The Climb to Preikestolen

DSCF3546Spiritually, I believe God is always close.

Geographically, I believe there are locations, wonders of the world, in which He grants us all even greater access to His majesty and mystery.

Preikestolen is one of those places.

My sister, Heidi, our friend, Chris Carey, and I made the trek up to Prekestolen, or the Pulpit, on Friday. From the side, it looks like a huge pulpit towering some 600 meters (nearly 2,000 feet) over the beautiful Lysefjord. The breathtaking attraction is a quick bus and ferry ride from downtown Stavanger.

This was my second trip up Preikestolen. I’d gone before with my entire family (we miss you Larry, Denise, Rachel and Christopher!) when we traveled to Norway in 2003 to bury my father’s ashes in his hometown of Egersund. But I didn’t remember it being quite so steep, especially at the beginning.

Christine Carey (c), my sister, Heidi (r) and I at the top of Prekestolen.

Christine Carey (c), my sister, Heidi (r) and I pose at the top of Prekestolen.

It may not be Mount Everest, but for those of us who aren’t used to tackling rugged, steep terrain, it might as well be.

I actually wondered if I’d be able to make it. Thankfully, I got through the first 10 minutes, which were definitely the most difficult.

It had been a few weeks since I’d had a really good workout and I was suddenly charged with the challenge of narrow, sharp “staircases” consisting of worn, weathered rocks. The scenery also inspired me, with the view becoming increasingly beautiful the higher I got.

There were slick spots and frightening drops down, if you dared to look. There were young children and older adults; some walked gingerly and cautiously while others shot ahead ambitiously and even aggressively. There were guard rails, but only here and there.

After an hour and 35 minutes, we reached the top of Preikestolen. Heidi, Chris and I reveled in our achievement. And our prize: a panoramic view that not even the most advanced camera could adequately capture. We, along with hundreds of other visitors, marveled at the fjord below and the mountains that stretched into the distance, framing nature’s portrait perfectly.

Some hikers, including children, sat at the edge, their legs dangling over the water 600 meters below. The thought of getting that close made me shudder and I was glad our children stayed in town with their dads and Mormor. We posed for pictures, a conservative two feet from the wide open cliff.

prekestolen fjordAfter snapping pictures and soaking in the scenery, we began our descent. I arrived at a plateau and realized I hadn’t taken time to fully thank God for the glorious gift I’d just received through the Prekestolen experience. I sat down on a rock near another overlook, more deeply absorbing the sights, not just with my eyes, but with my spirit. The moment filled me with strength, peace, serenity and joy.

I continued my descent, thinking of the running world’s saying, “Never waste a downhill.”

On this hike, however, I learned not to waste the uphill, either. After all, it was the uphill that led me to the Pulpit, one of the most magnificent places on earth, where God seemed to paint his own amazing grace into each stroke of the glistening fjord, the towering mountains and the sky that seems just within your reach.

 

 

 

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God as my travel agent

Norway 2014
We made it to Norway! But only by the grace of God, the ultimate travel agent.

cousins 2014

Heidi (r) and me (l), flanking our cousins Mette, Kjetil and Eirild.

This was a highly anticipated trip, not just for David, our daughters (Serina, 9, and Sophia, 7), and me, but also for my sister, her family, and our mother, AKA “Mormor,” for whom this entire “birthday celebration” trip was planned.

The Debacle
Our Iceland Air flight was scheduled to leave Dulles at 8:40 p.m. July 12th, getting us to Oslo around noon July 13. I had scheduled a flight from Huntsville to Dulles, getting the four of us to DC via Atlanta on Delta by 5:30 p.m. My mom was on a U.S. Air flight, set to arrive at Dulles around the same time.

Or so I thought.

I’m a terrible travel agent. Factor in the ADD and I have no business planning big trips, especially ones involving other travelers.

We checked my mom in first at the Huntsville airport. Tried to, anyway. “You were on the 10 a.m. flight. The later flight was canceled,” the U.S. Air rep told my mom. “Sorry. Everything else is full.”

Dread started creeping into my gut as I vaguely remembered a conversation about her changed flight. David, the girls and I were on a Delta flight so I headed over to that counter, handing the agent our Travelocity flight info. After a minute, the representative said, “You’re scheduled for a flight on July 26, not today.”

Suddenly, a deluge of dread filled my spirit.

girls with second cousins

Girls with second cousins they met for the first time.

I had scheduled the flight to Dulles for the 26th instead of the 12th, with the return flight to Huntsville correctly scheduled on Sunday, July 27. I had been overwhelmed by the scheduling assignments and failed miserably.

“We are on an 8:40 p.m. Iceland Air flight from Dulles to Norway. Is there another way to get us to D.C. on time?” I pleaded.

