Storyline Conference in Chicagoland

Don Miller hosts the Storylines Conference, a "pay-as-much-as-you-can-afford" event.

Don Miller hosts the Storylines Conference, a “pay-as-much-as-you-can-afford” event.

I love Chicago, so when the Storyline Conference and the NZ All Blacks vs US Eagles rugby game landed on the same weekend, I jumped onto Southwest Airlines and bought my tickets. They are quite disparate events. One the one hand the conference is a Christian gathering presenting coaching, leadership and writing inspiration in the premier American megachurch. Then there is international test rugby–a thuggish game played by gentleman (?).

Chicagoland is sooo much bigger than I ever imagined. In my previous visits I have flown into Midway Airport and taken the train to downtown. I have contained my experiences to inside the Loop with a few exceptions (Cubs game, White Sox game, Wheaton College visit with Sarah). I never rented a car in Chicago before.

Since the Storylines Conference is at the gargantuan church, Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, I decided to rent a car for my first 2 days. It was an hour from Midway Airport by car even in midday. As a daughter of the West, I do not like toll roads on principle. I especially do not like rental car clerks who do not explain if I have an electronic pass in the car or the etiquette of toll roads. (Come to think of it, she also did not offer a map and there was not one on the counter?!) After scrambling to find 60 cents in coins for the first toll I was thankful the second toll was manned and I could hand over dollar bills and get change. Eventually I arrived, picked up my nametag and slipped into the auditorium for the general session.

Author and speaker Shauna Niequest is the emcee for this edition of Storyline Conference. She is delightful. There was one break out session before the end of the day. I dropped in on Don Miller’s presentation on StoryBrand–a process for using story to define your company’s brand. We wrapped up with a special event–Asleep at Last played a short set of beautiful songs, and Don read from his to-be-released-book (Feb 3), Scary Close. Beforehand we ate deep dish pizza and shared stories from our workshops. Lots of writers are here and it is fun to share blog sites and experiences. I still had a long drive to my downtown hotel so I passed on the Christian rock concert.

Asleep at LastThis is the last conference for a while–they are not hosting a conference in 2015. So this one is jam-packed with a film festival, concert, and writers conference on Saturday. I will make the most of day 2 before I return the car and take the train back to downtown and shift to full time rugby fan.

#LeTour2015: The Big Route Announcement

The 2015 Tour de France route was announced this week. It is moving counter-clockwise this year. The Grand Depart is in Utrecht, Netherlands. The Bon Voyage Utrecht organizers released the funny video above. Looks like the host city is putting the same level of effort that Yorkshire did in 2014. This video suggests it will have its own quirky personality.

If you are planning to watch a Tour stage in person and without a tour company, make your hotel reservations now. I suggest you focus on host towns that have a finish and a start.

The other big Tour news this week is the new point system for the green jersey. After three uncompetitive years when Peter Sagan repeatedly ran away with the jersey, the organizers have returned to an approach that rewards sprinters who win stages. You can read the details here.

What is a Quest? Lessons from Happiness of Pursuit

My view of Rangitoto from St Heliers.

My view of Rangitoto from St Heliers.

Chris Guillebeau’s newest book, The Happiness of Pursuit, is all about finding meaning in life through a quest. A quest is bigger than an adventure; it is a series of adventures with a clear end goal. It is challenging and requires a sacrifice of time or treasure. The CTI Co-Active Leadership program ends with designing a quest; however, there was very little information about what form a quest might take. This book fills that void.

The book is full of people’s quest examples. I compared their experiences to my own. 5 years ago I needed a change in my life. The stress and the work treadmill were making me physically sick. Knowing that I needed to make changes was not enough to sustain the redesign needed–like expecting to lose weight while working in a donut shop.

I started with a couple of adventures with Habitat for Humanity, Global Village program. This was a normal extension of the travel volunteering I had done before. I focused on Northern Ireland and, based on other volunteers’ stories, I wanted to do a Jimmy Carter Build. Then HFH selected five countries along the Mekong River for the JC Build and I had friends in Cambodia. So I went on a Jimmy Carter Build in Cambodia hoping that the next step would reveal itself.

Set of Hobbit in New Zealand

Set of Hobbit in New Zealand; Lord of the Rings and Hobbit are both quest movies.

This is the real challenge of a quest figuring how much you need to do and how much you need to leave unplanned for the Universe to fill in the blanks. Much of quest begins and moves forward on intuitive hunches.

