The building was cold. Drafty would be one way to describe it, but the word wouldn’t do it justice. The heat never worked, and the winter months dragged on. We sat at a long, white table, all bundled in our hats and coats, hands tucked into pockets in an effort to stay warm while the teacher drilled us on the Nominative case, the Genitive Case, and everything in between.
It was 1998, and I was a student at The Institute of Foreign Languages in Kiev, Ukraine. There were seven students in my Russian language class – six of them from China, and me, the blond-headed American with a love for languages and a longing for adventure.
After school we’d attempt small talk. Our only common language was Russian, so if we wanted to converse it had to be in the language we’d come there to learn. We did a lot of gesturing, and a lot of laughing. I’m sure we looked quite comical walking down the street, the Chinese and the American charading our way through Kiev.
On the afternoons when I wasn’t hanging out with my classmates, I’d explore the city on my own. My very favorite pastime was getting lost.
I got lost on purpose.
I’d walk in a new direction and take multiple turns until I didn’t quite know where I was, then I’d make myself find a way back. In my self-induced confusion, I found so many great little treasures.
I stumbled upon a tea shop on one of my wanderings. I walked inside and breathed in deep the heady scent of hundreds of different teas. Glass jars lined the wall from floor to ceiling, all of the labels written in Russian so I couldn’t quite make them out. But oh, how I enjoyed the challenge.
The owner of the shop was an older woman with bright grey hair and piercing eyes that probed my face. She found me amusing, maybe even a little annoying, and after a few attempts at speaking and realizing that my language was not strong enough to keep up with her fast speech, she left me to explore the walls on my own.
Another day, I got so turned around I could not find my way back. It was getting dark, and I was freezing cold. I was twenty, and didn’t always make the best decisions, but I did know that getting lost in a big city after dark on a cold night was a bad idea.
So I hailed a cab.
In Kiev, anyone can be a cab. Stick out your hand and anyone looking for money could swing by and pick you up. I decided to wait until I saw an actual cab car before sticking out my hand. You know, for safety.
I ended up in the car with one of the happiest, friendliest men I’ve ever met. His eyes swam with kindness. He spoke no English, but he was fluent in Spanish. My Russian language was stronger at that point, and I had a small cache of Spanish words stored in my memory from high school, so we pieced a conversation together using Russian and a bit of Spanish.
It’s been nearly eighteen years since I spent that semester in Ukraine, and even now I find that I still long for adventure. I crave that feeling of being lost.
Last year just about this time, I jetted off to Munich for a week with my dad, and on my first day there I took a walk. I turned left, then right, the left again until I was significantly turned around, and my heartbeat quickened. I was lost, and I was thrilled.
There’s beauty in wandering, and comfort in adventure. Sometimes it’s scary, not knowing where the next turn will lead you. But if you’re willing to take the ride, to seek out the treasures in the unknown path, you just may find that the unknown is the place where your soul comes alive.
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Some days, I feel swallowed up by the predictability of my life. Each day, though hectic, is relatively the same. We wake up, we have sports and school and bickering and loving, we go to bed, and we wake up and do it again.
I’m not complaining. I love my life. It’s messy and beautiful, and I wouldn’t want to walk this path with anyone besides the people I’ve been given. So in the moments when I find myself longing for adventure again, I look at the unknown that stands before me.
Though my schedule may be predictable, the truth is I don’t know which direction tomorrow will lead me or my family. It’s always a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, and looking for the adventure that is right now.
Even today, it’s possible to get lost on purpose. The fun lies in exploring each new turn life throws our way.
Are you an adventure seeker? How do you find adventure in the mundane spaces of life?
Ten hours and fifteen minutes after taking off from Munich, the plane finally began it’s approach into the Atlanta airport. I couldn’t even really feel excited over the sheer exhaustion of it all.
Ten hours is a long time.
I’d finished writing a chapter in my book, written the beginnings of a short story, read for quite a bit, and watched three movies, because somehow zoning out to the tiny television screen felt the least like trying to slog through quick sand.
