Big News! First Publication and a Move!

At last! I am pleased to share the first publication from On Your Radar Media Company, “A Cycling Adventure: Otago Central Rail Trail.” It is available as a downloadable PDF by clicking on the image below. It is also on Adventures of American Julie (

The Otago Central Rail Trail is a terrific, accessible adventure on the South Island of New Zealand. You can bike or walk, and this guide gives you all the information you need to plan your own adventure.

It will hopefully be the first of many On Your Radar Media Company cycling and other travel publications. Let me know what you think of the format and if you have any questions I did not answer.

I am also moving to midtown Sacramento in the beginning of March. I am very excited about my new space in a newish apartment complex. I still have 2 bedrooms so there is a guest room. I am two floors above The Rind wine bar and on the same block as Buckhorn Grill. I will share more once I made the move. It is a new chapter in my redesign.

Travel theme: Minimalist

Minimalism is not a lack of something. It’s simply the perfect amount of something. – Nicholas Burroughs

New Zealand fern

New Zealand fern

What is enough? Answering this question has been key to maintaining my redesign this year. In 2011 I sold or gave away almost everything I owned to move to New Zealand. The move became a sabbatical, but the act of pruning my possessions and my obligations was life changing.

When I returned in 2012 I started a consulting firm with one client and worked about 20 hours a week. Gradually one client became two and the assignments for each client multiplied. There have been months where I have worked almost 160 hours. The money is great and I can always find ways to spend it or save it. However, I want my life to be in better balance than it was when I was a non-profit executive director. This means taking time to work on my own projects like this blog and riding my bike. Plus I travel about 8 weeks a year.

This requires knowing what is enough. Enough work. Enough money. Enough yarn. Enough books. Enough travel.

As a consultant who has to track my hours carefully, I have a tendency to monetize all of my time. Knowing what I need to make each month to pay my bills helps to lessen the temptation to work more than necessary.

The real point of pruning life of belongings and obligations is to make room for the things that really matter to you. And what if your work is what gives you your spark? Then being clear on the essentials will help to focus on your career goals.

Every end of year I spend some time reviewing the year, making goals for the next year. And since 2011 I try to glean my unneeded possessions. It is always easier as you put away your Christmas gifts to toss the items that are worn out or give away the items you have not used all year.

I do not harbor any anxiety as I do this, in part because I have practiced letting go of my stuff. And because I know the answer to the question: what is enough?

This blog post inspired by:

Merry Christmas to All

Fiordland Crested Penguin  on west coast of South Island, New Zealand

Fiordland Crested Penguin on west coast of South Island, New Zealand

One of the many highlights of 2014 is viewing Fiordland Crested penguins at the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki on my most recent visit to New Zealand. I am thankful for many things in my very rich life. I hope this season provides an opportunity to count your blessings. I am counting 15 Fiordland Crested penguins among mine!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

It is December… It must be time to reflect.

After many hours sitting on a St Heliers bench gazing at Rangitoto, I sat on this bench on Rangitoto gazing at St Heliers.

After many hours sitting on a St Heliers bench gazing at Rangitoto, I sat on this bench on Rangitoto gazing at St Heliers.

I have been on a writing hiatus. Unplanned. I thought I would write every day while I was in New Zealand. Everyday was filled with good friends and family, good food and coffee and big adventures. I did not have much time to reflect or write. So the next few weeks will be dedicated to blogging, writing and reflection.

This jandal sacrificed to balance this bench on Rangitoto is a great metaphor: What in my life needs adjusting for 2015?

This jandal sacrificed to balance this bench on Rangitoto is a great metaphor: What in my life needs adjusting for 2015?

I am availing myself of a few tools. Michael Hyatt has a new 3 video series and a downloadable pdf called 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. I also plan to walk the labyrinth at Davis United Methodist Church and meet with my pastor Kelly Love. I am also going to answer Chris Guillebeau’s two questions:  What went well this year? What did not go well this year?

And then set goals for 2015. And review my goals for 2014. How well did I do?

I am going to get creative about where I do this reflecting since I do not want to part with Lulu anymore this year. Any good ideas for finding time and quiet place admidst the holiday chaos and work life? Please offer them here.

