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.

Life Appreciated from the Water

IMG_3937They say water is the essence of life. I understand that statement. It is for sure a powerful physical and emotional force in my life. I am not sure what it is about water, but whether it is rain on my face or swimming in a cool lake in the summer, it affects my mood, it cleanses my soul, and nourishes my body. Water makes me feel healthy and calm. It is such a simple concept that many times we forget in our quest and stress of making a living.

I have always been attracted to water. When I was growing up on the farm we had a water hole to swim in and we had two creeks to play in. Neither was very big, but both had running water all summer and I spent an inordinate amount of time walking and playing in it. I remember walking with bare feet in the cold spring waters as it rushed over the rocky bottom. I remember cooling IMG_3769off in the hot summer sun. The water was an important part of our entertainment growing up on the farm.

We swam in the water hole on hot summer days, and when I was not playing in the creeks, I was pretending that our house was a large ship on the ocean and the lawn was the water. I pretended to walk on the sidewalks, that in my mind was the deck of the ship and I would jump onto the grass and pretended to swim with dolphins and look for sharks and rays. We did not have video games, but we sure had vivid imaginations.

We also went on picnics and swimming in the local lakes almost every weekend with our cousins. It was the late sixties and early seventies and so the parents were not vigilant, like they IMG_2717are expected to be now. Our parents and uncles and aunts sat at the picnic tables and played cards or talked while the kids all swam in the lake. The older ones watched out for the younger ones and we were expected not to drift into water over our head unless we could swim. I think we all swam well and nobody died even though no one was watching us. It was a different time.

We had a boat when I was a little older on the farm and we learned quickly how to water ski. I got really good at it from having my evil brothers drive the boat and try to dump me off of my skis. They would zig zag, drive fast and then slow to throw me as hard as they could into the water around every turn. Of course when it was my turn to drive, I paid them back big time.IMG_3591

I went to college in Duluth and lived by Lake Superior. I spent a lot of time when not studying looking at the ship wreck files at the Duluth Harbor Museum and walking or driving the north
shore. In 2004 I finally became certified in scuba diving and I have made the ocean a part of many of our trips over the years.

I still love the water. Living on the water and being older has given me a new appreciation for life. Life looks different and feels different when you are on the water. It IMG_3512does not matter how busy a day I have had or how stressed or busy I feel, the minute I am on the water my blood pressure lowers and my stress melts away. If I am in a meeting at work, I sometimes day dream of walking into the water from our beach and I imagine lowering into the water and gently swimming away from the shore. I can feel the cool refreshing water, which is a nice dream compared to the stale air and old coffee smell in the office conference room. I cannot wait to get home every night. We can take a relaxing pontoon ride around the lake or just sit and watch the water. Morning coffee is relaxing and early morning weekend kayaking has become a ritual.

Life looks different from the water. You have time to reflect and to appreciate the simple beauty of our great outdoors. I watch and hear the birds as a glide silently along the lake, and as I do, I appreciate life itself. We have an otter who makes a surprise appearance every IMG_2357once in a while, and the bass literally jump out of the water in front of my kayak. I sometimes have my dog Yogi along, and he has his own life jacket. He seems as caught up in the moment as I do sometimes. He sits and takes it all in, content to sit in front of me, as we glide along the clear lake. Just recently I bought a glass bottom kayak to be able to see the lake world below me as I glide along. I tried it on Lake Michigan looking at the ship wrecks as we would glide over the old sunken wooden boats, some from over 100 years ago. I cannot wait to see what I can find in my lake and it will now add a level of adventure and exploration to my weekend kayaking.

It is not often in our busy lives where we have the luxury of just appreciating life, being grateful IMG_3425for everything we have, our health and our ability to enjoy the beauty around us. Reflecting on how far we have come and how beautiful life is. I sometimes stop paddling and just exist. I am caught in the moment. Appreciating life from the water gives perspective to everything.

It grows appreciation for what we have and for the beauty around, and our problems seem small in comparison. Those problems that seemed large on land become insignificant and very solvable from this on the water perspective. The fast pace of life slows with the waves of the water and our life purpose is realized as not to work ourselves into the ground, but to live each day in appreciation for what we have and for what is really important in life.

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Happily Ever After

In 1984, I was a Labor and Delivery nurse at Ramsey Medical Center and I had just started law school. My brother Dave was always my partner in crime growing up on the farm and we had remained close even after college. Our lives were too busy starting our careers to spend a lot of time together, but he was always the IMG_0700first one I called if I had a flat tire or needed a new battery. I even consulted him to help me find my first apartment. I trusted him and relied upon him, but when he called in the fall of 1984 and said he had the perfect guy for me, I was more than skeptical.

