her that allows her to do things like dissect cow organs and pick up dead moles in the garden without cringing. Of all the kids in the world who want to grow up to be veterinarians, I see in her the type of person who can actually accomplish it.

Yet despite our differences, we are incredibly similar, which means my own behavior reverberates in her life.  While there are things that crop up which make me wonder, “Where did THAT come from?” there are also things I can pinpoint the origin exactly—and it’s a little too close for comfort.

The difficult part of having a child who has your temperament is that you are quicker to lose patience. It seems like it should be the opposite: that because you have felt similar things, you should be MORE patient.

But what actually happens is that because you have a good gauge of what’s going on inside that child’s head, you want to ‘encourage’ her to get over it more quickly. It’s almost as if you expect that child to have come preprogrammed with the trials you went through by fire. 

Now, I find myself looking eye-to-eye with my daughter, who also borrows my shoes. She is a young lady—beautiful inside and out, which is kind of a scary thing (especially when I catch guys looking at her–which makes me want to check for loopholes in that whole “thou shalt not kill” commandment). And I constantly have to be on guard to keep our relationship safe. It is a valuable thing.

Katie and I recently went to a Christmas market together by ourselves. It was drizzling with the kind of rain that leaves you with a chill you can’t shake. Yet, we were both cheerful—happy just to be together doing something fun. 

And sometimes the drizzly cold days make the memories warmer.

It was Katie’s year to pick out the Christmas tree. So we went through the aisles, discussing the varieties available. In the end, Katie chose a ‘surprise’ tree: meaning one that was already wrapped up (as most of them are here), so we didn’t know exactly what it would look like.

It was by far the heaviest tree I’ve ever crammed into the Honda, and I was afraid it wouldn’t quite fit. But we wedged it between the seats (bending the top branch like an uppercase ‘C’) and eventually managed to get it set up at home without breaking the tree stand. It turns out, Katie had picked the biggest, fattest tree I’ve ever seen in Franconia. It is gorgeous.

I love making these kinds of memories.  When it’s just Kate and I, I can more easily catch glimpses of the woman she will become.

Once, she was my little princess, but someday, I know I will count her as one of my very best friends.

I can already envision her texting me between appointments with her furry patients, writing: “Meet me at Starbucks!” God willing, I’ll be there, chatting with her over coffee.

I was sitting next to a soft-spoken young man on the train.

He was considerate, offering me a book to read, and had that unique brand of humor that can make me laugh in almost any situation.

The conductor checked my ticket and then asked for his. He looked up at her wide-eyed—he had no ticket.

He’s my son, I explained in German, he is on my ticket.

She double-checked, and sure enough, two seats had been reserved. This is his last year of riding free on Deutschebahn.

My oldest doesn’t complain and he rarely asks for things, so when he requested a day alone together, there’s no way (aside from heart-removal surgery) I could say no.

Despite a wearying schedule and all the housework and chores and mountains I could move via the computer, my son and I took the day off.  

I do not consider it time lost but a worthy investment.

With four children in our family, being out with him alone is a rare occurrence, as one of us is usually tending the rest of the crew.

So we made the most of it: riding the train to Nuernberg, exploring the Christmas market, sipping a leisurely latte (for me) at Starbucks, and rounding out the day with lunch at a restaurant where food does not come in a box or bag.

It struck me that day just how much he has grown up, and how little time we actually have left before he’s filling out college applications.

My heart misses him already.

I have to say, however, that traveling with William now is much easier than it used to be.

I will never forget the energy (enough to power a nuclear facility), the planning (enough to design a nuclear facility), and the real-life, dripping-from-your-brow sweat (enough to build a nuclear facility with your bare hands) involved in traveling with youngsters.

During that train ride, I sat in awe of this handsome young man in the Italian leather jacket, who no longer needed Cherrie-O’s doled out one-by-one for amusement, and who could not only entertain himself by reading a battered edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but who brought an extra book—just in case his mom wanted something to read.

But before the high tide of adulthood rushes in and overtakes these placid days, I will relish each moment of his young adulthood, and savor those rich memories we have built together.

 

I have no fear about my son’s future—he will go far in life, even if I’m not there to buy his train tickets.

Fahrkarten, bitte.

Germany is foggy.

If you did not know that, then you have never lingered here long after Octoberfest.

I have become intimately aquainted with the many varieties of Franconian fog due to my early-morning jaunts into the countryside.

