Facing Challenges and Fears

It is good for us to do things that challenge, and even scare ourselves from time to time. The effect is often to feel more alive and renewed, and helps to put the smaller problems of daily life in perspective.

When I plan vacations I like to add a little adventure. Something we have not done before and could get the old adrenaline flowing. Feeling safe all of the time is not a good thing. We need to img_9416step out of our comfort zone to stretch ourselves, and to feel energized, able and competent! To get your heart pumping and to be a little scared is a rush that helps you feel alive. There’s a sense of well being and accomplishment when finished, and a good story for dinner parties, and for when we are old to show our grandchildren how cool we were.

When I first zip-lined in the jungle tree tops in Costa Rica, my heart was pumping hard, but as I stepped off of the first platform, so high that you could not see the ground below through the thick forest,  I had a certain calm come over me and had to trust that those in charge had built it safe and I would be ok, or maybe it was just the img_9008realization that I had no control. I stepped off the platform, zipping from tree top to tree top, and I might as well enjoy it because there was nothing I could do to change anything at that point. I might as well enjoy the ride and fly with the wind! It was fun and life affirming and we were perfectly safe.

On our recent trip to New Zealand we visited Bluff. We flew into Invercargill, and then took transportation to the southern most tip of the island known as Bluff New Zealand. It was a small fishing village with quaint buildings and friendly people. It had some of the best sunsets around. We stayed in a Bed and Breakfast located at the end of a winding road, and it was on one of the most beautiful areas of the beach with rolling hills and nature preserves surrounding the nearby town.img_9131

This was considered the southern most tip of New Zealand, and it had a sign at the end of the road to mark its importance. Through our window we could see many people drive up and take pictures at this most lovely spot. The sign showed how many miles it was to various other parts of the world including how far it was to Antarctica.

The famous hiking trail known as the Te Araroa goes from the top of the North Island of New Zealand through to the tip of the South island, and ends in Bluff in front of our Bed and Breakfast. It is a 3000 km walk and takes most people about 4 months. Over the three days we were there we saw a number of hikers end their hike in elation, with pictures to commemorate their accomplishment, hard work and img_9163perseverance to make the entire trek. They celebrated by hanging their hiking boots over the sign and taking pictures that they will cherish forever. It was clearly a celebration of life. They had pushed their limits and made the ultimate decision to leave any comfort and challenge themselves to complete this important personal journey. We met some of them and you could see the electricity of life in their eyes and the pride of accomplishment.

This is the feeling we want to feel everyday. We want the electricity for life that makes one excited to get up in the morning and to be happy, satisfied and to feel competent and accomplished; a zest for life that always playing it safe does not provide. We have been fortunate enough to have done many life affirming things, to take us out of our comfort zone and to challenge our comfortable day to day existence. We have taken helicopters over beautiful mountains, the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef. We have swam with sharks and gone img_9346shark cage diving. We have hiked beyond our comfort zone, and been lost and then found again. It is life affirming to face your fears and chose activities that scare you. The day to day work and life issues are not as consequential when you have been in situations that scare you. Facing work deadlines or difficult meetings or encounters of every kind in your work life or daily life become small and surmountable in the big scheme of things. The scariest thing for me would be to think that I did not live my life to the fullest. Take on challenges and push your comfort zone for a full, happy and most satisfying existence. There is calm and contentment in your life when you know what you can do, if you try.

Finding Inner Strength on the Bright Angel Trail

When I was about to turn 50 I decided that I needed to do something physically challenging to celebrate this big milestone birthday, and mainly I had to prove to myself that I was not really 50, even though the calendar did not lie. When it comes to a physical challenge and a beautiful hike, there is nothing compared to the Grand Canyon. That had to be my first choice.  I’d been there gc_08-102before, but only in a passing through type of way, without time for some of the more scenic and challenging hikes.

I have an April birthday and my research showed this was a great time to visit and hike. It seemed that if you go too early in the spring there is treacherous ice on the trail and if you go too far into the summer, it can be hot as Hades. I disclosed my plan to Joe in the fall before my big birthday, and as usual he was up for the challenge. We walked all winter to start training. We put on our thick winter wear and walked and walked until we could easily walk for many miles, and half a day without any trouble. Of course we were walking in Blaine, Minnesota, which had few hills, while our big hike would be in the Grand Canyon, traveling along the steep cliffs descending from the rim of the canyon to the bottom and back up to the rim all in one day.

gc_08-163Hiking the Grand Canyon has been described as hiking a mountain, but you are hiking down the mountain first and then climbing up the mountain to get back to the rim.   It hurts your knees on the way down, as if walking down stairs for hours and it hurts your heart on the way up, as you climb and climb to get back to the top. We like a challenge, so the more we read the more our anticipation grew.

