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.

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.

Seeking Wild Penguins

There are many penguins on display in zoos. You can watch them swim and dive in their little tuxedo looking suits. They are the cutest things ever. You cannot help but smile when watching them. I had only seen penguins in the wild in Alaska and I felt as if I were experiencing something rare and beautiful. There is something special about seeing animals in their natural habitat, especially if they are rare and far from your own home.IMG_6907

When we recently traveled to New Zealand, I was sure after doing my research that I wanted to try to see the elusive and rare, yellow-eyed penguins. If you see the picture on the internet, you know right away that this is something rare and beautiful. It is not the textbook tuxedo looking penguins we have seen in zoos. Yellow-eyed penguins are not easy to find, even on nature excursions. I always try to plan some things for vacation that are not a sure thing. I don’t know why such self challenges are so fun, but it is exciting when you try something that may turn out to be a good effort, but unsuccessful and maybe even disappointing.

There are plenty of sure things if you plan well, like traveling to see the geysers on the North Island of New Zealand. They have been there for thousands of years, and you know they’ll still be there when you go see them. But these penguins intrigued me. I don’t like being disappointed, but I like that I tried and truthfully, I always say I am one of the luckiest people ever, so I have a good chance at success. I usually see the rare sights, but if not, I have the right positive attitude and appreciate the effort of trying.

IMG_6888The yellow-eyed penguins live on a peninsula by the town of Dunedin, on the east side of the South Island of New Zealand. I was armed with information regarding the available excursions, and hoped for some good weather to be able to trek and search for the penguins.

I planned our trip with the peninsula excursion, and to cover my bases, I talked to the guides and made sure there was other wildlife to see in case we did not find the penguins. They assured me the four wheel van ride there and back would be lovely, and we would stop to see other wildlife on the way. Once we reached the end of the road we would have a challenging hike from the top of the sea bluffs to the coast, and we actually had to do that twice in two different locations. That was enough of an incentive alone to do the trek, so I booked it. I love good hikes and I love seeing beautiful countryside, and any kind of wildlife in a foreign country is exciting.

They picked us up at our hotel, and because it was a bit chilly we dressed in our warm jackets covered by our rain gear for wind protection, hats, mittens and hiking boots. The van was full of other explorer tourists, all filled with anticipation and cameras in hand. Everyone shared information about what they knew about the penguins. You could hear the excitement in people’s voices, all hoping as a group that we could see these rare creatures together.

We drove out of the city and through the hills until we reached the narrow dirt roads. We drove along the edges of cliffs with no guard rails protecting us from the steep cliffs below. It is always extra fun when there’s a feel of danger on a trek.IMG_6918

After about an hour, we ran out of road at the top of the cliffs overlooking the sea. We got out and headed onto the hiking trail and started in a zigzag fashion down the hills. Some areas were a little steep, but it was a very nice hike. It was late afternoon heading into evening, and even though the sun felt bright at first, it was low enough in the sky that we were happy to have our layers of clothing. We heard we were more likely to see the penguins at this time of day, as they feed in the ocean most of the day, and rest on land at night away from predators.

IMG_6988As we got closer to the bottom of the cliff, our guide stopped dead and spoke in hushed tones. He pointed out a yellow eyed penguin almost standing on our trail and blocking our way. It was standing in the sun as if posed to sun itself. Our guide actually pointed out that it was cooling itself in the breeze. I referred to it as a penguin with attitude. It stood there with its bright yellow eyes and yellowish head in its perfect little penguin tuxedo. It looked like it was about to say something profound or let out a war cry, just to be sassy.

It seemed not to mind that we were snapping picture and video, as we tried not to get too close or to scare it. Everyone kept their distance and did not move around a lot, as we had been instructed on our way there. Also, no flash photography, and everyone was very good about observing that rule. I really want to see beautiful things, but I also try to follow all of the rules to make sure we IMG_6931preserve these beautiful creatures for other generations. The rule is to observe, but do not harm or interfere with them.