While I was on the Cambodia build I met a group of really great New Zealand volunteers. This led to taking a group of Canadian and US volunteers to a build in Wellington. By this time I had more than an inkling that my quest was leading me to live overseas.

New Zealand was love at first sight. My quest began to focus on moving to New Zealand. I spent a year “leaving well.” As far as sacrifice, does selling everything you own count? The thrill of fulfilling a life long dream of living in a foreign country for longer than 10 weeks (my previous stretch) was so exciting that it carried me through the wrenching process of leaving family and a house I had lived in for 25 years.

Once I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand lots of things fell into place—a place to live in St Heliers, a kindred spirit bf, and so many great things. Except a job. Eventually my money and Visa ran out and I found myself flying back to Sacramento on Christmas Day, 2011.

This is the end of the third act of a screenplay called “the all is lost moment.” I really felt confused about my quest. I thought it was about creating a new life overseas and yet I was not able to stay. Within a few months I had a new consulting business and still enjoying a lifestyle that included writing. (Much of this quest is chronicled in my first blog

My life is largely redesigned. Yet my quest feels unresolved. I continue to plan adventures and stay open to what comes next.

Best coffee in the world is found in New Zealand. Don't call a Flat White just another latte.

Best coffee in the world is found in New Zealand. Don’t call a Flat White just another latte.

Quest Fiction

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. Post-modern tale of a mediocre man’s quest to find a special sheep in the mountains of Japan. The magical realism emphasizes the mystical aspects to a quest. It is the yin and yang of quests: doing and being.

The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Wind and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. This Swedish version of Forrest Gump is a tall tale that illustrates how one thing in life can lead to another in a good way if you retain your basic optimism and do not over think situations.

#Pieperfest14: RAGBRAI

RAGBRAII first reconnected with the Pieper cousins in June in California, and when I shared that I was a cyclist and going to the Tour de France, they told me about the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). I was intrigued. Then on my Trek Tour, Sandy from Ohio told me more about it and several other people in our group had done it too. They all recommended I give it a go.

I went to Iowa with the resolution of learning as much as I could about RAGBRAI so I could ride it July 2015. If you are not familiar with RAGBRAI (rag- bri), it is the oldest multi-day ride in America. About 10,000 riders cycle from the Missouri River on one side of Iowa, clear across the state to the Mississippi River in 7 days. Everyone describes it as a moving party.

The route changes every year and it is announced on January 24. The registration is only $160 for the week, and competitive to get a slot. I will increase my chances of getting in if I ride with a team.

When I was in Decorah, Darrel and Betty shared their stories from 13 years of riding RAGBRAI. They have learned over the years to take a motor home. They ride with the Decorah Trolls. They encouraged me to form a team and rent a motor home and ride. I want my kids to come with me and I have a couple of friends who might be interested so that is a possibility.

Then I met my cousin John and he invited me to join Team Larry. They rent a trailer for their gear and bikes and stay at people’s houses and in tents along the way. This is very appealing to get the full experience. (Although my kids are probably snickering at the idea of me sleeping in a tent.) An air mattress will be a must.

Apparently there are also trucks that you can rent for showers and others with bunks. It sounds like the entrepreneurial spirit is inspired during RAGBRAI.

I am already training for my 4 day December ride in New Zealand. I will just keep pedaling so I can ride across Iowa in July.

Have any of you gone on RAGBRAI? Any advice?

#Pieperfest14: Riding the Combine

Cousin Leo's combine

Riding the big red machine was very exciting.

One of the highlights of my time in Stuart was riding a giant combine with Cousin Leo. Everywhere we drove in Iowa we saw corn stalks drying in the field or soybeans dropping their leaves both awaiting harvest. The rain had delayed the schedule a bit.

IMG_3834Leo was anxious to get the combine out and try it out a bit on his own place. I jumped at the offer to go for a ride. The tires are bigger than me and you have to climb up a steep ladder to the cab. The machine is very complex and powerful. The cab is designed with a floating lumbar seat for the driver and relatively quiet.harvesting corn

Leo and Geri make a great team and they were getting the cutter heads onto the front and checking the machine to make sure it was ready for its maiden voyage for 2014. Both of them drive it at different times and they are both knowledgeable about its operation and maintenance. The big red Case International Harvester tractor costs half a million dollars, so it is important to keep the thing running as many years as possible.


Leo and Geri make a great team.

We clampered into the cab and began driving down to the bottom of the first field. Alas one of the chains broke on harvesting part of the machine, so we had to abort our mission. I was impressed that this machine uses a chain much like my the chain on my bike, albeit much bigger. Unfortunately, the parts store sent the wrong size connector so in spite of everyone’s best efforts, we did not get to harvest. Another visit because I am not waiting so long to return to Iowa.