Actually to be honest, I had zero trust that he had any idea what I was looking for in a guy. He told me he had met this guy at work, had gone fishing with him (a sure sign of good character) and he was perfect for me. Dave was a chemist and his work buddy was a PhD chemist. Dave wanted to set up a blind date. I had never been on a blind date and thought the idea was crazy, but because it was Dave, I agreed.

This guy named Joe called me to set up our blind date dinner. The night before the date I cleaned my apartment, because that is what we did back then. I didn’t want him to think I was messy, even if I still had zero confidence in the success of this blind date. On the night in question, fall was fully in the air, and I selected a pink sweater and a skirt to go to dinner. He was a coworker of Dave’s, and even if it did not work out, I did not want to ruin Dave’s relationship with Joe.

Joe picked me up on time, and to my surprise he was nice, relaxed, and most importantly could carry on a very interesting and fun conversation. I had dated a lot of men who were decent and hard working, but some were boring or just not very bright or had offensive world or political IMG_3814 (1)views. Joe had been raised in a German Catholic home in New Ulm Minnesota. Both of us had grown up with brothers and sisters, and had grown up in the rural areas of Minnesota.  I can say after all of this time that having a similar background and similar religious, political and world views is important in a long term relationship. Those shared experiences help in everything from our world views, to views on marriage, and most importantly child rearing.

Joe and I had a lovely dinner on that fall evening together, and spent a few hours afterward just talking in my apartment. As skeptical as I was before the date, I had turned 180 degrees. I called my brother after the date to report how it went. I told him, “This is a man I could marry.” I had never said or thought that before about anyone else.

This was a man I could marry and I did. We were engaged within a year and married within 2 years. The ceremony was in one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in Minnesota, and we IMG_3818had a heck of an open bar and dinner. Weddings in rural Minnesota back then were an all day affair and a lot of fun. We took our commitment to each other seriously back then and still do. This week is our 30th Anniversary.

Joe and I raised our three great kids together and have been partners in our adventures whether it be world travel, adventures to the zoo, or the emergency room for stitches with the kids. We have negotiated through soccer, hockey, and work schedules, and managed to share the household chores and yet have time for dinners together and a private laugh after the kids were in bed. Now as empty nesters we have reconnected for some relaxation, travel, and a lifestyle that refocuses back on us as a couple.

IMG_3816They say if you are a close couple you finish each other’s sentences. It is more like you correct each other’s sentences when you have been married a long time. I have heard my parents who have been married for over 60 years do it and we do it too. I believe it is because we have spent so much time together, have had so many shared experiences, and we both remember them differently at times. But, arguing as a couple is not a bad thing. We don’t argue about anything big, just little details.

They say the opposite of love is hate, but that is not true. The opposite of love is indifference. Only when you care about a relationship or care about a person do you fight to make it better. Show me a couple that does not bicker or care about each other or about the relationship and I will show you a couple that will not stay together.   You can only be driven mad or become mad about things you care about. Joe and I have been angry with one another, IMG_2198but never for long and never about anything big. We care, therefore we have strong feelings about each other. That is the sign of love.

I believe after all these years that finding a nice person as your spouse is THE most important thing. Everything else is secondary. Joe is one of the nicest, kindest, caring, sensitive, gentle guys I ever met. He also was, and is, an outstanding father and husband because of it. He could look at me when I was hugely pregnant and bloated with dark circles under my eyes and he could convincingly tell me how great I looked. He left hostess snowballs over the years on my steering wheel for no reason, because he knew I liked them a lot, especially when I was pregnant. He drove thousands of miles in our Yukon without complaint to show our kids at all ages the entire US and Canada by road trip. He fixed the kids cars and he worked hard for his family.

As a spouse of 30 years I can say he and I have had a lot of fun together, but I have also appreciated having him by my side for support and to share all of life’s journeys, both good and bad. We navigated the uncertainties of parenting, and I can say we are both stronger for the other. The companionship, friendship, and intimacy were all important for a full life. He has been a sounding board and a calm influence. He hasIMG_3717 been someone to talk to when needing an opinion. He has been a true partner. I saw Joe cry 5 times in our 30 years together. He cried the day we said our marriage vows 30 years ago, and he cried when each of our three children were delivered, and when we lost one of our babies through miscarriage. He is a strong, but sensitive family man that has shown his true character through his actions without bragging or without needing to be recognized.

Joe has provided the balance in my life and the JOY for 30 years, and I know that I am a lucky person. You never know if you have the Happily Ever After until you have the years behind you, with full hindsight. After 30 years, I can say with full confidence that I have my Happily Ever After. I IMG_1394have a friend and a companion. I have a guy who enjoys traveling, biking, hiking and any adventures the two of us can dream up. We have fun going to Menards on a weekend and doing projects in the house as much as going to dinner. I have a true partner who shares my life, yet we are both comfortable enough that sometimes he watches his Twins and I can watch my romantic comedies.