We flew out of Minneapolis excited and full of confidence in our abilities, with our adventure pants packed. I love these types of adventures where beauty meets challenge and I feel even though many people have gone before me and done the exact same thing, I feel like an explorer because for me it is new exciting and different. We had a lot of fun discussions on the way. Some of course were just for fun, but others were deeper delving into a self assessment and an assessment of the two of us and where we started and how far we had come. We had been married when I was 27 and he was 32. We were just youngsters then and now I was turning 50. gc_08-116These milestone birthdays lend themselves well to reminiscence and taking stock in oneself and our accomplishments, as well as looking forward to where we want to go in life together and for myself, my own wishes and dreams.

I have had a favorite saying for many years: “The life you have lived, does not have to be the life you lead.” That can mean many things to different people, but for me it means I can dream my dreams, and no matter what age I can follow those dreams. Whatever status quo I am in, can be changed if I choose to do so. It means I can change and reinvent myself, and no matter how old I am, I can follow those dreams and even create new dreams. It is up to me and no one else. It is never too late to do what you want.

The discussions we had were fun and uplifting, but when we were silent on that flight to Arizona is when I could reflect privately on turning 50 and how a I felt about that. I have never been particularly concerned about the numbers of age, but there was no doubt 50 was significant. I did not feel bad about my wrinkles or other such superficial issues. I was more concerned about the reality that I did not have a twenty year old body for adventures. This had nothing to do with gc_08-115how I looked, but how my body would function from here on out during our big hikes or on physically challenging adventures. It was also a time to take inner stock on what I wanted from life and to reflect. I knew the Grand Canyon with its grandeur would provide for inspiration and reflection.

We got there in the afternoon and reached our hotel. I booked a hotel with a refrigerator so I could freeze water bottles to provide cold water throughout the hike and into the heat of the afternoon, and also provide a cold pack for our sandwiches and ice in the event of an injury. We did some smaller hikes that day and looked at the sites around the rim of the canyon. We rested and had a nice dinner at Grand Canyon national park’s restaurant overlooking the beauty of the canyon in the late afternoon sunset.

As part of my planning I had selected the Bright Angel trail. It is a popular trail down into the Grand Canyon that starts at the rim in the park. As popular as it is, it is steep and challenging and many people only do a small portion and then return to the trim. It is treacherous enough that a
gc_08-106ranger is stationed at the top and questions hikers about how much water they have, and whether they have snacks or lunch and enough provisions to successfully hike the Bright Angel.

They even have large signs that show all of the stopping points along the trail. The sign indicates by words and pictures what one needs in provisions to descend to each stop site and how much you need to go all the way to the bottom and back. The sign indicates that one needs three sandwiches, snacks and six bottles of water to go all of the way, and if one is only going to the first stopping point, than one sandwich and three bottles of water, etc. So we dubbed different hikes the one sandwich hike or the three sandwich hike. We were going to do the three sandwich hike the next day all the way to the bottom and back on the Bright Angel Trail. We felt ready.

The next morning we arose early, put on our adventure pants and hiking boots, and brought along our hiking sandals to have a change of footwear which is necessary to prevent blisters and gc_08-093sore feet on the long hikes. We have learned to change shoes at some point, as it really makes a difference in your feet during and after the journey. Different shoes rub and move differently to give your feet a break. Also, we needed jackets and full hiking shoes, because early in the morning on the rim it was about 50 degrees and mid afternoon when we would be at the bottom it would be 80 to 90 degrees.  We brought our sandwiches and snacks and our frozen water, some regular water and a few bottles of Gatorade to refresh us in the afternoon.

With our provisions placed carefully in our backpacks, and having double checked to make sure we had more than enough, and with cameras and hiking poles in hand, we were off on our adventure. As I have lectured my children many times, always have enough in case you get lost overnight, and be able to make fire. I had plenty of food and water, and the ability to make fire in case of an unforeseen emergency. It may seem overstated in a National park like Grand Canyon gc_08-137and especially on the Bright Angel trail, but people die on Bright Angel every year and each year some get lost and some get airlifted out.

It was still dark, but just getting light when we started. After being checked out by the ranger on duty to make sure we were ready, we started our adventure. As we started we saw mules ready and saddled in a pen to take visitors wanting to ride down to the bottom. I grew up knowing how to ride, but that narrow trail on the cliffs of the Grand Canyon did not look to me like an attractive mule ride. I would rather walk myself. Not only would I be concerned about falling over the cliff, but the saddle sores and tired hips at the end of a ride on a wide mule for hours did not at all seem attractive, but people do it all of the time.