She scrambled, her fingers attacking the computer keys like the Williams sisters would a tennis ball, eventually sighing, “I’m sorry. I can get you there at midnight. That’s the best I can do.”

What about Atlanta, Birmingham or Nashville?

Nothing.

At this point, I’m bawling openly. I look over at my mom sitting patiently and peacefully in the airport-issued wheelchair at the U.S. Airways counter. The children are sprawled out on the floor, quietly coloring.

I call Iceland Air, explaining the “situation.”

It would cost $3,500 to put all five of us on a flight the next day. A costly mistake on my part; one I could ill afford.

Full raccoon eyes now. The agent apologized. It was our only option. Poor scheduling is not covered in Iceland Air’s flight change policy.

I prayed, asking God to help me out of another mess. The good Lord had bailed me out many times before. Would He pull another miracle here? If not for me, for the girls and my mom, to whom I eventually explained the expensive option.

“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s only money.” This from a retired 80-year-old woman on a fixed income.

The Solution
We were waiting for the return call from Iceland Air’s agent when a flurry of energy burst out of the Delta counter. “We might get you there through Dallas. Hurry. Get your luggage over to the American Airlines ticket counter.”

It was leaving in 30 minutes. We would go through Dallas, arriving in Dulles in time to catch the Iceland Air flight. The U.S. Air agent, aptly named Mr. Jewell, jumped on his computer, managing to get mom on the same AA flight.

Somehow we got in our seats and took off with American Airlines, arriving safely in Dallas.

The view from Kjetil’s home in Sande.

The Silver Lining
When we got on our flight from Dallas to Dulles, my mom and I were seated next to each other. Reflecting on the situation, she said, “I wasn’t worried. I was praying.”

I had prayed, too, I told her.

Then I realized something else. In our original plan, Mom was on her own on the flights to Dulles. Turns out she had been dreading the solitary travel from Huntsville to Dulles. Her neuromuscular disease has progressed, greatly compromising her mobility.

“This is the silver lining,” I told her. “This is way better than our original itinerary. God is a much better travel agent than I am.”

All along, God was in charge of the entire situation. Isn’t He always? He worked through the travel agents to create a scenario that was better than the one we created for ourselves.

How often do you see teams from three different airlines working collaboratively to correct a scheduling error for which the customer alone was responsible?

Thank you, God
Thanks be to God. I believe in miracles — on land and in air. Of course, I’m still holding out for one more. There’s the case of the missing suitcase — my missing suitcase. Stay tuned…

 

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Rolling down the (Flint) River

When you leave the office, leave the office
You work hard Monday through Friday. If you’re like me, you often forget to leave the daily grind at the office and focus entirely on family when the weekend arrives. Fortunately, I did a great job of doing just that over the long 4th of July holiday.

canoe

David, Serina, Sophia and I posed for a picture outside of the NACK rental facility before “rolling down the river.”

How? In part, by rolling down the river. What a wonderful way to spend a chunk of non-working time!

Rentals for your paddling pleasure
David and I canoed down the Flint River once before, but it’s been years – certainly pre-children. We somehow forgot about North Alabama Canoe & Kayak, a rental shop and shuttle service on Moontown Road in Madison County.

The girls wouldn’t fit in one of NACK’s smaller canoes along with David and me, so one of the guys suggested that Serina, 9, canoe with Daddy and Sophia, 7, and I try the tandem kayak.

The water levels were decent. For amateurs (although growing up in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” my family and I were frequent users of our 17′ aluminum canoe), we did pretty well. Even though David and Serina’s canoe capsized within the first 30 minutes. (Subsequently, our bag of towels and clothes was drenched; next time we’ll keep the towels and clothes in the car unless we have a waterproof bag.)

20140705_171613Finding friends on the Flint
That capsizing incident was our first experience with the good Samaritans of the Flint (we met several along the way). Other boaters stopped, helping David flip the boat and get the water out so he and Serina could continue rolling down the river.

20140705_154125While Sophia and I had a few close calls and rammed into branches and banks here and there, we never flipped. Thank goodness. After all, our cell phones were in a dry-box in our kayak (for picture-taking purposes only!).

When we got stuck a few times in shallow waters, a Flint River friend was always nearby to set us free.

This was a trip of camaraderie, family togetherness, team-building and appreciation. It was an adventure we took as a family, but we met delightfully diverse groups of other outdoor enthusiasts along the way. Additionally, with two different boats, David and I had the opportunity to give the girls rare, yet highly coveted individualized attention.

Nature at its finest
As far as appreciation, there is something magical about being in the heart of nature. The Flint runs south from Tennessee through Madison County, eventually connecting with the Tennessee River. It was beautiful and peaceful. There were moments when we just drifted, no one saying a word.  We soaked in the sights and sounds of our surroundings. It was heavenly as we enjoyed glimpses of God’s grace and gifts.