Poem on Rangitoto bench

Poem on Rangitoto bench

Celebrating 52 with my Family in St Heliers

If on Christmas Day 2011, when I left New Zealand heart-a-breakin, you had told me that I would return in 3 years with all of my children (including a newish son-in-law), I would not have believed you. My bank account was busted. I had no idea what was ahead. Today is my birthday and Thanksgiving in the USA. We are celebrating all day!

Sarah, Marcos and Tevis on the ferry to Rangitoto

Sarah, Marcos and Tevis on the ferry to Rangitoto

Fail, Schmail

I have been reading about the value of failure. Nothing is more counter intuitive in self-help or business literature. Authors will pause for a half second to acknowledge the importance of Steve Jobs firing from Apple  in his eventual success and then go on and on about how to avoid failure.

I am not sure if I fear failure. I try new things and take risks. However, if I am truly bad at something, like the swim team, I quit before anyone can name it a failure. Then I tried moving to New Zealand and it flopped. Sure I made super friends and good things have come from my redesign. Yet I am not actually living in New Zealand as I write this. I could reframe it as something else and not use the “f-word”. I prefer to revel in fact that I failed. And survived.

On my last visit to New Zealand, UK Sarah and I had the chance to fossick around Auckland’s High Street and I found this amazing children’s book: Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beatty, illustrations by David Roberts. Here is my favorite excerpt:

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beatty

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beatty

Rosie was a natural inventor and was happy creating all sorts of inventions until one day one of her Uncles laughed at her and she was mortified. She stopped inventing until her Great-great aunt Rose came to visit and mentioned that all of the things she’d done, she still wanted to fly. Rosie was inspired to create a heli-o-cheese-copter.

“Strapped into the cockpit, she flipped on the switch. The heli-o-cheese-copter sputtered and twitched. It floated a moment and whirled round and round, then froze for a heartbeat and crashed to the ground.

The Rosie heard laughter and turned round to see the old woman laughing and slapping her knee. She laughed till she wheezed and her eyes filled with tears all to the horror of Rosie Revere, who thought, “Oh, no! Never! Not ever again will I try to build something to sputter or spin or build with a lever, a switch, or a gear. And never will I be a great engineer.”

She turned round to leave, but then Great-Great-Aunt Rose grabbed hold of young Rosie and puller in close and hugged her and kissed her and started to cry. “You did it! Hooray! It’s the perfect first try! The great flop is over. It’s time for the next!”

Young Rosie was baffled, embarrassed, perplexed. “I failed,” said dear Rosie. “It’s just made of trash. Didn’t you see it? The cheese-copter crashed.”

“Yes!” said her great aunt. “It crashed. That is true. But first it did just what it needed to do. Before it crashed, Rosie… before that… it flew!”

“Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!” She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere, who smiled at her aunt as it all become clear. Life might have its failures, but this was not it. The only true failure can come if you quit.”

The Great Penguin Sweater Caper of 2014

Oh what big hearts knitters have. We knit caps for kids in the cold, blankets for children who have lost their homes to fire or are hospitalized, prayer shawls for people battling cancer. I could go on and on.

Not surprising when a post about penguins in need of sweaters appears on Facebook it goes viral. Today I saw three separate posts. Aided by the animal lovers the appeal is irresistible to many.

Warning: Penguins are not in need of any sweaters!

Warning: Penguins are not in need of any sweaters!

And sort of not true.

If you are just finding out penguins slicked with oil do not need sweaters, I know how you feel.

I was in Auckland, New Zealand during 2011 when the non-stop coverage of the Rugby World Cup was interrupted to announce the Rena cargo ship disaster. In what seemed like slow motion the Rena ran aground off shore of the port in Tauranga (SE of Auckland) on the North Island. The fate of the cargo was not known for weeks but the oil on board started leaking immediately.

The local residents responded immediately. I became fascinated. The local iwi (Maori tribe) organized themselves and others to go to the shoreline and wash rocks! Local wildlife conservationists with oiled bird experts around the world converged on Tauranga to stage an impressive rescue operation. They quickly focused on the little blue penguin (the actual name and accurate descriptor).

Flashback to 2000 when a similar oil spill occurred 1300 miles away on Phillips Island in Australia, and knitters responded to the call for sweaters to aid the penguins. The response by knitters was so overwhelming the Phillip Island Penguin Foundation ended up with a lot of excess sweaters.