As we descended into the Canyon, the smells of the night dessert were lovely. It was cool and crisp and surprisingly moist. I stopped and took pictures often soaking in the beautiful scenery gc_08-098as we made our way along a narrow trail that hugged the cliffs. We were energetic and fresh from a good night’s sleep, and in that moment I wanted this day to last forever. As I took in the scenery, I also felt introspective. I was turning 50 and that was an amazing milestone.

I reflected on each phase of my life, thinking first of my childhood on the farm and then the fun I had in college. It was there that I worked harder than I had ever worked in my life to get good grades in classes like anatomy and physiology in my training to be a nurse. I learned a lot in a short four years and I continued on with my time as a labor and delivery nurse, and then to law school.

I thought about my family life with Joe and in raising three great kids. As I took stock of my life, I was happy. I knew I had not done everything right or by any means had I made perfect decisions, but I had done well and was proud and happy with not only the accomplishments, but the fun I had, and those times when I skipped work or school and had fun instead. I came to the conclusion that because I had so much happiness to reflect upon and because I could look
back proudly at what I had done with my first 50 years, that turning 50 was inconsequential. I had no regrets.

gc_08-108As we made our way down the canyon, we rested, talked and drank our water and ate our snacks. Our knees were very tired and starting to hurt as we hit the bottom, but the hike was not so difficult that we could not enjoy every part of our adventure. We had lunch at the bottom and rested our feet in the grass. We changed our hiking boots for hiking sandals as the temp was now well into the eighties. After a nice rest we started to head back up.

Hiking up the canyon took some work. Our knees no longer ached, but we had to take our time because the ascent was a workout for our hearts. We also took our time as we had planned and tried to enjoy every step of the beautiful trail. This is where we really appreciated the frozen water battles we had brought which were now just ice cold water to refresh us. As I walked up and up, I thought about the future and what my, hopefully, next 50 years could bring. I vowed to stay fresh and positive in my life and I repeated to myself the saying: The life you have lived, does not have to be the life you lead. I vowed to myself to continue to follow my dreams and not to loose my zest for life.

I found my inner strength on the Bright Angel trail. It was not only the physical strength that was needed for this adventure, but the mental stamina to stay positive and not settle into a lack of appreciation for all that life holds throughout our journey, and not just when we are young. I vowed to stay inspired and strong and to enjoy and embrace new adventures, to continue to love deeply and to spend my most precious commodity—my time on this earth, wisely.

Taking Flight

I love flying and I love airports. I love the excitement of flying to a new adventure and I love the feeling of entering an airport to head to my comfy home after being gone a little too long. The excitement starts with the packing of my bags and carefully choosing what goes into the suitcase for my adventure. I lay everything out as the days tick closer, and I add and take away things from the pile, as I seem to always initially want to bring a little too much. The packing is part of img_1830the fun and the more you do it the better you get at it.

My excitement mounts as we leave for the airport. We live a little over an hour from the airport, and as anyone will tell you, I leave way too early and get there way too early. We say goodbye to the nice person we talked into giving us a ride to the airport, do our final hugs (it’s usually one of my kids), and my steps lighten as I walk through the big automatic doors and step into the hustle of travelers milling to find their airline, their gates, and check in.

It is a very diverse group. You see every age, every race and a mixture of young adventure travelers carrying everything on their backs, to business people dressed to impress. You see wealthy and poor, families doing their best to herd their children to their destination and old folks moving slowly, hoping to visit relatives or have an adventure of their own. The people watching is amazing, especially guessing people’s stories.

Bimg_1011eing early allows me to be relaxed in my check in and going through security. We fly enough that we have the pre-check area where the security is not quit as onerous. I would never want to be one of those crazy people that are running late and practically miss their flight. That is too stressful. It would take the fun out of the journey. I do not mind spending time having a little food or drinks at the airport and people watching. We also work a lot and so having a few hours to relax, and read or talk to each other is a nice break and part of the beauty of escaping our daily lives. We sometimes go over our itinerary or look at maps for our adventure and make sure we have everything we need.

When it comes time to load the plane we are ready and the excitement starts to peak again. I take my seat and arrange the things I need to keep me busy while in flight. Despite being a real img_5963type A most of the time, I seem to take on a different internal relaxation and I am no longer in a hurry once I board the plane. I am ready for the down time and the relaxation of having nothing to accomplish during the flight other than enjoy myself. I have an iPad for movies, iPod for music and magazines, snacks and gum for my ears, although we have flown so often we are good at clearing our ears as they pop from the altitude.