There were moments when we felt as if we were the only river-riders on the entire waterway. Then we’d come around a pseudo-sharp curve, and hear laughter from a group of kayakers and canoeists ahead.

By the end of our nearly three-hour tour, our arms were tired, but our hearts were full and our spirits invigorated. We 20140705_174800will definitely roll down the river again — no email, spread sheets or Word documents allowed.

Want to roll down the river?
If you’re interested in sharing a similar experience with your family, visit NACK’s website or give them a call at 256-529-0357. It’s pretty reasonable: $35 per adult per canoe or tandem kayak and $10 per kid. Next time we’ll go earlier and pack a picnic, bring a cooler and leave our towels in the car.

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Uphill — off the bat

ALS 4968593033_nSeriously?

My third 5K of the year was my worst to date. The first stretch was uphill. That about did me in right off the bat. Oh, the cramps!

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed participating in the second annual David McKannan Memorial Run. The ALS Association, Alabama Chapter did a great job coordinating this event and the volunteers were fantastic. The run is in memory of a beloved Huntsville native whose life was cut drastically short by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as  Lou Gehrig’s disease. The 5k raises money to advance research of this crippling and fatal disease.

But I was disappointed in my performance.

I am a creature of habit and am only accustomed to the flat route that I run regularly. The Huntsville Greenway has an awesome path and I’ve made friends with the creek’s resident blue heron, along with fellow Greenway runners. Unfortunately, I haven’t challenged myself with any inclines.

A couple of years ago, I managed to master the uphill run to my home that completed my route. But when I started running again this year, I made sure my day’s distance was complete before I started the hill so I could walk the final stretch.

Guess I’ve got to start heading for the hills. I finished the David McKannan run in about 34 minutes. I did 32 at a race February; 33 in April. I am definitely moving in the wrong direction as far as my race times.

But I take to heart what  Jeff Gronberg, CEO of presenting sponsor, deciBEL Research, said before the race — something about us all focusing on PR. Not a personal record, but personal responsibility. What a great perspective, whether it is for ALS or another cause.

I’ll take my PR for supporting ALS research through the David McKannan Memorial Run.  I’m also thrilled for the opportunity to work at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, where ALS is among numerous research areas.

Sure, it’s great seeing your hard work pay off with a PR regarding time. But hey, if you don’t get that PR, take comfort that your other “PR” is making a big difference in the long run.

Look at it that way and we’re all winners!

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The sandwich generation’s Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all the fabulous moms out there.

I used to have to call my mom to wish her a happy Mother’s Day and thank her for her awesomeness.

20140511_154920Now she lives with us, having moved down to Huntsville from Minneapolis nearly two years ago. My dad passed away in 2002 and a neuromuscular disease has since taken a toll on Mom’s health. She was capable of living on her own, but not quite comfortable with it, hence the move to Alabama.

As a result, my husband and I are part of the sandwich generation, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children.” We are typically in our 30s and 4os and we are a growing group.

According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent. Sound stressful? It can be, especially when it comes to child-rearing practices and politics, depending on where parent and spouse sit on this issue. 

But more than anything, it is a rewarding experience for not only mother and daughter, but son-in-law (I think!) and grandchildren. I never really knew my grandparents. Two died before I was born, one when I was a toddler and my last, when I was 8 years old.

It’s amazing to see our daughters, Serina and Sophia, interact with my mom on a daily basis. When the girls draw family pictures, “Mormor” is as much a part of the portrait as mommy and daddy.

Mom is still sharp, still drives and gets along really well with the help of a walker. At 80, she’s slowed down. Heck, haven’t we all? But she is beyond helpful, preparing dinners during our busy workweek and folding mountains of laundry. Plus, she is my biggest cheerleader.

The term sandwich generation was just added to the dictionary in 2006, but there is nothing new about multi-generational living. It’s trended before in the U.S., typically during economic downturns, and it’s a way of life in other parts of the world, including India and Asia.

It may be a novelty for us, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Saying Happy Mother’s Day has never been easier — I don’t even have to pick up the phone. I just hope she knows how much I appreciate her every day of the year! Hold on, I think I’ll go tell her.

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Get crackin’: Eggland’s Best launches 2014 ‘Your Best Recipe’ contest

announcement_ybrIt’s a tough job, but as Eggland’s Best “CEO,” I am up for the challenge. I am honored to be a judge in this year’s Eggland’s Best “Your Best Recipe” contest.

My friends at Eggland’s Best launched the 2014 contest Monday, announcing that entrants can submit original recipes showcasing Eggland’s Best eggs for the chance to win $10,000!

