Traipsing Through Germany

Deutschland has treated me incredibly well so far… and it’s certainly time to get up to speed. After Heidelberg , our group of “America’s top agriculture editors,” as the German Agriculture Society described us, toured the John Deere factories in Mannheim with our awesome JD hosts Barry Nelson and Kelly Schwalbe (And when I say awesome, I mean awesome!) I’ve never seen the inner workings of vast factories with thousands of assembly lines, so I really enjoyed getting to see how it all works. The next day we went out to get our hands dirty… well, not so much dirty… but a little wet! We toured a BASF arable farm, a vegetable farm and an authentic German winery on gray, drizzly day. I must admit, before this trip, I didn’t realize how spirited and good-natured the Germans are. Both farmers we met with, Albert Woll and Walter Schmitt, were all smiles and laughter during our visits, eager to share their work with us and proud of their life’s pursuits. At the vegetable farm we got to see how salad was processed and packaged. Before now, I had never given much thought to how salad gets from the farm and to being sealed fresh in nice plastic package in my grocery cart. I watched green corn salad, or lamb’s lettuce, wind up and down and around all throughout Walter’s barn first getting dumped in troughs of water, then being shaken dry and finally being hand-packed into consumer friendly packages by dozens of Polish workers to be shipped out fresh daily. The Polish are like America’s Hispanic workers. They come in and do the labor intensive work that locals wouldn’t give a second thought to taking up. Germany, however, has a more controlled system than America. The Polish are able to get work visas for two months and then they must return to Poland. Walter pays the Polish 5 euros an hour and the pay includes health insurance, lodging and food. It seems the Germans are a bit more reasonable than the Americans when it comes to working immigrants. By then, the our entire ag journalist crew had learned about my plans to stay and couchsurf my way through Europe after the JD experience. They all began urging me to apply for a position on the salad line…. free lodging, food and health insurance! Hahaha… not a bad idea really. ; )

I really got a lot a grief from the group about my couchsurfing… they were either telling me how dangerous it could be… or they were walking up to random strangers at the bar asking them if they could spare a couch! Especially, our very own charmingly, classy Mary Doss and our cleverly below-the-radar Laurie Potter. It was all in good fun though… I couldn’t possibly describe how dynamic and interesting our group was. Everyone was so easy-going, outgoing, and an absolute pleasure to travel with. Something that’s not so typical with group travel! JD bigshots Mary and Terri Reinartz mothered me in the best, most comforting way. Jim Patrico with Progressive Farmer was like the protective uncle you eagerly look forward to seeing at family get-togethers. Laurie was a sisterly confidant. Greg Lamp with the Corn and Soybean digest was the mischievous, yet ultimately good-hearted troublemaker. Jay Whetter with FBC publishing, Canada’s largest agricultural publishing group, was like the older, accomplished brother whom you looked up to as a role model. Really, he’s one to watch… even the U.S. government thinks so! But, that’s for Jay to talk about, not me. Dan Crummet with Farm Progress was the sharp-tongued, funny man that kept us rolling our eyes and cracking a smile the entire trip. Karen McMahon with Farm Industry News and her husband, Randy, were the worldly, travel-savvy couple who’s stories of Kazakhstan and beyond delighted and intrigued me. Margy Fischer with Farm Journal is close behind Jay, quickly making her mark as a well-accomplished young woman taking charge of a successful career. Odds are, she’ll be one to watch too. Finally, Barry and Kelly were the glue that kept our group together. They really gave us the royal treatment with fine wining and dining at every meal. Both of them seemed concerned only with showing our group an amazing time, making sure we were all enjoying ourselves. Everyone agreed Barry really is one of the best PR guys a journalist could ever want to work with. He’s just so all about everyone else… and that’s really a rare quality… in any profession. Kelly quickly became a close, brotherly confident. I used so many familial terms to describe the group and that’s because that’s what it really felt like. They all welcomed me into the ag journalism niche with open arms… and already I miss the whole gang, exploring the deep, mold-covered recesses of wineries that no tour in America would ever reveal. I even dined in my first moving, skyscraper restaurant with these amazing people who made the treat particularly memorable!