The little guy eventually dawdled off and we continued down to the beach. We walked by sea lions wrestling with each other and taking naps on the beach, which I loved. My husband and I snapped selfies with them in the back ground and we watched as they growled, fake bit each other and wrestled like middle school boys with too much energy.

We kept moving down the beach and found another penguin along the trial hanging out in the shade under a bush. We had field goggles along and scanned the hillsides for even more penguins that had already found their resting place for the night. We cackled with eaIMG_7008ch other about how lucky we were to see not only one, but multiple yellow-eyed penguins, and to get so many nice close up pictures and watch their little shenanigans on the sun drenched cliffs. What a treasured memory for years to come for all of us. They were peaceful, yet playful, hopeful and joy filled waddling on the warm grass abutting the ocean sand.

We made our way back up the cliffs, huffing and puffing all of the way, giving ourselves the best cardiac stress test possible, only to then go down another cliff on the other side, and observe the fur seals with their babies. There were nursing mothers and babies playing on the jagged wet rocks. Our guide filled us in on the habits and statistics on fur seals as we snapped picturesIMG_6967 and marveled at the beauty of the cold foamy sea and the rocky cliffs, full of chocolate-brown fur seals in the backdrop of the bright orange setting sun.

As we trekked back up the hill and quietly made our way back in the dark along the narrow roads to the city, we could see the Southern Cross constellation, and the billions of stars in the southern night sky. We were victorious in our quest to see the rare yellow-eyed penguins, and along with our feeling of accomplishment, we again were reminded that nature nurtures. We were cold and tired physically, but we were mentally and spiritually refreshed and renewed. Rare and beautiful things inspire us and fill our lives with joy and wonder, and are worth pursuing with our time and our energy.

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Finding Inspiration

It is funny how sometimes a simple gesture or event can lead to tremendous inspiration. Many times, in hindsight, it is not earth shattering but leads to a feeling that lasts for years or even changes our thinking.   In 2008 I was attending a Bar Association convention in Duluth. The guest speaker was Will Steger, the Minnesota born polar explorer and now activist for climate change. This is a guy I have read about and admired for years. We all followed him over the years when in 1986 he completed the first unsupported dog sled journey to the North Pole. He went on to alsoIMG_5360 explore Greenland from South to North by dogsled, and in 1989 he went 3,471 miles across Antarctica again by dog sled. I remember seeing pictures of him and his team and his dogs back in the 1980’s and we were all impressed at how he and his team could survive in such harsh conditions. To say he was inspirational in the 1980s would be an understatement. This is a guy who had a crazy dream, but did what it took to follow that dream. Instead of thinking about wild adventures this guy went on wild adventures.

I knew Steger must be a tough and courageous guy, but it surprised me when I heard him speak at the Bar convention, and I realized how humble and likable he was. He definitely has a passion for educating us all on climate change and he should. This is clearly a serious problem that he has seen first hand. However, instead of preaching hate or blame, he is all about the educational piece and about a call to action for the greater good. His presentation started with how he was raised by great parents who let him explore his surroundings. He was clearly grateful to them for a good start in life and gave them a lot of credit. They let him explore even at a young age and to follow his dream, even allowing him and a friend or brother to take a boat down the Mississippi by themselves.

His presentation involved great pictures of his team of people that went on each expedition and of course pictures of his dogs, but also the pictures of melting glaciers and the loss of ice caps. He has been asked to speak frequently in Congress and all over the world on climate change, because of his knowledge and first hand experience and because he is an impressive and charismatic guy who can inspire us all. This is a man who inspires us to do better and to be better about protecting our environment through his humble quiet presentation. This is a noble thing, but I found deeper inspiration as I sat and listened to his presentation in that Duluth convention hall.