As the engines rev and the plane slowly starts to move my heart beats faster, and as the plane sits at the beginning of the runway and then the brakes let go to propel us into the air my heart img_1023soars with the plane into the clouds. To fly through clouds is indescribable. It is the feeling of almost lightheadedness and weightlessness as if being released from our earthly bonds. I love sitting by the window and watching the clouds go by. Flying on a beautiful sunny, puffy cloud kind of day is the best. I have occasionally had dreams where I can fly, but this is the reality of flying through the blue sky ever higher and even going right through clouds. It is amazing what you can see from the windows. Rivers look like narrow snakes winding for miles, you see the beautiful checker board of the Midwest farm fields and the mountains and I’ve even spotted the Winslow Arizona crater.img_9499

When Joe is with me we take turns at the window, but the reality is that the middle seat is fine with me if Joe is by the window, because I can lean way over him looking at the beauty out of the window.  I don’t mind sitting close to strangers. Either they are in their own world and they barely talk or they are the kind that are fun to get to know a little, before settling into movies or other entertainment. I have learned a lot from strangers over the years in airplanes.

Certain flights stick out in my mind. I have a favorite memory of a flight from Christchurch, New Zealand to Bluff, New Zealand on its southern most coast. It was a beautiful puffy cloud day and we took off about noon. It was a short flight of only a couple of hours, and our plane was small with propellers. New Zealand air has the coolest looking planes. They are black, and the smaller img_8989ones with propellers look like palm trees attached to the wings. As we loaded onto the plane we were of course in the best of spirits possible because we were on vacation and in the middle of our great adventure. We were having a fabulous time in New Zealand and therefore stress free and eating the best foods and drinks, with no work to worry about.

Attitude is everything. As I settled in, I put in my ear buds and I had the window seat. As the engines revved and the wheels left the ground, I was listening to Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears. It was reaching its loudest and I even turned it a little louder as we took off. I love the speed and I love the calm as the plane lifts. I was looking out the window at the clouds as we flew higher through the clouds. There was no one else in the world except me, my thoughts and my experience. They talk now about being present in the moment. I was not only present in that moment in time, but completely enveloped in it. That moment in time is pressed in my mind and more importantly in my soul to be a part of me forever. I cannot hear that song now withoutimg_5971 thinking of that glorious day and that smooth take off from Christchurch and how I felt as if I could rule the world in that most precious moment. I will never forget it.

I love airplanes and I love airports. I love flying to my adventures and when I am road weary and nothing but dirty clothes fill my suitcase, it feels good to enter that last airport to head home. I check my bag for the last time, hoping that all of my treasures I have bought on vacation do not make it overweight, and as they accept it I sigh a little sigh of relief and settle in for the flight home. There is no place like home, when you have fulfilled your itinerary and seen and done unexpected and beautiful things.
Flying represents our ability to leave our worldly jobs and earth bound life and explore beautiful and exciting places by soaring through the clouds. It is not just the destination that is important when you travel; it is the journey as well. The journey itself is a great part of the experience and the airport launches us into our adventure and it brings us back home again. Appreciate the journey as much as the destination. It starts with the excitement of the airport to fly you through the clouds on your way to discover yourself and live in the moment.

Curiosity Most Certainly Never Killed A Cat

The phrase “Curiosity killed the cat” is not only strange, but just plain wrong. A healthy curiosity is what moves us forward to learn and explore, and once a person’s curiosity is gone, so is their zest for life.

I have been curious all of my life about far away places and how things are made and what secrets lie in the Oceans and the heavens, yet to be discovered by curious explorers. I wonder how prior inhabitants of our area lived and loved together in the harsh Minnesota winters, and how they may have admired the same beautiful sunrises and sunsets on our lake.  I cannot pass an old building, overgrown with weeds and not be curious to know what happened there, and what is still inside to reveal its mysterious past. If I could explore abandoned buildings for fun without getting into trouble, I would. I don’t mean the large commercial towers downtown that the urban explorers climb around in and occasionally have to be rescued from. I mean the small sheds and barns in an abandoned farm, or our neighbor’s old, abandoned, long forgotten boathouse.IMG_4621