Then, of course, there was our German Ag Society representative Hans Christian Hetterich. There is no word to accurately describe Hans. He was an incredibly witty, firecracker still so much in love with life. He’s a magnet for excitement and relishes in life’s little pleasantries. If you’re looking for the secret to how to savor life, he’d be the man to learn from. Hans accompanied us on the farm and winery tours, then slowly brought our evening to a lavish close with an exquisite dinner at, what I’m convinced is the finest restaurant in his German home town of Bad Durkheim. The dinner started off with samples of the restaurant’s still fermenting 2008 wine straight from the vat, followed by samples of 31-year-old ice wine… that is not even for sale. The wine had a delicate, honey-filled taste. Ice wine is a bit of a wine delicacy. Then, on to our 4-course meal with four different wines and a liquor kicker for dessert! Our dinner lasted for more than 3 or 4 hours… I’m not positive which. I wasn’t counting. I was simply thoroughly enjoying myself. Hans’ skill for truly savoring life seemed to filter through all of us and we simply carried on with no concern for time. At one point, I got a little too carried away with my “talking hands” and accidentally broke one of the restaurant’s fine crystal glasses. I felt rather bad about that… especially since I was making such fine music with them just moments before! Speaking of music, one of Hans’ good friends provided some after dinner entertainment in a strong German bass accompanied by guitar, of course!

Of course, I musn’t forget Dr. Oliver Neumann. Oliver was the perfect diplomat ensuring our German encounter was nothing short of incredible. He was the man that put most of this trip together.

Finally, we made it to Agritechnica, the world’s largest Farm Machinery Show. Sixteen buildings full of every machine and innovation you could think of when it comes to agriculture. My exploration of the event didn’t even scratch the surface of what was offered there, but, from what I saw, JD really did have the most hi-tech, sophisticated all-around package. Of course, Case IH went for the sexy puma girls, which I’m sure went over well with most of the male crowd. The German Ag Society put on a great reception for the media with all kinds of hors d’oeuvres and it was fun meeting all the journalists, literally from around the world.

Whew! That’s not quite up to where I’m at now… but I need a break. I’ll tell you all about my wonderful hosts in Koln (Cologne) soon!

JD German Experience Photo Album

Passion in Chicago

The Passion event is touring the U.S. and will soon be appearing at venues across the world. I can say first had the event is time well spent! It’s a weekend of delving into your relationship with God while listening to great music from the likes of Chris Tomlin and Watermark and Matt Redman and others.
Louie Giglio gives one empowering speech after the next and John Piper delivers a though-provoking message as well, calling the youth to rise up and make their stand against the decaying morality of current pop culture. On a complete whim I met up with Audra in Chicago. She flew. I drove and picked her up at the airport. We crashed with my couchsurfing confident Dustin and simply had a wonderful weekend catching up (it’s been a year since we met in Greece!). I’m simply amazed at how knowledgeable Audra is in her faith. She’s without a doubt one of my Christian role models. In that short amount of time, I felt God working with me immensely and I’m so grateful Audra came to share that with me!

Heatin Up in Hotlanta!

Okay. It’s finally time to get caught up on Atlanta… especially since plans are in the works to rendezvous in Asia with one of the incredibly adventurous guys I met while in what’s affectionately known as “Hotlanta.”