Running later in the day really isn’t feasible at the moment, as the daylight hours have become filled with activities, extra schoolwork, writing projects, and occasionally, cleaning the grime off things in the house. (If I could mine the deposits on my shower door, I’d be a rich woman).

The only other option, as far as running time is concerned, would be to NOT run at all, which would put my children and husband in the high risk category for emotional damage, as I would quickly burst like the button on my skinny jeans.

Which all brings me back to fog.

There is the thick, soupy fog that covers everything, making it impossible to see anything beyond the scope of the light from one’s head lamp. This blots out even the wide, dark sky, and makes you truly question your sanity, as you double-check the blinking lights on your reflective vest.

The misty fog, comprised of tiny ice crystals, makes you feel as if you’re a Gulliver, running through a snow storm of Lilliputian proportions.

There is also the fog that only becomes visible once you turn on your headlamp. At that point, you feel as if you’re in a sci-fi movie, moving at hyper speed, as bright stars (in this case, chunks of light, floating ice) rush past in white streaks.

The neatest type of fog is the kind that billows, like clouds at ground level. This kind of fog makes you feel as if you’re flying through the sky, rather than stumbling along a gravel path.

Occasionally, the clouds will part, or your head will bob out of the mist, and you can see the entire night sky stretching out all around you.

Except for the occasional gray day, the fog is mostly confined to ground level, and when it burns off later, I find myself longing for the familiar feel of the UV rays (however weak they may be) on my face.

But running in the fog has its advantages. For one thing, I always get to run as long as I like without guilt. I ran 8 miles this morning, and not even the dog, who was happily snoozing on the dirty laundry pile, noticed I was gone.

I also have the entire countryside to myself, which means I don’t have to worry about the manure trucks or gigantic harvesters, churning unbreathable things into the air.

While I do miss spying the deer, I get to experience the thrill and sudden increased heart rate when huge hawks swoop over my head.

I can also wear whatever I want, even if I look like I’m dressed for a space walk, because even if there were other humans around, it’s too dark, or foggy, to actually see any more than the lights strapped to my body.

Though it may be foggy, or cold, or dark, or all of the above, I never regret my early morning runs. In fact, they may be part of the reason I can embrace the day with a happy heart.

No regrets.

My plate is full of great things: Super-sized portions of field trips, a side of piano lessons, and heaps of delicious art classes, during which, Mama goes for coffee (and sometimes ice cream) with her friends.

Still, it’s a lot more than I’m used to. And to top it off, my skinny jeans are getting uncomfortable to wear (must be all that ice cream during art lessons) making it apparent I need to increase my weekly mileage. Oh yes, and I’m teaching writing seminars for the homeschool kids. And I’m going to write a novel this month. Plus there’s that little thing called homeschooling, where I’m SUPPOSED to be the teacher.

I love my life and the opportunities the kids and I have, but I wonder how I’ll get everything done.

The real problem is that for the past couple of months, most of our activities are an hour away. There’s no real solution or way around it, so I find myself spending 8 to 10 hours driving a week, and if you look closely at my kitchen floor and bathroom toilets, you’ll see the cost of the commute.

But here’s the thing: I can stay home and have a perfectly clean house, or I can provide valuable learning opportunities (and fun socialization) for my kids. There’s really no choice to be made–our lives are richer because of the activities and because of the people we get to be with while we’re doing cool things.

All of this means that in the next month, I have to be extremely dedicated to using my time wisely.

So, if you don’t see many funny quips on my Facebook page, don’t be alarmed. If I don’t answer emails right away, don’t call the Red Cross–I’m still here!

And though I will be driving way too much, I’ll also be running (before sunrise), writing (any chance I can get), living, laughing, drinking too much coffee, and loving my family.

All it takes is dedication.

But my house probably won’t pass a white glove test any time soon.


Contrary to popular belief, there are enough hours in the day; you just have to know where to find them.

A while back, a friend of mine encouraged me to get up before the sunrise, chickens and children to run. The theory is that you can have glorious alone time before anyone needs anything from you.

This is also the same friend who got me into long-distance running, so I know her advice (while it usually sounds outrageous to most people) pretty much always helps me in my metamorphosis into SuperMom a decent sort of woman.

Thus, when my electronic birds gently began chirping last week at 5 am, I got up and immediately made the decision to crawl back under my cozy down comforter ASAP.

