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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Skill Versus Stamina

I love skiing. My form is clumsy, my confidence wavers, but I absolutely love it. Chances are if you hear someone close by on the hill laughing or letting out a “whoohooevery now and thenit is probably me. I just can’t help it.

Here it was Saturday and some friends invited me to join them for a day of skiing in St. Anton, a popular ski hill in Tirol.

One thing you have to know about skiing in Austria is that the mountains are a web of lifts and runs. When I lived in Montafon, another ski area in Austria some 10 years ago, a day of solo skiing ended with me finishing up in an unfamiliar town. So, when unaccustomed with a hill, I tend to just tag along with those who know what they are doing.

However as one gondola ride led to another, then another, along with a few chair lifts and t-bar for good measure, a sense of increasing panic began to set in. I started to wonder if I had shared my ski skill level with my companions. This anxiety was quickly compounded when one fellow askedhey Dawn, did you get any heli-skiing in over Christmas?”

Okay, there are a few things that you need to know about the Austrians and Swiss when it pertains to skiing. They were born on skies. Where we enjoyed freezing cold snowshoe treks, these guys were doing timed ski races. But, with the popularity of heli-skiing in Canada, they all figure that a Canadian’s ski level is likely just as good – if not better than theirs.

So at this point I could conclude that my anxiety was well founded. After countless rides up I found myself looking down a mountainside and thinking, “I should have bought a helmet. At least then my head would be protected as I tumbled down the steep slope.”

But alas, I am also competitive. I followed my companions. Perhaps a bit slower, and certainly with much less grace – but I did it. Later on in the day to give me a break they took me on an easier run but I have to admit it was boring in comparison. So back to black we went.

Towards the end of the day I noticed a shift happening. As my confidence rose, my ski partners began to complain of fatigue. I started taking the lead. And frankly I cannot tell you how proud I was to be able to do that. Sometimes in life we experience an unexpected moment of satisfaction – this was certainly one for me. I’m sure my far from perfect form was a source of amusement, but that’s okay, I beat them on endurance. And sometimes, that’s all that matters...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pride & Innocence

While in Bezau, in Bregenzerwald we stopped for dinner at a very traditional restaurant. Like most things in Europe, there was a story that surrounded the restaurant.

The old building was purchased by a man who was very skilled with wood working and committed to the traditions and history of the Bregenzerwald region. I loved how it was redone. The original beams, flooring and so on were all maintained and resurfaced. Although the updates within maintained the traditional look of the region, a slightly modern feel also exists. As expected the food was as well very traditional (I had to have käsespätzle). I wish I had pictures to share of the building and restaurant – however that will have to wait until the next time I visit.

While flipping thought the restaurants albums that documented the buildings physical transformation, a news clipping which I posted with this blog caught my attention. Directly translated it means “strong cheese year.” It made me giggle to see something like this make headlines. However, properly interpreted, the headline is sharing that the areas cheese sales were great that year. Still kinda cute - and also somewhat indicative of the innocence and pride of this very traditional region.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Satisfied Longing

I am so excited. After a year of longing, I have them.

It all started when one day while looking for a flat I noticed an unusual pair of boots that a woman was wearing. I told her that I liked them. “These are quite special,” said the woman with the cool boots. She then launched into a story about a man who wasn’t overly social in Bregenzerwald, who had one day started making these “special boots” by hand. The demand for the boots became such that he had to expand and move to manufacturing plant.

“And look, they are wood.”

Anyone who knows me is aware of my shoe, and in particular my boot “thing” so all of this was making me even more enthusiastic about the boots. “They are so comfortable and the cow skin makes them warm,” she added.

Cool boots with a story – could it get any better?

I wanted these boots like I have never wanted boots before. So I Googled. Dropped not so subtle hints to my Austrian friends – but still these darn boots evaded me. Beyond knowing I had to go to Bregenzerwald, I had no clue where to find them.

But finally, my not so subtle mention of the boots I so wanted fell upon the right ears. Friday evening I made my way to the town of Bezau, a teeny ski town nestled in beautiful Bregenzerwald and within it was the shop I had longed to visit.

As much as I try to be as emotionally restrained as the average Vorarlberger, I simply can’t hide what I feel. Most of the time I manage to dull it down a little, but when I entered this boot shop – all sense of restraint was lost. Surrounded by so many cool boots, the shop full of customers was soon amused by my childlike glee.

I saw my companions laughing with the other shoppers, but I didn’t care. So excited and in the moment I could not remember any German, my English was so quick that no one understood that either – but that was okay, it was pretty clear that I was having a super cool moment.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I'm Here

Not sure if this song is playing back home or not - but it is getting a fair amount of airplay here in Austria (and in particular Vorarlberg).