I traveled to Atlanta to cover an EPIC E85 pump promotion for race week. The Petit Le Mans was scheduled for the upcoming weekend and this year the American Le Mans Series introduced E10 as an authorized fuel for the league. The pump promotion was great. I met two absolutely down-to-earth ALMS drivers, Peter Dumbreck, one of drivers of the Petersen Motorpsorts/White Lighting Racing’s #31 Ferrari F430 GT, and Tom Milner, one of the drivers of the Rahal-Letterman #18 Bell Micro Porsche. Peter actually races all over the world. He’s from Scotland, but lives in London. I spent much of the afternoon chatting with him about racing, growing up on a small farm in Scotland and just about travel in general. He’s totally sweet and fun to talk to. Tom is just as affable (seriously that’s the word that popped into my head. I’m such a geek!). He’s only 21 and he get to race a supped up Porche at break-neck speeds all over the U.S. Um, yeah. That’s one 21-year-old who’s got it going on! I had a blast kicking it with both these guys for the day! Oh yea, I also managed to snag a couple free tickets to the race (since this time my work with EPIC didn’t need actual race coverage). I was so excited. Especially since Peter’s Ferrari was at the pump promotion, growling and roaring. Up until then I had only seen cars flash by on a circular track. This was an open road race with cars much like the high-end sports cars you can find in the consumer market. My work done… it was then time to play! Tom offered to drive to where I needed to go… how nice was that!

That evening I met up with Arman, the guy I would be couchsurfing with for my remaining five days in Hotlanta. Arman is just awesome. He had just gotten back from a 2-week backpacking trip in the Italian Alps (in fact, he owes me some pics!). Arman is a well-accomplished lawyer with a sweet pad in Candler Park. Although there is no university in the area, Candler Park has a college town feel to it with lots of parks and green space and eclectic cafes and boutiques. Not to mention it’s right next door to downtown Atlanta. Arman lives with his dog Hoya and his cat Dewberry (crazy cat btw!). By the end of five days all of them felt like long time roomies. Hoya would even sleep in my room at the foot of my bed. He’s such a sweet old dog!

That night I went out with Arman and his friend (I’m kicking myself for not remembering her name right now). Anyways we went to a local dive, had a few beers, chowed on some fried pickles and lit up the dartboard. Well, they did. I’m not much of a darts expert. Right from the start, I felt comfortable with Arman. He’s so easy-going and laidback. I found myself wanting to just be around him because he has a knack for making you feel calm. The girl he brought along was great. Super sweet.

I had plans for the next day to meet up with another couchsurfer and go explore downtown. Ben and I met at the Flying Biscuit, which is famed for it’s breakfast and rightly so! It was a delicious start to what would become one awesome day. Right away I knew Ben was of a different breed, my breed. He filled me in on his plans to head to Asia and just hop around, rock climbing and traveling and checking it out. He’s there now. I threw up a post about him earlier. You really should check out his blog detailing his adventures. Anyways, after a yummy morning meal, Ben and I headed downtown with no real plan at first. Somehow, we ended up at small retail art museum hidden in a small street nook. We had read the museum had photos from National Geographic photogs on display, and thanks to Ben’s GPS, we somehow found the place. There were some incredible photos on display. It was not your typical stop, but a treasure nonetheless! Next we headed to Centennial Olympic Park, the once hotbed for Olympic games and events. After milling around a little bit, we decided to head to the CNN World Headquarters building located on the park grounds. Yeah, it’s every bit of impressive. We forked over about $20 bucks for the tour which gave us an inside look at the production and broadcast of CNN programs. We got to listen in to the Control Room, look in on the newsroom, and watch CNN live in action. I also got to show off my broadcast skills at the mock CNN desk they had set up with a cam and prompter. We were with an older tour group, so there wasn’t much of a fight for who would get to try out the anchor’s chair. But, wait. It seems like she’s done this before… after I pretty much nailed it the group erupted in applause. That’s when I owned up to “technically” being a professional… though I’m young, and the “broadcasts” I do are far from traditional and far from anything my broadcast professors would have thought I would have gotten paid to do, even just a couple of years ago. I was expecting Ted Turner to walk down and offer me a job… kidding! The other cool highlight about that tour is getting to ride the longest and tallest free-standing escalator in the world. Pretty cool!

After that, Ben and I made our way to a rock climbing gym. It was Ben’s turn to show-off this time. He’s been climbing since his first trip hosted by a teacher in the second grade. For every one run up the wall I completed, Ben completed two. His routes were much more technically advanced than mine as well. Basically, he’s a stud on the wall. It was so great to be back at it. It had been more than a year since I had climbed. The time we spent at Atlanta Rocks definitely left me thirsty for re-engaging the sport.