Sandwiched between my husband and a very kind young German man, I’d shifted and squirmed through most of the flight, because I can find neither comfort nor sleep on an airplane. It’s a terrible curse to not be able to drift to sleep in any position but fully prone.
One of the movies I watched had a bit of suspense to it, and at one point, when a shark leapt out of the water and almost bit the main character’s head off, I yelped and accidentally grabbed the arm of the kind, young German man. Lee fell over into the aisle laughing while this poor fellow confirmed his suspicions that I was a crazy American. I tried apologizing, and he smiled politely, then shifted as far away from me as he possibly could.
As we made our way down, the runway in our sights, I offered Lee a small smile. “Almost there,” I said, and he nodded in return, equally numb.
We raced toward the ground, waiting for the wheels to touch down on American soil, and then WHAMO!
It was one of the roughest landings I’ve ever experienced in an airplane. I suspect the pilot had his own feelings of numbness to contend with, and perhaps he got tired of the slow descent and decided to just throw that sucker down and be done with it.
As the plane shuddered and bounced under the weight of a quick landing, I gripped the armrest. I almost grabbed my new German friend’s hand, but I noticed he had tucked his hands under his legs in self defense. Poor fellow.
A few minutes later, the plane rolled to a stop, and my grip loosened as I realized we’d made it safe and sound. The plane didn’t barrel roll into the gate like it seemed it would in those first few moments after slamming to the ground. We had arrived. We were home.
I didn’t realize our landing would be a metaphor for reentry into every day life.
It’s amazing how a getaway can revive a person. Last week away was fabulous from start to finish. I loved every minute of it, and if I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t really miss the kids until the day it was time to go home. I simply relished in the freedom of kidless-ness. There were many moments when I wished that the kids were with me. Each time I explored a castle, I wished I could share the experience with them, because I knew they’d love it.
But I never once wished I was back home.
When we finally landed in Tampa, though, Lee and I were beyond ready to get home and see the children. This was our slow descent. It felt like it took forever for our wheels to hit the ground, but finally we were there, and the return hugs and snuggles we got were worth every minute away.
The first night was sweet and fun as we shared our trip with them, and they shared their week with us. My mom not only survived, but she did a slam bang job of holding the house together in the process. She deserves a few extra jewels in her heavenly crown for last week, for sure.
We went to bed that first night, and slept soundly, then woke up and WHAMO! No more slow descent. Arguments, homework, notes from teachers and homeroom moms listing out 8,462 things that needed to be done before the last day of school, soccer try outs, practices, and incidents that occurred while we were gone that needed to be addressed.
It’s like we fell out of the sky and slammed back into real life, and last night Lee caught my eye after we finally managed to get them all in bed. His wide eyes matched mine, and we sort of just stared at one another for a long minute before starting to laugh.
“I guess there’s no easing back into this, right?” I asked. Lee shook his head and raised his glass to me.
“To Germany!” he cried.
To Germany, indeed. I write this now after a restless night with a kid who had nightmares and ended up in our bed…on top of me for the the most part. The same kid woke up with a gushing bloody nose that I got to deal with before a sip of coffee crossed my lips.
Welcome home, and thanks for dropping in, I thought to myself when I got them all on the bus, but there’s a grin behind the thought, because I wouldn’t orchestrate life any other way than this – crazy, and busy, and brimming with love.
Salzburg is romantic castles towering high above the city. History and beauty, and so many stories tucked into the marred, stone walls.
Salzburg is graveyards and flowers, and beautiful remembrances of loved ones lost.
Salzburg is doors. So many magical, curious doors. Doors that might be portals back in time. Or maybe they just lead to the dumpster, but either way, there’s something fascinating about all those doors.
Salzburg is a place that can even make McDonalds look inviting and romantic.
Salzburg is exploring and hiking behind the castle where you find a leafy path that leads to…where? You don’t know because you don’t have time to explore it. And also, there’s a sign that says Private Property, which really only makes it all the more intriguing, right?
Salzburg is horse drawn carriages on cobbled sidewalks.