We have swam In the seven sacred pools on the road to Hanna in Hawaii and went shark cage driving in New Zealand. We have hiked in Alaska and warmed ourselves in the hot springs of Iceland, but all of our adventures have been better because we were able to share them together. I have my Happily Ever After! Happy Anniversary to the nicest guy a girl could ever have dreamed of in her life. Happy Anniversary to my Joe!

Embrace Your Days, Embrace Your Life

Just this week I heard a neighbor say she cannot wait for July in Minnesota to be over because she likes to walk and it is too hot and sticky for that now. The first thing I thought of was how can anyone complain about summer in Minnesota after such a long winter? That same day at Target I heard a young mom tell her friend she cannot wait for her kids to be out of diapers, and her friend replied she cannot wait for her kids to be out of daycare. Now I know these moms are probably just cash
20140524_204551strapped and tired, and I remember those days well, but it made me think how often we use this phrase to wish our time away. I have done it many times myself, but as I get older I realize how time flies.

The days fly by, the months fly by, and the years when my kids were in diapers flew by. Their years in school are now a blur. As Benjamin Franklin said, “life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.” Ben Franklin was so wise! We too often wish our lives away without appreciating each unique and wonderful time, whether it is the season of the year or the place in our life. I have made it a point to be present and to enjoy and make the most of where I am not only physically, but where I am in my life and career. I have learned that attitude is everything.

I have learned to appreciate each season.  I love our summers especially now living on the water, but I also like it when the season turns cool and the leaves change. I love putting on a plaid shirt and long pants after a long hot summer and walking among the changing leaves. I like a warm 100_6578 (2)fire in the outdoor fire ring on a cool crisp October evening. I like pulling out the Christmas decorations in December and the smell of the house when I bake Christmas treats.

We have such distinct seasons, and I know if I was not in Minnesota I would miss those dramatic changes. I have plenty to keep me busy in the dark cold winter months, especially as a writer. It is a lot easier to try to work on those novels when the lake is frozen over and my kayaks and paddle board are all stored for the winter. I also think I would grow weary of my water sports if I could do them year round. Maybe I just think that because I don’t live in California. But as the lake melts in the spring and the sun becomes brighter and icicles can be seen through the windows, melting from their tight grip on the shingles of our roof, I become excited for the warmth of spring and the possibilities that spring holds for the garden and our outdoor biking and hiking.

I enjoyed my college years even though I distinctly remember thinking how nice it would be to be done and not have to study for any more exams. I was wishing those free and fun loving years away and as much as I wanted to be done, I clearly liked the challenge of education, because I later continued on to law school for more exams and more challenges, and in hindsight the20140221_085600 (1)years sped by leaving me with some of the best friends and memories ever.

My years starting a career and making a name for myself in the legal community was challenging and fun, and as much as I tried to embrace the challenges, I have to admit that I sometimes dreaded the tedious work. I have to say however, that the part I embraced most was the extreme high of a job well done and an appreciative client, accomplished by either a win in the courtroom or in negotiating the best possible outcome in a bad situation.

I loved it when my kids were babies, even though I was tired a lot. They were so cuddly, and I loved it later when they could talk and run and they were fun to take to the zoo, the fair and on vacation. We ate ice cream and we made faces at giraffes. They were easy to please in those years with lots of energy and hugs. However, I also liked the teenage years. They had good ideas and some bad ones, but they were fun to talk with, most of the time. They also needed their NorthCascdesWAspace to grow, think and just be with their own friends. I appreciated and tried to respect their need to be able to express their own opinions as they grew into adulthood.

Our empty nest years are just starting and this simpler way of life, at the peak of our careers is easy to enjoy. We have money to travel and time to enjoy life. We have done our careers long enough that we are good at it and it is less stressful. We are both in careers where gray hair is a positive thing, in that experience, age and wisdom are all appreciated and sought after. That is a good thing.

I have tried my best at appreciating what I have and where I am, but with age has come wisdom, to truly embrace my days and embrace my life. I have worked hard for what I have, but I have also been very fortunate and I know that. I appreciate each day and I like sunny days as well as those cozy, lightning filled stormy days of pouring rain. I have learned to cherish my time and spend less time on things I do not enjoy. Don’t wish your life away. Life flies by fast enough. Time is precious and our life is precious. This is the most important wisdom that has come with age. Your little problems of yesterday fade quickly in the days and months that pass. Respect your time on this earth and cherish each season and each stage of life. Embrace each day and embrace the joy of your life.

 

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.

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