But when I actually stumbled into the bathroom, I looked through the window on our slanted ceiling/wall and noticed the moon illuminating my running trail and billions of stars all around.

The Franconian countryside had become a strange, new world.

I quietly laced up my shoes and snuck out the door.

The trail was the same (the same tractor ruts, chunky rocks, looming trees, and fields in various stages of growth and harvest), but the entire experience was exhilarating.

Everything looks different; and every scary story you’ve ever heard comes flitting through your mind as you run in the dark (especially past corn fields).

Sounds are amplified and sometimes terrifying (such as the lone car that came barreling over the hill or the hawks that swooped over my head as I ran down the lane of plum trees).

There are creatures slinking around in the fields at night, and they all sound BIG and FAST—at least, bigger and faster than you. Those could be deer, or dinosaurs, or bunny rabbits out there—you have no way of telling!

The good thing about running in the dark: scary sounds make you run faster.

One problem with running with the stars is that you tend to look skyward a lot, which isn’t actually that safe to do on a darkened path.

And instead of hill repeats, you find yourself stopping at the top of the hill, tipping your head back as far as it will go.

In fact, you may consider lying down in the grass to soak in the view, until you remember how wet and muddy it is.

Though running in the dark is seductive, it’s also a hard habit to establish.

The October issue of “Runner’s World” has a good article on becoming an early morning runner. So, armed with sure-fire strategies and inspiration to run before sunrise, I set my alarm for 6:00 am.

The problem with this noble act was that I knew it was not enough time for a good run. I ignored this tidbit of knowledge and justified my action by reminding myself that I need 7 hours of sleep a night.

However, at 5 am, I felt three distinct taps on my shoulder.

I started awake, sputtering, “What is it, Libby?” before my eyes even opened. I expected to see the dark little shadow hovering over me, explaining about hypothetical mosquitos or phantom spiders, but there was no one. My husband appeared to be sleeping, and even the dog was silent in his kennel.

It must’ve been some kind of muscle spasm, but I could not get back to sleep. I tried to ignore the clock, but by 5:15, I knew I had to get up and at least look out the window.

There were stars.

Billions of them.

I added a headlamp and a blinky tail light to my ensemble.

It was another glorious pre-dawn morning. The countryside belonged to me (and to one other person, again barreling over the hill, who must drive to work AWFULLY early every day).

I made my way off the main road and turned off my lamp to let my eyes take in the ambient light that transforms the familiar landscape into a mysterious new place.

As I turned down the final trail to home, the sliver of a moon was hanging on the horizon in a pale strip of coral sky.

I finished my run and had a cup of coffee as dawn broke the spell over lovely, magical Franconia.

I now know why mobsters break a person’s knuckles as punishment.

It really

really hurts.

Really.

Life has been challenging lately. Try buttoning jeans or putting your hair in a ponytail with one hand. I can still type (though it takes forever), drive (though tight corners are scary), and I am mastering the art of one-hand washing itself, but daily tasks are considerably more difficult.

It is humiliating and humbling and will probably turn out to be one of those events that helps me grow into a better human being.

The Story:

Not wanting to admit I’d been reduced to uncontrollable tears by a football game where most of the players were half my height and a quarter my age, I waited a week to see if the injury would miraculously heal itself. On day seven, I lightly bumped my finger on the car door and began crying in the middle of a parking lot.

Public tears!?

Time for an X-Ray.

The American clinic squeezed me in the next day. They were overworked and severely understaffed. The radiologist ended up telling the nurse to wrap my hand with the only bandage they could scrounge up, which looked like something the ancient Egyptians would use in the mummification process of cats.

The nurse sandwiched my finger in a padded aluminum splint then wrapped it until my finger was roughly the size and shape of a beehive.

The nuse told me I should leave it on for 4 weeks, and then darted out the door.

My family laughed when they saw the ridiculous bandage, and I would’ve laughed too if not for the white hot surges of pain that occurred whenever I lunged to strangle them.

That was a Friday. On Saturday I was biting off the heads of people who loved me. By Sunday the pain was so intolerable, I decided to see a German doctor.

German doctors, for the most part, are excellent. The only reason I don’t seek them out first is because stepping into a German clinic requires stepping out of my comfort zone. I don’t know all the words–especially medical words–and babel fish does NOT accurately translate in all situations.

