September is the month of starting again. In the Northern Hemisphere it’s a time of back to school with all the excitement and anxiety of a new school, new grade, new teacher. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s a time of spring where the cold days of winter give way to the possibilities of summer. It’s also the month of my Oma’s birthday. She turned 92 on Wednesday.
In honour of Oma’s birthday, I made her special bacon wilted fresh garden salad and plum cake. I was working from memory on both as it had been years since I watched her make either. I did google “German plum cake” and got some guidance on the cake part of things. Later in the day, when I called Oma I told her that I’d baked plum cake. She wondered if I’d made the streusel topping for it. I said, “Oma, the recipe didn’t have streusel on it and I didn’t know how to make it.” She answered, “You don’t need a recipe, you just take soft butter and hand mix flour and sugar into it until it crumbles and falls apart.” “You make it sound so easy Oma,” I replied.
In talking to Oma, it’s clear that her short term memory loss is getting more pronounced but she was proud that she still remembered the important stuff like eating. When talking recipes, she rattled them off easily with an aplomb that comes from making them hundreds of times. This past Mother’s Day, I had a wonderful conversation with Oma. I was saying how amazing it was to still have my grandmother and she said, “Whatever comes, comes!” I said, “Did you ever think you would live to be 91?” She answered, “Oh no, I thought I would be dead at 60 since everyone in my family died early.”
I asked, “What do you think the secret of your long life is?” She thought a moment and replied, “I walked everywhere. And I never overeat. I eat my veggies. And have some sweets every now and again. I never hit the bottle much. Though schnapps are a good cure for an upset stomach and take everything as it comes.” This from my Oma who has been declaring to me since I was ten that she was dying, who can still out walk me, and who was famous for carrying heavy cement bags at the age of 70.
Oma has had a hard life filled with the challenges of beginning over and over again. She was orphaned at the age of six and had to go live with a new family. She survived World War II but lost her home and all belongings. After the war, she immigrated to Canada beginning her life over once again in a new country spending her first year in indentured servitude. Oma’s spent the last decade living without her dear husband with whom she shared life for over fifty years. If anyone in my life knows about starting again, starting over, picking up pieces and going forward, it is my Oma.
Despite all the hardships she’s faced, Oma is a delightful, generous, and loving person. Her voice brightens whenever I call her on the phone. She still grabs my cheeks, pulls me forward, kisses my forehead, and tells me how much she loves me. Oma has always loved reading and learning new things through books. Whenever I travel through Germany, I always try to bring her back German reading material.
I, too, am starting again this September. I am beginning the intense and dedicated training that will prepare me to return to Mount Everest. Climbing the world’s highest peak requires a mountain of inspiration. On my last two climbs, I’ve drawn motivation from my parents. On Pumori, I dedicated my efforts to my mom and her journey of living through breast cancer. On Elbrus, I thought often of my dad and his long battle with prostate cancer. For my second attempt on Everest, I am looking to my Oma, my grandmother Frida Loeffler, for the power, confidence, and strength to tackle such an enormous challenge again. In taking on Everest once more, I know much more clearly the sacrifice, the pain, the focus, and the financial realities of climbing the world’s highest mountain. It is that clear picture that makes it both harder and easier to choose to go back. It is in finding my way through the joys and sorrows of starting again that I will turn to my Oma for motivation for I know how often she has had to start again.
I am naming my Everest Expedition “Mountain of Learning.” As per usual, this name is imbued with multiple meanings. For me, the path of climbing mountains has been a deeply spiritual one. I look to learn from all parts of the expedition from training to approach to the actual climb. I am also an educator. A huge part of this journey has been sharing my learning from the mountains with students both young and old. I will continue with my youth outreach programs encouraging young people to be physically active, to have big dreams, and to read big books. I have heard it said that without reading, there can be no dreams so I plan to become an advocate for literacy and reading as well.
The life lessons on this path have been steep and have moved me to greater understandings of many aspects of my life. This path has also allowed me to give back to the community who supports me through some fundraising efforts. My aim in going back to Everest is to continue to seek learning and share it as it comes. In celebration of Oma’s life and love of learning and in fulfilling a decade’s old dream, I am establishing an award at Memorial University of Newfoundland. The award is called the Everest 2010 Mountain of Learning Experiential Education Award.
This endowed award will support students in pursuing experiential education opportunities in support of their degree programs. I know my education was greatly enhanced by attending Outward Bound, the National Outdoor Leadership School, and other such programs. I often hear of students wanting to seek out such opportunities but the cost stands as a barrier. My dream is that the award will reduce some of the obstacles to such experiences and inspire students to enrich their studies by getting outside the classroom.
The award will be funded through a combination of efforts. I am donating a percentage of each speaking engagement proceeds to the award. I am inviting those who are inspired by my second attempt on Everest to support this worthy cause (donations to the award will be tax deductible). Additionally, I will organize fund-raising events during the next eight months (and beyond) to raise the $11,500 necessary to endow the award. I’m hoping to have this base amount raised by the time I return from Mount Everest in June of 2010.
The first opportunity to support my efforts comes on October 8th. I am hosting a public presentation that will raise funds for both the award and for the trekking team that will accompany me to base camp. You are invited to come celebrate the start of a very exciting journey and to enjoy an evening of images, stories, and entertainment. Tickets are available from TA, the trekking team, and the door. The suggested donation for the ticket is $10-$20. The evening starts at 7:30 pm in the INCO Theatre at Memorial University of Newfoundland (room IIC 2001). I hope to see you there and please help spread the word.
As I mentioned above, intense training has begun. I did my first “climb endurance” session on Thursday where I hiked from Cape Spear to town. I covered the distance of 20 kilometres and 3400 feet of elevation gain in about 5 hours and slept very well that night. I am also running, weight training, and going to step aerobics class. Most importantly, I am stretching (something I am quite averse to) in hopes of keeping injuries at bay. The pace of life will continue to accelerate as training and work and fundraising demands build over the next months. I’m up for the challenge, I have you and Oma on my team, and I look forward to the mountain of learning that is coming my way.
Thanks for your continued support-hope to see you on October 8th and I’ll let you know as soon as there exists the ability to donate to the award online and otherwise.
Have a good week,
PS. For those who have been tracking the renos, we’re on the summit ridge nearing the top but recognize there is still plenty of mountain to tackle in the descent (i.e. cleaning up and reclaiming the house).