It makes me think of everyone from my son to my bestest pals to those loved and left behind each time I hear it...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Little Things

We have a pretty special guy in the office here. Throughout the year he makes an effort to do "little" things that actually mean quite a lot.

Today he arrived early in the office looking very handsome in his red sweater and presented each female in the office with a bright red tulip, small card and his best wishes for a nice Valentine's Day.

Seeing the single red tulip on my desk has made me smile all day. But then I think this fellow knows that, which is why he does this every year...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Okay isn't Good

I remember one day coming home from school upset and at the end of my teary recap declaring emphatically “its not fair!” to my mother. This moment will forever remain ingrained in my mind, as it was then that mother shared one of the most important life facts with me. As she gave me a hug to help sooth away my bad day she said “life isn’t fair.”

This was a fact that I also shared with my son when he made a similar declaration.

And its not. Life beats us up, knocks us down and leaves us battered and bruised. It also provides us with moments of pleasure, joy and kindness. No matter what we do, life is a mixed bag of cards and we simply do not know what is being dealt.

Today when speaking with a friend he shared with me that his life was “okay” – not particularly good, just okay. He soon followed up his comment with “but that’s life I think, its normal.”

I found his comment upsetting and was openly frustrated. How horrible to exist in a state of “okay?” I will never pretend to have all the answers or profess to know how to live a life best – but what I can say is that I try. Like most people, I have had to make some difficult decisions. Some faced resistance, disappointment and at times displeasure from the ones I cared for most. Whether or not each decision I made was right or wrong, is irrelevant. But what was most important to me was the fact that I was making a decision to move forward with my life.

And that takes me back to life and how remarkably unfair it can be at times. We learn that devastating fact very young and keep having it reinforced all through life. It can make us scared, uncertain and angry. Not to mention accepting. Its tough to see the unfairness of life strip and eat away at a person's passion for life and replace it with an acceptance of mediocrity.

Its something that I hope my son never does.

Life is unfair. Tough. Demanding. Heartbreaking. It is also filled with incredible joy and happiness – if we are open to it. All in all being happy is hard work. And it takes courage. It means sometimes doing what terrifies you most and making unpopular decisions.

I suppose it all comes down to what sort of life you want - and okay simply isn’t good enough for me.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Fasching Failure

Being called a princess is not normally an overly complementary thing to say. It insinuates that you are spoiled and excessively pampered. Although I believe nothing could be further from the truth, the name has stuck amongst a group of particular friends of mine.

Last month I celebrated a birthday here in Austria. During a meeting at work I was surprised with a cake and card. On the envelope it read to the “marketing princess.”


And now in the middle of Fasching season I found myself reluctantly agreeing to participate in a parade and party. Already far out of my comfort zone, I was only mildly surprised when a text soon followed informing me that I was a to dress as a “princess” for the party.

I don’t know about you, but I am sensing a theme here.

So I decided to embrace this whole princess thing. I went out and got the darn princess ensemble – complete with a tiara. It was the least princessy costume of all the princess costumes I could find. But still pretty darn girlie for me. As I look at myself in the mirror I cant help but laugh. My tiara looks so wrong I don’t think I can even wear it. The princes dress makes me look more like - well I have no clue really. Kind of like I should be carrying a bunch of beer steins instead.

Somehow that seems fitting. The one and only time I try to be princess–like, I end up in a velvet Dirndl instead.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cold and Not Canadian

People have been suggesting that Austria must be as cold as Kelowna now. Nope. It's colder.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Simple & Complicated

“What is this that you speak of,” he asked.

I am trying to have a phone conversation a friend. I speak in English and he in German. The reason for this is simply because my German is as poor as his English and this is how we communicate. The most amusing part is that we primarily only talk on the phone or text. It makes completely no sense I know – but that is partly what makes it so enjoyable. Neither of us fully understands the other so our conversations are both simple and highly complicated. Sometimes when I master a difficult phrase or word I will try it out on my phone pal. Today I was particularly proud of a phrase that had been giving me trouble for months. I shared with pride my recent linguistic achievement. Unimpressed and bewildered with my prounciation my phone pal quickly asked me to explain what I was trying to say.

So I did. In English. His reply? “Stop! This is too much English for me in five seconds.”

Like I said, I have no clue why we subject our selves to this ridiculous communication. The only thing I really know for sure is that if the future of the universe rests on the two of us having effective communication, ya all would be in whole lotta trouble.