The old boathouse is less than a foot away from our property line and I will admit, I have taken a flashlight and looked in. The boathouse itself has had no care or repairs for at lease twenty, to maybe even thirty years or more. The sagging roof is covered in pine needles and the side boards are starting to deteriorate to the point where large gaps are appearing in the walls. It would take very little for this structure to catch fire or fall over. The front door is blocked by tree roots, and cast away items like an old rusty grill and a broken chair. A couple bought the lot about five years ago and rented out the old cabin on the site. When I inquired as to what was in the boathouse, I was told that they had not been in it since they bought the property, but had looked through the gaps in the siding and saw old fishing lures and lots of tools and what they referred to as junk.IMG_4694

My curiosity would never have allowed me to go five years without looking what is in the ancient boathouse for over five years. If I would have bought that property, I would have been looking around at the interesting things in that boathouse with my flashlight about an hour after closing. As I see it, I imagine it contains all kinds of treasures from the past, long forgotten and buried under piles of stored items needed for a life on the lake.

My curiosity was piqued even more when I inquired of our elderly neighbor about the history of the old boathouse. He grew up on the lake just a few doors down from where we live now, and his eyes lit up as he told about the prior owner, Mr. Peterson and his propensity for Rum and IMG_4687parties. He was evidently legendary for the epic parties he threw and also for falling asleep or possibly passing out outside and not even making it into the old cabin. Most interesting however was the neighbor’s clear recollection that a friend of Peterson’s had used old paint and had painted a picture of Minnehaha Falls on the inside wall of the boathouse. He remembered that the quality was quite good. I tried my best to see into the cracks with my flashlight more than once, but I cannot get a good look at all of the walls. Many of the walls are hidden by piled up stuff and things hanging on the walls. I did see a lot of old fishing lures and tools as they said, but even with the flash light it is too dark to make out what most of it is.

If only I could rip the front door open, I would be in there in a minute exploring for the owner. I told them about the alleged painting on the wall and it did not seem to make them any more interested to tear the door open and go exploring. I would love to assist, but unfortunately it is not my property to go exploring. They had renters at the property until lately, but now have decided to build a house on the lake lot. I cannot wait for their house tIMG_0293o be finished so we can get to know them better and I can find out if the mysterious old painting still exists or if other treasure lay buried waiting for discovery. I am sure that once they live on the property they will have to pull back the creaky door and explore the old boathouse.  I will be there ready to volunteer as tribute to help them.

The boathouse is not the only old structure in our area that piques my curiosity. It is fun to move to a new area as you discover new things. We have an old Hardware Hank store along highway 65, and even though I had been by there before, I had never noticed an old cemetery with the Swedish flag flying above it. It has a plaque and is clearly very old. Evidently the story is that it used to be the graveyard for an old fort located on the site long before the Hardware Hank. Clearly someone keeps it up, as the fencing around it and the lawn is meticulously groomed.

I cannot imagine not having my sense of curiosity for many different things.   I have read books on history, paleontology, geology, ancient cultures, archeology, cooking and music. If I could I would have many college degrees in many IMG_1753different areas of study. I like watching TV shows on how things are made and get ideas for places to explore on the travel channel. I find everything from ghosts to stories of aliens interesting. I will never live long enough to experience every place I would like to travel to, and I will never live long enough to satisfy my curiosity, or I at least hope that is true.

Curiosity never killed the cat, but a lack of curiosity can kill a full life that is well lived. Without our drive to learn new and interesting things, without our drive to peak behind the curtain to see how things are done or are made, and without our curiosity to travel to meet new people and cultures and taste new foods, and without our curiosity to explore into the history of an old boathouse and the tails told by its old treasures long abandoned, we sit still with a lack of excitement and wonder for things we know nothing about, and we live a life without the luster of what our big, beautiful, mysterious world has to offer.

The Beauty, Mystery, and Allure of the Underground World

Caves attract us. I don’t know if it can be attributed to the fact that we may be descendants of cave dwellers or if it’s the damp darkness that sparks mystery in us as we ascend into the earth. We know we are not the only ones who like caves. If a writer or movie maker wants to add mystery to a story, a cave is involved. The mysteries we read as kids were always more fun when someone fell into or discovered a cave. The first Indiana Jones film starts with a great cave scene, and both National Treasure movies had the actors discovering treasure in caverns. Caves evoke images of dangerous, narrow wet tunnels and floors that disappear, treasure long left by ancients, and rooms full of spider webs, skeletons and bats.

In the Mayan culture, the entrance to Xibalba, the Mayan underworld ruled by the death Gods, was said to be located in the caves in Central America. They buried dead in the caves and made ColoradoStairssacrifices to the Gods. When my archaeologist daughter was recently in Belize, they  were allowed to explore the caves with their group, and were able to see first hand the human sacrifice remains and pottery left behind thousands of years ago by the Mayans. She came back with great stories and fabulous pictures.