And what an awesome ingredient to feature. Eggland’s Best eggs are packed with superior quality and nutrition, including 10 times more Vitamin E, more than double the Omega 3s, 25 percent less saturated fat and four times more Vitamin D than ordinary eggs.

Egg enthusiasts can submit their favorite, original egg recipes on the Eggland’s Best website through July 31 for a chance to win cash prizes.

The grand prize winner of the contest will be awarded $10,000, and $1,000 prizes in each of the following categories: Breakfast, Appetizer, Main Course and Dessert.

“We are thrilled to bring back the ‘Your Best Recipe’ Contest after the success of the inaugural contest,” said Charles Lanktree, President and CEO of Eggland’s Best. “With the addition of the ‘Fan Favorite’ and ‘Kid-friendly’ awards, this contest is bigger than ever before and we are looking forward to seeing even more great recipes!”

The “Kid-friendly” award will be given to one recipe that kids can easily help their parents with in the kitchen, and the “Fan Favorite” award will be determined by consumer voting. Both of these awards will come with a $1,000 prize.

Again, here is the super egg-citing part on my end: Eggland’s best has recruited some pretty egg-straordinary egg-sperts to judge, including Donna Pochoday-Stelmach, the first-ever winner of the Eggland’s Best “Your Best Recipe” contest, and yours truly, winner of the 2013 Eggland’s Best “Chief Egg Officer” contest.

We will help evaluate recipes based on creativity, taste, and visual appeal. Again, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it, right Donna?

For official contest rules and to submit your original recipes, click here. July 31st will be here before you know it, though, so head to the kitchen and get crackin’ with “Your Best Recipe.” Good luck!

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Happy anniversary: Celebrating a perfectly imperfect marriage

David and me on our wedding day: May 4, 1996.

David and me on our wedding day: May 4, 1996.

On May 4, 1996, David and I exchanged vows at Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church in Minneapolis. Before my late father walked me down the aisle, I peeked in at the pews full of friends, family and colleagues. For the first time in our eight-month engagement, I had cold feet.

“Forever. That’s a really long time,” I thought.

I started hyperventilating and had to sit down. The jitters lasted about 60 seconds before I pushed them aside. Then my sweet daddy, beaming, walked me down the aisle, where the groom was waiting. Little did I know his big brother, Jim, had just said, “Hey, Dave, my truck is right out back. There’s still time if you want to make a break for it!” Thankfully, he didn’t run.

Forever may sound like a really long time, but when you are married and going through life’s challenges, even one year can sound — and feel — like eternity.

On Sunday, David and I celebrated 18 years. How wonderful that I can use the word “celebrate.” After all, not every day of our marriage has been marked by celebration.  That’s okay, though, because I’ve learned marriage, like other aspects of life, is a journey filled with challenging climbs and dark, downward spirals. Somewhere in between, though, are gently rolling hills and sun-filled plateaus.

Over the past 18 years, David and I have shared laughter, tears, incredible joy and excruciating pain.

We have moved cross-country three times and buried three parents. We’ve had two amazing daughters, Serina, 9, and Sophia, almost 7, and evolved into a tight-knit family, complete with a dog, cat and resident Mormor (my mom). We’ve also undergone tremendous growth, individually and as a couple.

There were times we could have given up, maybe even considered giving up, but didn’t.

Our relationship isn’t perfect, but I have learned that no relationship can be perfect because people aren’t perfect. (Brilliant revelation, I know.) Our marriage is perfectly imperfect. Fortunately, love can compensate for imperfections and forgiveness can heal even the deepest wounds, in marriage or otherwise.

I love this reminder from Ephesians 4:32:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

I’m lucky. David is an extremely patient, forgiving, witty and loving husband, not to mention an extremely engaged and loving (and beloved) father. In contrast, I’ve often been selfish, impulsive and temperamental.

family 1

David and me with Serina, left, and Sophia.

Even so, David never gave up on me, nor did he forget the positive traits that drew him toward me in the first place.

I am truly grateful for every step of our 18-year journey, even the ones resulting in trips and falls. We’ve scraped our marital knees, but one of us has always helped the other get back on his or her feet.

I’m no expert in marriage, or relationships in general, but through my mistakes, God has taught me a  few critical lessons: Be honest, forgive, encourage, uplift, don’t give up and no matter what hurtful words you may want to say in the heat of the moment, bite your tongue. If you spew out anger, you’ll feel worse and leave one heck of a mess in your wake. (It’s much easier to forego the housecleaning instead of having to reach for the figurative mop.)

Most of all, enjoy the journey. When you’ve hit a rock in the road, find a way around it. When you hurt each other, cleanse the wound with forgiveness and bandage it in love. Then let it heal.

Thank you, David, for 18 years. I promise to do all I can to make this next one the best one yet.

 

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