Oh, how I love sunsets. And never do I look at one without thinking of my grandma. An amazing artist, she often painted sunsets while skillfully capturing the sun glow so it jumped off the canvas.
Later in her life when her sight failed her, she wrote stories. And I often sat by her side serving as her loyal scribe.
During one session, we held each other’s hand and made a promise. We promised each other that if there was ever a time when we weren’t both on this Earth at the same time, we’d think of the other person whenever we saw a sunset.
She died the next year.
And with last night’s sunset radiating from these Portuguese skies, I imagined my sweet Grandma meticulously painting it from Heaven for all to see. Promises made. Promises kept.

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Here’s the thing. I love to roam. I love to get lost in the adventure of traveling only to find out who I really am. I love to observe people. Cultures. Daily goings on of countless strangers, never knowing their reality. They never knowing mine. I love the self induced silence in a country without knowing the language. I love trying.
I love capturing what I see. I love the imperfections. The nuances. The splendor. The excess.
Here’s how Lisbon smiles to me.

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A few days into this Portugal trip and I’m absolutely smitten. With side trips to Belem and to Sintra, the vistas are spectacular; the colors are luscious; and the culture is diverse. Not knowing a word of Portuguese, I’m loving the silence that it brings.
Still evaluating where this country ranks amongst my faves but it’s pushing itself to the top.
Love to roam. Be limbitless!

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Alesund, NorwayThe saying goes that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. And my journey began when I pushed my shy and insecure 15 year-old self into the zone of the unknown by deciding to become an exchange student.

But I must admit that the idea was not mine since the concept of becoming an exchange student was instilled in me at a very young age, by none other that my amazing mom and with full support of my sweet daddy, too.

In 1958, at the age of 16, my mom traveled from the small, rural town of Osseo, Minnesota to New York, New York where she met with the other American Field Services students who traveled from around the United States boarding a ship and making the trans-Atlantic trip to Rottendam, Netherlands. From there, she traveled by train and coastal steamers to the northwest coast of Norway arriving in a small town near the Artic Circle.Cabin

Spending the summer in Norway between two different host families, my mom was a “pioneer” exchange student in every sense of the word. Years later when I was around 4 years old, she was instrumental in establishing the American Field Services (AFS) program within the New Ulm, Minnesota high school. She guided prospective students during their application and selection processes while also interviewing American families to serve as host families for European students. Her involvement with the European students and sending American students abroad is when my interest began in doing the same began.

Mor Mor & Mor FarBy the time I was a sophomore in high school, applying to be an exchange student seemed the inevitable thing to do. And that I would be an exchange student to Norway, no less.  Despite my school not having an exchange program in place, one of my friends and I connected with a Minneapolis-based Youth For Understanding (YFU) representative and established the exchange program for our school since I wanted to go to Norway and my friend wanted to go to Germany.

1002413_10200682678341097_1969309584_n 1017205_10200682675421024_1820090146_nAnd in June of 1984, I flew from Minneapolis to New York where all of the U.S. students met prior to departing overseas from JFK. Arriving 8 hours later, I landed in Oslo, Norway and boarded a train heading northwest to the coastal city of Alesund where I spent the next three months living with a generously kind family: the Halkjelsvik’s.  Fride

Being an exchange student taught me a myriad of life-skills, the most important of which were diplomacy and a sense of humor. As I had studied the Norwegian language since I was a child, I thought I would try to impress my host family after one of our first meals together. Speaking in my best Norwegian, I thanked them for dinner and expressed that I was full (a diplomacy trait I had been taught during the exchange student on-boarding process). Waiting for what I expected as the standard reply, my host family laughed at me. Feeling embarrassed and completely alone, my oldest host sister told me, in English, that instead of saying I was “full”, I said I was “drunk”.

The ice was broken and the summer began-the summer that created the foundation of life-long friendships.

After an summer filled with living the Norwegian life of laughter, hiking in the mountains or catching crabs in the North Sea, I tearfully bid my host family good-bye. We kept in touch for a number of years after but slowly drifted apart, as what happens with the events that life brings.

Several years ago, I reconnected with my host sisters through email, then through Facebook. And now, we keep in touch on a regular basis. I have since been back twice, the most recent of which was June of 2013 when I celebrated my birthday with my host mother, Astrid. But when I returned in November of 2011, 27 years later, I walked back into my “room” to find that a picture of my host grandmother and grandfather with me remained on the wall.   Birthday Cake

Kissing a TrollBeing an exchange student taught me that the world is a big place but that humanity is so similar, despite different cultures, languages or geographies. It taught me to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and to take chances. It taught me that relationships form and that friendships last. And it taught me that we are lucky to get second-chances but to celebrate those second-chances as opportunities to be grateful. And most importantly, it taught me to laugh at myself.

Loving the good press that “Limitless” is getting!!!  My life’s story is the subject of the film and hoping that my story would help one person or open the eyes of others is why I decided to share it.  So, seeing the press makes me believe that it’s doing just that!

Check it out!

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Practice Compassion
Practice Compassion

Natural disasters.  Acts of God.  Catastrophies.  All tragically unfortunate realities of life.  All unpredictable and uncontrollable in their occurrence, gravity,  and magntitude.  Why these happen, we’ll never know.  But what we can learn is that maybe they make us better, as a humanity.  Maybe they ignite us to show compassion.  So on this day, World Kindness Day, think about giving.  I did.  Red Cross.