Caves are pure fun and excitement no matter which one you see. When we traveled to Playa in Mexico with the kids we went snorkeling in the caves. It was dark and beautiful, scary and exciting all at the same time. The water was ice cold even though the air above was 95 degrees or more, and the caves had areas that were open to the sun, just enough to make the snorkeling visibility good. As we went along there were roped off cave areas that were off limits to prevent tourists from getting lost. Those really looked like fun, but we followed the rules and did not go past the ropes.

CaveMexAn occasional bat would fly over and we were actually surprised by the number of fish in the cave rivers. They flowed to the ocean so it was salt water and the fish were of every color and size. It was a little scary because the water was quite deep in places and as we led our young children through the caves, I started to wonder what lurked in some of those deep cave waters.

Obviously I have seen too many scary movies. I did not share my concerns out loud, because they were all having such a good time and I did not want to alarm them. It would have ruined the experience. I also went by the rule that it seemed like hundreds of visitors have been snorkeling in these caves for years and I have not heard of any problems, so if they could do it we can do it. I figured the odds were in our favor and nothing will come out of those deep dark waters to attack or steal our children.

Some of the most beautiful caves in the world are by the Apostle islands in Lake Superior. We saw them in person when we stayed on Madeline Island with friends a few years ago. You can take a boat or Kayak out to the colorful  caves on the shores of the islands, formed by the wind 140220 3698and waves of Lake Superior. We took a boat, and while we took some lovely pictures, the true beauty of these caves have only been captured in pictures by professional photographer, Craig Blacklock.

He makes these caves come alive as he was able to capture the multicolored cave walls eroded by thousands of years of water and wind that sculpted out walls, pillars and caverns in the sides of the mostly uninhabited islands. The caves are colorful and whimsical in the winter and even more beautiful when surrounded by the fall colors or the bright sun of summer. They look almost enchanted as if created for their beauty and our enjoyment. The boats come as close as possible and it is a place I need to go back to for the kayak experience. With the Kayaks you can go right into the 140220 3708caves and get a close up view. Blacklock, who I found out teaches photography lessons on the island, actually has worn a wet suit while taking pictures of the caves from the water.

We have a long history of visiting and loving caves in our family. Minnesota has Niagara cave in Forestville by Harmony, Minnesota which got its name from the large waterfall inside the cave. There are also the St. Paul caves that have a long history as a speak easy for gangsters in the 1930’s and then in later years it became a nice restaurant, and now they hold weddings and parties in the caves. We went on a tour of these caves a number of years ago and they can show you bullet holes in the walls where the gangsters would occasionally shoot up the place.

We saw Craters of the Moon in Idaho which has caves with spray painted big foot tracks. That was fun for us all! We have seen Cave of the Winds in Colorado which was close to the Manitou BigFootMexcliff dwellings site. We toured that with our family and it was fascinating to imagine the people who called the cave dwellings their home. It had to be a struggle for existence from finding enough water year round, to being able to grow food in the harsh area, but when you stood in the cliff dwellings you could see unspoiled beauty for miles and I imagine they looked for a place where they could not only survive, but one that made their heart happy.

We also saw wind cave in South Dakota which had a desert wind-swept look to the walls, like no other cave we have ever seen. In New Zealand at the top of the list of interesting caves is the Glow Worm cave. The silk type worms live on the ceiling of the cave, dropping down their silk to catch bugs and flies to eat, but their most interesting feature is that they have bioluminescence. IMG_6084They light up. They are similar to a fire fly and they glow and twinkle in the darkness. Because there are so many on the cave ceiling, it looks as if someone strung millions of tiny white Christmas lights on the ceilings. The tour is a silent boat ride where no photography is allowed. They quietly load the tourists and everyone is warned numerous times of the rules of no talking, no noises and no photos. It was the most romantic cave tour I have ever experienced.

We have been to many caves all over and each cave is unique in its beauty and mystery. Some are scary, some full of adventure and some provide a twinkling romantic experience for a middle aged couple like us, celebrating thirty years of marriage. Our kids sat in awe and wonder as they followed the big foot tracks into the cave in Idaho on a family adventure that they remember IMG_6080well, even though they are now all grown up. As an adult, one of them was lucky enough, while working in Central America to see the legendary entrance to the underworld of Xibalba of the Mayan gods and see the human sacrifices of thousands of years ago.