Notice how big the tires! Leo, Jeanette and dog Onyx

Notice how big the tires! Leo, Jeanette and dog Onyx

When they send me the video of them harvesting, I will post it here.

#Pieperfest14: Bridges of Madison County

The Roseman Bridge starred in the movie Bridges of Madison County.

The Roseman Bridge starred in the movie Bridges of Madison County.

Truth be told, I never read the book or saw the movie, Bridges of Madison County. Auntie J saw the movie and she was keen to see the covered bridge featured in the film. The Roseman bridge outside Winterset was only about 30 minutes from Stuart.

Photo not by Robert.

One of three bridges we visited in Madison County.

After breakfast we drove over to Winterset and with some difficulty, we found the Roseman covered bridge. It looks like a covered bridge. The gift shop opened while we were there and we had another lovely, warm conversation with the Iowa man running the shop.

He told us we could find an authentic Mexican place in town on the square, and Northside Café (featured in the film). He also gave us good advice on getting to Waukee and getting around the washed out part of the Highway 169.

This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime. –Robert (Clint Eastwood)

This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime. –Robert (Clint Eastwood)

We finished our walk around the square. There was an intriguing textile store that sold yarn but everything was closed up tight on Sunday.

We drove into Winterset and parked on the square to walk around. We decided since we were going to eat a big dinner and we ate a late breakfast we would just try a piece of pie at the Northside Café. The town boasts a pie festival so we thought the café might offer pie. We both tried the peach pie and it was the worst pie we have eaten, ever. Mushy crust and canned peaches. It did not have any flavor. Not sure if the peanut butter or cherry pie might have been better. My bad for ordering peach pie when the leaves are turning on the trees.

Cafe featured in Bridges of Madison County

Don’t order the pie at Northside Cafe.

On the way out of town we drove across the Cedar bridge and looked at the Hogback bridge. I am glad they have kept them in good repair, although they are more the focal point for local parks than for transportation.

We drove on to Waukee for our last big feast with the cousins. Cousin Annette’s house is a very cool old Victorian style house in “town”. The men watched football, the women fixed food and visited, and the children tried to catch wild kittens.

Cousin Annette's home

Cousin Annette’s home

At the end of the evening we all gathered around the dining room table telling stories and the din of multiple stories and laughter was quite intense. Jeanette and I laughed when we compared it to our quiet gatherings in Petaluma, California. We loved it.

Cousin David graciously drove us back to our Hampton Inn in West Des Moines as our adventure was drawing to a close.

Oldest to youngest Pieper Cousins

Oldest to youngest Pieper Cousins (of those present)

#Pieperfest14: Stuart, Iowa

This was formerly a bank robbed by Bonnie and Clyde.

This was formerly a bank robbed by Bonnie and Clyde.

In my mind Stuart, Iowa is mecca for #Pieperfest14. Our cousins live in West Des Moines, Pella, Waukee and Decorah; however, Great-Grandma Pieper lived in Stuart (technically Dexter) so it is where all roads lead. Just off of Interstate 80, it is easy to reach.

Cousins Leo and Geri bought Grandma’s place and remodeled it. We can still find many traces of Grandma’s simple life in the pitch of a roof, or the lilac bushes in the yard. It is not hard to find, yet our gracious cousins met us at the Americinn where we dropped our bags and had us follow them out there. We enjoyed a big steak feed, toured the old home place and looked at Geri’s homemade quilts.

I love the bumblebee fabric!

I love the bumblebee fabric!

The next day we had our first relaxed morning and went into Stuart to take pictures of the former bank where Bonnie and Clyde robbed the bank. Later at Marty and Sandy’s lunch, Cousin Bob told me how late Uncle Marvin unknowingly pulled Bonnie and Clyde’s car out of a ditch, and where in Dexter many of the gang were killed in a shootout. Jesse James’ gang also raised a ruckus in these parts.

We had a great time catching up with various cousins including Mary who always was so sweet to me when I was little. Jeanette and some others went to the cemetery in Anita.

The Catholic church burned and was restored and made into a community center.

The Catholic church burned and was restored and made into a community center. Isn’t it pretty?

We all ended the day around the fire in the fireplace at Marty and Sandy’s. Everyone was just enjoying one another’s company and no one was in a hurry to go home.

Our hosts Cousins Sandy and Marty

Our hosts Cousins Sandy and Marty