After a couple recommendations from friends, I decided not to go to the village veterinarian, but to Doctor F., who had done Mike’s foot surgery. Mike said he was really good, knowledgeable, professional, and spoke perfect English.

Great.

I did really well explaining my situation in German to the receptionist and the nurse. I didn’t get completely bewildered finding the X-Ray room. And I even made it back to the doctor’s office with my X-Rays without the help of the hospital map the receptionist gave me (I think she was worried about me, since I speak like a preschooler).

As I waited to meet Dr. F., I held my X-Ray pictures up to the window. It’s really quite cool to see pictures of your bones and particularly fascinating when they’re broken.

Soon, in walked Dr. F., who was older than I’d imagined. He was very pleasant, kind of a grandfatherly character, but his eyes looked weary, and I couldn’t imagine him even winning a game of “Operation,” let alone slicing open joints for orthopedic surgery. He only spoke German, which was fine, since I’m the foreigner here (I should speak the language), and I assumed he was trying to help further my language skills.

He placed the X-Rays on the lighted board and studied them. After a few moments he said to me: “The pictures look good! There is no break! Your hands will last a hundred years!”

I stared at him with what must’ve been an expression of shock mingled with horrified, bemused confusion. After a moment he asked, “Did you understand what I said?”

“No!” I blurted out, trying to formulate a response, while also thinking my husband was crazy to recommend this guy.

The doctor asked how old I was and when I replied, he said, “You are 38, and your hands will last until you are a hundred. You have strong hands.”

At this point, I slid down from the table and pointed to the broken bone on the X-Ray.

“But it IS broken. Here.”

I glanced at the nurse, who was covering a smile with her hand. He quickly said something to her, and she ran out of the room. She ran back in a few moments later with his GLASSES.

He put them on and stuck his nose six inches away from the picture. He consulted with the nurse, and she pointed to the broken bone.

He turned to me and said, “I am sorry. You were right. But it IS a very small break.”

As the doctor tried fixing my broken knuckle with fingertip splints, a man wearing blue scrubs whisked into the room. He glanced at my X-Rays, showed the nurse which splint to use, and in perfect English, discussed the fracture and therapy needed for my knuckle.

The old man, who had cast aside the box of splints and stood watching, said, “Do you know who this man is? This doctor?”

“No,” I said, as the nurse wrapped my finger with a pink bandage, “I do not know him.”

The old man smiled broadly and exclaimed with a tremendous amount of pride, “This is my son, Doctor F!”

Alles Klar.

And I couldn’t help but laugh.

Funny, quirky, wonderful Germany.

I can’t imagine living any place else.

A good blog should have one theme: parenting, travel, homeschooling, running, or living abroad.

But life isn’t that tidy. Rather, themes tend to run together like watercolors on the wrong type of paper.

I can’t write about one aspect of life without revealing the strange bits, because the quirks (even frustrating ones) are what make my life unique and funny and memorable.

I would like to introduce you to a character you know well from my posts: my arch nemesis… 

 

…the manure truck.

Now this particular truck is not all that bad, because it has hoses that funnel the liquid straight to the ground.

Other trucks I’ve seen do not have the intricate hoses. Instead, the manure spews out, as if someone had yoinked a giant cork out of the back.

I’ve also seen manure trucks that mist the fields with their ripe liquid pungency. But those trucks are less efficient, and with the right wind, a lot more dangerous for runners.

Even with your windows rolled up and your air freshener twirling from your full-blast AC vent, merely driving behind one of these trucks will bring tears to your eyes.

If you grew up in farm country, you will tell me this is a classic case of a city girl who is not accustomed to the frische Landluft. 

For the record, this manure comes from pig waste.

And pig manure, as we all know, makes cow patties smell like fresh clean laundry by comparison.

When you are out running and you see one of these trucks in the field, turn around and go the other way. 

It’s not that you will necessarily be sprayed with manure, it is the fact that the stench makes you feel like you should have donned your toxic chemical cleanup suit rather than your running tights.

On the bright side, if you are running parallel to a field where they are manuring, you are guaranteed your best time ever. Manure trucks, for all their flaws, are great motivation for achieving a personal best.

It is the manure trucks that make my training runs interesting. I have to alter, adapt, or change paths because of them, and thus, my runs are never routine.

I sometimes think this would be paradise, if not for the manure trucks.

But in all honesty, it wouldn’t be my beautiful, green, funny Franconia without them.

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