Just days after the Rena crisis someone posted the penguin “jumper” (sweater) pattern on Ravelry (a popular knitting website) and the Skeinz wool shop in Napier offered to collect them. This was all based on “a friend of a friend” hearsay about the rescuers’ need. Too late, it went viral and hundreds of sweaters poured in from around the world.

I was so fascinated with the plight of the penguins I even wrote it into my mystery novel as a sub-plot. I also fell in love with penguins. So fast forward to December 2012 and I am on a road trip with UK Sarah and we are staying at the Mt. Tutu Ecolodge near Tauranga. I have asked several places in town for more information about the penguins and come up with no leads. I mention this to my host Tim Short. Serendipitously he was integrally involved in the rescue. I naively and enthusiastically ask him about the sweaters and then I learn the truth. They did not use any of the sweaters. The birds were understandably under duress and dressing them up in sweaters increased their stress. Instead they used warm water and heat lamps and lots of baths.

I had to let go of a cherished belief that knitters made a difference for the penguins. Nonetheless, the rescuers’ results are inspiring. Every time I watch this video I get emotional.

The response to the call for penguins jumpers is always met with terrific enthusiasm. It gives us something tangible to do when confronted with uncontrollable circumstances. We can not stop using oil and oil byproducts so we all bear some of the guilt from any spill. Knitting a wee sweater allows us to help our “neighbor” the penguin and feel a little bit better.

It is easier to knit a sweater than stop deep sea oil drilling.

It is easier to knit a sweater than stop deep sea oil drilling.

This latest call for sweaters is not a prank. Remember the Phillip Island Penguin Foundation in Australia?  They used their excess sweaters from 2000 on toy penguins and sold them as a fundraiser. Recently they asked for help in knitting more to continue to use them on plush penguin toys. Somehow that was lost in translation as the story went viral.

People mean well.

This blog post first appeared on Adventures of American Julie,, by Julie Pieper on March 7, 2014.

Recalibrating in Queenstown

Can you spot the rainbow?

Can you spot the rainbow?

I had high expectations for Queenstown on South Island. Even so I cannot stop gaping at the beauty. So glad that it is only 1,013 feet above sea level. (Seems like every other visit to an alpine lake has been accompanied by altitude sickness.) I could just keep taking pictures all day from my window as the light and window keep changing. The mountain range is aptly named “The Remarkables” and they all look photoshopped. The quality of the air and water are so pure and fresh and clean. It is rejuvenating.

I so needed this refreshment. This holiday is a break in work. Although because I brought my Mom and her two friends Lisa and Nancy it has not been restful, until now. I was the only driver, and they thought of me as their tour guide. Here in Queenstown there is a little more space to relax and let RealJourneys take charge of their days.

Visiting New Zealand is always a touchstone to my redesign. I was driving around the East Bays from Parnell on the first day in Auckland and I started to cry it was so beautiful. Also so bittersweet. I love to reconnect with my friends and it reminds me that I am not living here.

My work-life balance got a bit wobbly in January and the first half of February as I worked so many hours. The money is great and the work is meaningful, yet some of my physical stress-related symptoms returned (from Housing California days). Time to rebalance, recommit to my redesign and begin again.

I also teamed up with Sarah (with a design assist from Marcos) to help me with some of the blog housekeeping.  I love what they have done to the site. It has also been refreshed.

Finally, traveling with three 78/79 year old women who have a variety of health challenges has shaken me up. I am going to buy a stand-up desk like I saw at Google so I sit less. And I am going to ride my bike even more. I saw a Twitter post from NPR that said there is a strong correlation between number of hours sitting and likelihood of disability (even if you exercise everyday).  I am so thankful for this time to do a little course correct. And breath in the amazing molecules that make up Queenstown.  I am truly blessed.

My 2014 Goals by the Numbers

2014 by the numbers

2014 by the numbers

I stopped making resolutions a long time ago. Resolving something seems to goad me to run out and do the opposite.  I prefer goals. Goals are supposed to be measurable, so here are my numerical goals for 2014:

2 extended travel essays written and published by On Your Radar Media Company

50 miles: an achievable ride even when hilly or wet at an average of 15 mph

20 pounds lost and not found again (by July)

100 percent of retirement savings goal met

2 adventures in New Zealand

1 Tour de France adventure (27 days in July)

2 satisfied clients with at least 3 episodes of surpassing expectations

3 personal development conferences (CTI, Storylines, Travel Writing)

Travel is magical anywhere.