Salzburg is standing high above the city and biting your lip to keep from singing “The hiiiills are alliiiive!” You want to do it, but you know people would think you were weird.
Salzburg is flower boxes in windows everywhere you turn.
Salzburg is a place that you never want to leave. It’s a place you dream of bringing your children.
Salzburg is spectacular.
I decided to leave my bulky camera behind on this trip and, instead, use only my iPhone to capture the images. I’m thankful that I read David Molnar’s iPhone Only Photography book before I came. Have you read it? You should. So many great tips!
They didn’t have running water, and they lived on SPAM. To this day, my mom can’t look at a can of that stuff without gagging. It was hot and dusty, and the kids were constantly sick.
My grandparents finally came to a point where they knew their older children needed better schooling, so they made the decision to send them back to the States to boarding school. My mom and her uncle were ten and twelve at the time, and as summer drew to a close, the departure date closed in on them.
The problem was they didn’t know exactly when they would depart.
They kept their packed suitcases at the ready next to the door, and each day my granddad kept an eye out for landing planes. If someone happened to arrive on the dusty landing strip in South Caicos, where they lived, Poppy Jim would ask them where they were headed next.
If the answer was Miami, he asked if they had room for two children.
And so it was that my mom and her brother returned to the States each year at summer’s end – in the back of a stranger’s small plane, flying over crystal blue waters with the promise that they’d get word to their parents when they’d safely arrived.
My dad grew up in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee. The son of a hard working father, my dad started working at age 14. He met my mom at 18, and married her when he was only 19, then worked full time and put himself through college.
So it’s not a surprise that my parents, both of whom lived quite independently at young ages, have raised a daughter who craves independence, and thrives on a bit of adventure. And though I baffle my husband at times, I’ve been blessed to marry a man who recognizes my need to explore, and gives me the freedom to do so.
I sometimes feel like I need travel almost as much as I need oxygen. If I go too long without some sort of adventure, I get antsy and start talking nonsense about maybe redecorating the house all by myself, or training to run a marathon, or some other ridiculous proposition that runs completely contrary to my nature.
This is when Lee knows it’s time to get me out of the house.
Last week, Lee came home and said that he heard he needed to travel to Germany for work. After I got my heart rate to slow down a little and my palms quit sweating, I asked if the kids and I could go with him. My parents are living in Munich right now, so it seemed the perfect time to take a new adventure across the ocean. And my sweet husband, who is generally NOT known for his spontaneity, SAID YES.
Thus began three days of intense research. Could we do this? Could we pull this off? Could I manage to get Annika an expedited passport, secure decent flights, and plan a trip for six people to Germany in only 17 days?
The answer is, yes I could. But it wasn’t going to be smart.
We would have only had a week in Germany, and with Lee working most of that time, it would have been just me and the kids with my parents. My young, jet lagged kids. It sounded equal parts SO FUN and a total nightmare. And also? Lee would have missed the kids experiencing Europe for the first time, and where’s the fun in that?!
So I blinked back tears and decided that this just wasn’t the time for us to join him.
Then my mom called.
“Hey. I found a really cheap ticket from Munich to Tampa, and I could really use a couple of weeks at home. Why don’t you come to Germany with Lee and I’ll stay with the kids.”
Two weeks from today, I will land in Germany. Lee and I will fly to different parts of the country so he can work and I can spend some time with dad. But Lee will join dad and I in Munich on the weekend, and we’ll enjoy several days of exploring together.
I’m so grateful for a husband who recognizes my need for exploration and adventure. I’m so thankful for a mom who loves her grandchildren so much she’d fly thousands of miles so she could stay with them and give me a special time away. I’m so thrilled I get to experience Munich with my dad.
There is something romantic and exciting about living life spontaneously. Obviously, when you have children a certain amount of predictability and schedule is necessary to function. But if someone came along and offered us a job that allowed us to travel the world with our kids in tow, I’m not sure that we would turn it down.
Until that happens, though, I’ll simply jump at every opportunity I get to see the world.