Caves are the essence of mystery, beauty and wonder in our world. It is no surprise that we seek the allure of traveling underground to see these dark, mysterious, scary, romantic, awe inspiring and naturally beautiful part of the underground world. Seeing and appreciating these natural places that can evoke so many emotions and so much excitement in us is what life is all about! Stir your soul and peak your excitement and interest for life by appreciating these naturally mysterious places.

Dancing and Laughing My Way through the World

I love to travel. If it were free and time was of no concern, I would be gone most of the time exploring. People have asked me many times why I like to travel. I have a standard answer: I love to see the natural beautiful sites, meet the people, taste their food, and hear their music. If there is one thing I have learned through travel, it is that most people are very nice, loving, caring and helpful, no matter where you go. I have also learned that no matter where you are, people like to IMG_9829have fun and enjoy themselves, and as a traveler we are also around other happy travelers. It is the perfect recipe for fun!

Before you travel, you will hear old stereotypes like the people in a particular country are rude to Americans, or that the people are cold and don’t like tourists. I have found none of those stereotypes to be true. If I smile at people and I am polite, they are polite and smile at me. It does not matter what country I am in, if I try their food and compliment them and try my hardest to speak at least a few words of their language, they are appreciative and assist me with my terrible pronunciations, and it usually ends with smiles all around.

Recently when I was in New Zealand and Australia we were in contact with many locals, but also were visiting many of the tourists sites that were also being visited by Japanese and Chinese tourists. Many of them were young people, and particularly there were several groups of college age girls traveling together. Of course, like our kids of the same age, they were constantly taking IMG_1786selfies, so I started photo bombing their pictures.

I would jump right into the picture, right before they took it and would smile like I was with them on vacation. Well they loved it. They instantly erupted in laughter and insisted that I come in on another picture, so it was not blurry and they would reposition so I was in a better spot and would take more pictures. Sometimes others would ask me to be in their pictures too, feeling left out. I did this so often I started joining in and I would say to them, let’s take a family picture. At which point they would all smile wide as they could and would be so excited by my saying that we are all family. They would smile and laugh and we would take a nice picture together. I even got a hug from one of them.100_3200

I talked with some Chinese children at a sheep farm in Australia where we were able to pet the sheep dogs. The children were grade school age and the first question they asked me as we were petting the sheep dogs is whether I had a dog in the States. I told them I did and showed them a picture of Yogi with his Mohawk haircut, at which point they cracked up in giggles and they started pointing and showing their other friends, my crazy looking dog. I asked if they had any pets and they only had fish tanks among them, but would love to have a dog. It was a brief, but fun exchange.100_3210

In Australia we ate a lot of delicious seafood, and we had porridge for breakfast, which is one of the best cooked oatmeal’s I have ever tasted, but we also had to try vegemite. It is served in restaurants like jam in small containers, except it is made from left over brewers yeast and is loaded with vitamins. It is an acquired taste especially with its beer on the tongue aftertaste. Now beer can be delicious, but this is served at breakfast. Those Australians are a hearty bunch.

100_3192We have tasted foods and drinks all over the world. We had pastries with meat in New Zealand, drank Blue Lagoons in Iceland, ate alligator in Florida, pizza in Italy and we ate pork hocks with the locals at a small bar in Frankfurt Germany. We sat at a large table and attempted our best to speak enough German words to get by. They all laughed and luckily spoke English with us. We discussed our families and where our travels would take us next. They told us more about their town and about their plans to visit the States at some point and we laughed the night away.

100_3190When our kids were growing up, we went to Mexico a number of times and even though the kids were young at the time they were always willing to try the food. They loved the fresh fish and they ate salsas every day. We also danced to the music that played every night after dinner, and we went to bed tired and happy. The kids learned to talk with the people and respect and appreciate other cultures. We also had a family vacation to Nova Scotia where the residents had a heavy Scottish accent and ate pizza with hamburger and shrimp on it, but no cheese. Interesting and the kids ate it and seemed to like it. They still talk about the cheese-less pizza with shrimp.

Mex03I travel to experience other possibilities and to learn about the world. James Michener is known for saying: “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people you might better stay home.” He was so right. The people I know who have and do travel a lot, love the diversity of people and their customs and tend to respect others, no matter how different from ourselves. When you talk with people around the world and eat their food and dance to their music, you not only have a wonderful travel experience, but you create family wherever you go. You touch others lives and they touch yours in a way that changes you forever. Laugh, eat and dance your way around the world and you create a world where we can all be family and have connections that survive long after the vacation is over, and hopefully, play a part in creating a better world.