I know I am tired when I tear up watching my old videos of going to Carl’s Jr in Glen Innes and the New Zealand National Anthem in St. Heliers.  People are dumbfounded when I say I am homesick for a place I lived in for just over 5 months. And some family and friends do not want to hear it because they like me living in Davis, not Auckland. Today I am just plain homesick for the land of the long white cloud.

One cause is my recent lovely, lovely 4 day adventure in Los Angeles with UK Sarah.  She was flying from London to Auckland and broke her journey in L.A.  I flew down to meet her.  It was magical.  Just as I imagined we talked non-stop for all our waking hours.  I thoroughly enjoyed being a tourist with Sarah. Her wonder at the Hollywood sign and the Pasadena City Hall and Olvera Street helped me to see them all again with new appreciation.  We did so many things and yet we did not overdo.  There was an ease to our agenda.

Nonetheless, we did tick a lot of boxes:  Pasadena, All Saints Church, Huntington Library and Garden, Union Station, Chinatown, Disney Music Hall, USC campus, the Coliseum, the hood, the Grove and Farmers Market, breakfast in Santa Monica, fab knitting store (Compatto’s), the Getty Center, the Beverly Center, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Hollywood Walk of Fame, a red carpet event where we saw Billy Crystal get out of his limo and wave.

Here's to 2 Pretty Women.

Here’s to 2 Pretty Women.

One of my favorite stops was at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.  I did not know this is where Pretty Woman was filmed until Sarah shared it with me.  She was tickled pink to snap pictures of the lobby, the front of the hotel, of me drinking champagne in the middle of the afternoon.  We stepped out the front door of the hotel and saw this amazing car with all kinds of people tripping over each other to take a picture. So I asked “what kind of car is it?” and no one knew.  I did my best imitation of Julia Roberts’ laugh and emailed a picture to Tevis and Marcos. My new son-in-law emailed back: Pagani Huayra. An Italian sports car company. I only know this through Top Gear haha. Anybody have upwards of $1.3 million to spare?!

Batman's mobile?

On our last day we drove to Pacific Coast Highway and started at the Topanga Canyon Beach and then worked our way down the coast line stopping at the Santa Monica pier and in Venice for lunch.  Sarah’s guidebook suggested avoiding Los Angeles this time of year because of June Gloom (see photo backdrop). The sun was hiding, yet it was not cold, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Sarah at Santa Monica Pier

The big surprise for me was Venice. I have never spent much time in Venice, California.  Sarah and I agreed that we did not want to see Muscle Beach. She had read about the Venice Canals and we decided to find them instead.  Along the way we thought about lunch and I suggested Mexican food because it was her last day and we had yet to eat any (like going to Italy and not having spaghetti).  We plugged in “Mexican food” and “current location” to Yelp and an unassuming place very close by on Rose Street with 4.5 stars popped up.  La Fiesta Brava was authentic and delicious.  We pushed tables together to accomodate a local, Donna, who arrived stressed out from work and left refreshed from our shared conversation. Plus she treated us all to a beer.

We did eventually find the Canals–they are so very cool.  Restored in the mid-90s, they offer a unique lifestyle.  We could imagine ourselves enjoying a glass of Sav on the deck, sharing a cheese platter with our neighbors.  Another life perhaps. Or on another visit.

Venice Canals

It was with a heavy heart that I said farewell to UK Sarah at LAX.  I will see her at the end of September when I next visit New Zealand.

I also struggled with balancing my work life with vacation.  I had to take a few phone calls while in Los Angeles and part of me was thinking, “Oh no, backsliding on my redesign.” Part of the pressure was self-induced because of a meeting that went poorly just before I hopped on the plane to Los Angeles.  I could not shake off the bad vibe. After I got back I got some great coaching from my friend Connie who helped me gain perspective. Next time, when something like this happens, I am going to call her and ask for help ASAP.

I did have some down time this weekend to reflect on my creative life and what I want to do with my love of writing and passion for travel. I have some ideas and I will share them when they are more developed. In the meantime, I know that I love New Zealand so much because when I travel I open myself up to serendipity, to the magic of meeting new people and experiencing things from another perspective. It inspires me and leaves me wanting more. I experienced it again in Los Angeles of all places. A place that I lived while at University, and somewhere I have done the “up and back” on Southwest Airlines so many times for work that I did not believe it could surprise me.

Next up: Norway and France with Tevis in July.