Then, it was back to Arman’s to clean up and eat some leftovers. Arman came home and we made plans to meet him out near Piedmont park. Ben and I were headed get an early start in that direction in order to catch the last free improv comedy show for the summer, of course, with a bottle of wine and 6-pack of beer in tow. The whole picnic-in-the-park-with-comedy experience with Ben was a blast. The weather was perfect. The setting was perfect. I really enjoyed Ben’s company.

After improv in the park wound down, Ben and I headed to a local bar/club where Arman met up with us. All three of us had a few drinks and just kicked, chatting about anything and everything under the sun, including an incredibly involved and remarkable story of the kidnapping of Arman’s brother. It was way crazy. The entire day was just random, crazy fun with two absolutely awesome guys.

I spent most of the next day being lazy with Ben, catching some rest after some days jam-packed with tons of fun. We also hit up Trader Joe’s for some yummy eats like chicken sausage and hummus. That evening I just kicked it with Arman, watching the ol tube and getting some down time.

The day after that I played catch up with work and spent most of the day at Arman’s hanging out with Hoya and Dewberry. Then, that evening I met up with an old Israeli soccer buddy from Mizzou who now lives just north of Atlanta. Yevgeni took me to this absolutely exquisite Persian restaurant who’s food that is indescribably savory. It’s actually north of Atlanta in Sandy Springs, but well worth the small commute. Rumi’s Kitchen is a must when dining in Atlanta.

More work catch up the next day until another evening dining out. This time it was with one of my most recent roommates Ashley. She moved to Atlanta with her fiance just after she graduated in May. They both have excellent jobs in the Buckhead area and they just bought a beautiful house in a rather affluent neighborhood. The best part is what I like to call the “Japanese jungle vines” crawling throughout the backyard. Ashley and Josiah took Ben and I out for an excellent dinner at… Rumi’s Kitchen. Trust me on this one… I WAS NOT COMPLAINING! The food there is excellent. My stomach is growling as I write this… Mmmmmm. After dinner we bar hopped a couple of places throughout the Atlanta area and met up with some of Ben’s friends before returning to Ashley and Josiah’s to crash. It was so great catching up with Ash and Jo. I was excited to see how well things were going for them. They are also getting a new cat that can apparently jump 7 ft. I’m going to have to come back and see that one for myself!

On Saturday, it was off to the races! Yevgeni joined me on the trek to the Petit Le Mans – a 24 hour race at Road Atlanta. Good thing it was 24 hours, because Yevgeni and I got a late start, then got totally lost in the exact opposite direction (my fault). It was crazy to see four different classes of cars racing on an open road, zipping around curves and flying over hills. After snapping some pics (didn’t have much time b/c the sun was going down and the light was getting bad), I went to see if I could track down Peter or Tom. I didn’t find either of them. Unfortunately, Peter crashed earlier in the day and his car was out of the race. Tom, on the other hand was busy securing 3rd place despite the three flats his team had to come back from. I did spot Chris though. Chris was is a mechanic for Peter’s team who was also at the pump promotion earlier that week. He let Yevgeni and I step in and get a close look at Peter’s busted car.

Later that evening Yevgeni and I met Chris, Peter and a ton of other guys with that crew out at this western club stuck in the middle of nowhere up North. The guys were a blast to hang out with… Chris and I lit it up on the dance floor. Just being crazy. I’m glad we got to kick it with them.

Finally, Sunday, it was time for me to go home. I didn’t want to… why would you? I was having one crazy awesome time after the next. But, all good things must come to an end. It really felt like Arman and I had become roomies… it almost felt strange leaving. I’m so grateful for his hospitality!

Petit Le Mans 2007

Tijuana Pics

More Tijuana pics are now uploaded to flickr. You can check them out by clicking the link below. I was going to include the audio from Fr. Tom about the border in this post since I have finally looked into how to get audio on this blog. However, I can’t find the file. I’m very disappointed about this. The file was sitting on my desktop forever. I just did some desktop organizing and cleaning the other day and I am praying (literally) that I didn’t accidentally trash the file…

Tijuana Mexico 2007