 

 

Drinking Ale in the Green Dragon

There is no doubt that New Zealand has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It is no wonder Peter Jackson chose New Zealand as the location for the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When we planned our recent vacation to New Zealand we had to include a tour ofIMG_6612 the movie set, smartly left in place by agreement between Jackson and the landowners. The green rolling hills of the North Island was the chosen home for the Hobbit shire and the famous Green Dragon saloon.

Reservations are required in advance for tours, as it is visited by about 350,000 people a year. We took a bus deep into the countryside of the Waikato District in the farming community of Matamata to get to the set, now known as Hobbiton. It is a mecca for fans of the Lord of the Rings movies, which were first released in 2001. New Zealand is known as the home of Middle Earth as depicted in these fantasy filled movies. Over 150 locations throughout both the South and the North Islands of New Zealand were used for the filming of the movies, but Hobbiton was the only set left in place.

Jackson loved New Zealand for its rugged mountains, rolling hills, dramatic waterfalls and streams, and the miles of unspoiled open landscape. The story is told on the tours, that Jackson’s location scouts flew over the Alexander’s sheep farm looking for a very large tree by a IMG_2721stream and were so impressed with the area that he negotiated the use of the farm to build the entire shire, which was the home of the Hobbits. The farm still has over 10,000 sheep and 350 to 400 hundred beef cattle on its approximately 1200 acres. The movie set itself, consists of about 12 acres and contains 44 Hobbit holes, built into the hillsides.

The Hobbit homes, surrounded by long lush grass, are scattered among the large trees and gardens. We visited in March. The sun was warm and bright in the deep blue skies above the shire. March is early fall in NZ and the shire gardens were full of large orange pumpkins and dark green vegetables. It looked as though they were ready for a fall festival. We looked for hours and took hundreds of pictures. The more you looked the more detail you recognized at each site. Each Hobbit home was set up to give you clues as to the occupation of the Hobbit who lived there. Some had carpentry tools and others had laundry on their clothes lines. Even now looking back at the pictures I notice details I had not seen before. Flowers, bushes, fruit trees and unique garden gates and painted benches everywhere. Some IMG_6502pictures I took just to have so that I could try to maybe replicate some of this beauty in my own gardens.

We spent an entire afternoon at the shire, learning about how they built the sets, how filming progressed for each movie and how the locals were enlisted to feed three meals a day to approximately 600 people working on the movies. The tour ended as we went over a stone bridge and through the large double doors of the Green Dragon saloon. It was a hit with movie fans. The crowds of happy tourist fans filled the Dragon and the bartenders did all they could to dispense the ale, hard cider and ginger beer as fast as the taps could pour them. We grabbed a IMG_6593table with other people from our day tour after looking around at the oversized stone fire places and the famous wood carving of the Green Dragon above the entire west bar.

We also booked a four wheel tour around Queenstown, NZ on the South Island which was also used for filming. We drove on the mountain roads and through the streams as our guide pointed out the Remarkables, a set of jagged mountains used extensively in the Lord of the Rings movies. Our driver would even stop midstream sometimes to cue up on his iPad, to show us the scene in the movie filmed in the area in front of our Jeep. It was such a fun trip and so fun to be on location of one of the most epic fantasy films ever made, from one of the best IMG_6640books ever written.

English author, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings and it was first published in 1954. The story was conceived by the author’s creative and limitless imagination, and then luckily he was also talented enough to be able to describe what he had created on paper into his books. Many years later, one of the most talented filmmakers, also blessed with that limitless imagination dreamt of making the epic fantasy novels into epic movies and did so with creative genius and creativity. Walking in and amongst the movie sets made us feel closer to the author IMG_6653and the filmmaker and brought the films and the books to life.

Touching talent like this is rare and should be celebrated. On the surface it was one of the most beautiful locations anyone could be in whether there was a movie set or not, but when one contemplated J. R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s creativity and the bravery the showed in following their dreams to make this fantasy come alive for all to enjoy, it makes me appreciate theIMG_6677 abilities that comes forward in all of us when we believe we can accomplish anything. I am sure they ran into road blocks and nay sayers on their path to success, but they did not let themselves be dissuaded in their quest to follow their dreams.

By being a part of the magic we were reminded that there is no dream too big, and as we finished our tour of Hobbiton, in the Green Dragon Saloon, conceived in the mind of J. R. R. Tolkien and brought to life by Jackson in the movie, we raised our glass of ale to both men and to all those creative souls who fill our lives with fantasy and fun.   We took time to appreciate them and be grateful! Be grateful in your lives for those things that make life fun.

IMG_6666