In 2008 I had three teenagers, ages nineteen, sixteen and fourteen and was getting to that point in my life where my kids were becoming more self sufficient. They were expecting and getting more autonomy and I expected good decisions from them and to be more mature than most of IMG_5359their friends. My husband and I were busy in our careers and busy with family things. Listening to Will talk about his family and how his parents loved him and expected great things from him, but did not hover, inspired me to give my own kids more leeway, but yet hold them accountable. I had few hard and fast rules, but I expected good grades, to be home at a decent hour, and they had to treat others with respect. I warned them that if they showed me that they needed strict rules by their behavior, I would be happy to give them strict rules. I never set a curfew and I never had to. They knew they had to be home at a reasonable hour depending on the day of the week and whether they had school the next day and what was reasonable depended upon their age and they knew that. They knew that if they were coming home late there better be a real great reason.

We lived on three acres of woods surrounded by acres and acres of preserve with a large pond attached to our property. The kids were always able to explore the woods with us when they were younger and by themselves or with their friends when they were older. We always encouraged outdoor adventures and encouraged curiosity through outdoor exploration. When my son showed an interest in hunting, I was fortunate enough to be able to send him out to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in Ortonville, Minnesota, to oversee his first hunting experience after he went through gun safety training. When my high school senior daughter wanted to visit one of our foreign exchange students in Germany by herself that summer, we helped her work out the details to try the best we could to make sure it was well planned and safe and we let her go with our blessing.

My kids had no idea how much Will Steger may have inspired some of that autonomous parenting that we had in place. I have to say I was parented like that so I certainly leaned towards more independence for my kids, but a lot of their friends had really strict rules. I chose a different style and it worked.

I not only had inspiration for how I raised my kids as I listened to Steger back in 2008, but after the presentation I stood in line to buy one of his posters and to get his autograph and have a few seconds to talk with him and tell him IMG_5369how inspiring he was and is. I had seen the picture before. It was mainly of a beautiful blue sky hanging over the white blowing landscape of Antarctica. The dogs are curled in the snow in the foreground, tails protecting their faces in their harnesses waiting to get started for the day. Steger is in the picture in full Antarctic garb making the last tie downs on the over-full sled the dogs will soon be pulling across the harsh ice covered landscape. It is a beautiful picture for sure, but it represents so much more. As I stood in line looking at the poster, it was hard not to see past the beauty, to the challenge of what he had accomplished. This was no joy ride with sled dogs. This was a daily life and death struggle over more than 3000 miles. Some people had tried before him and died.

As I approached him I tried to formulate a nice statement to him, to express my admiration for him and his life’s work to educate us on environmental concerns. I have to say that my respect for him was also more than what he accomplished, but that he had in fact had a life of exploration and education as opposed to a run of the mill, work a day life. When it was my turn, he asked my name and we talked a little about the environment and he seemed sincere in his appreciation for my kind statements to him.

I shook his hand and when I left I looked at what he had written on the poster. It said, “Joan, Follow your dreams! My Best, Will Steger 2008.” Now I am sure he has written that line many times on many posters, but I felt like he was talking directly to me. It felt like he was telling me that all is possible and that no matter who you are, dreams are still important and you can work IMG_5366to realize them. This came to me at a time when it meant more than anything else. We were busy with our lives and sometimes overwhelmed with family schedules and it provided that inspiration to really think about our dreams and aspirations as individuals and as a family. To remember that toiling away is not the important part of life, but adventure and dreams are why we live.

I had that poster framed and I have had it in my home since 2008. I have read that statement “Follow your dreams” many times over the years and looked upon that young explorer in the picture willing to risk it all to follow his dreams. My dreams are not nearly as lofty, but they are mine. I look to the poster for inspiration in life and to stay encouraged in living life to the fullest and to have courage in pursuing my dreams. Inspiration can be found in little things. Use what works for you to stay encouraged in life and living it to the fullest.

A View From The Sky

When I first started dating my husband Joe, some 32 years ago, he had always said that he was afraid of heights. Afraid maybe is too strong a word. He would say things like I don’t like heights and I am not comfortable with heights. Heights make him woozy or dizzy. After almost 30 years of marriage I can say he was mistaken and I adv04have the pictures to prove it.

In 1986 we went to Hawaii on our honeymoon, and even though he was defining himself as uncomfortable with heights, he agreed to go on a helicopter ride over the mountains of Kauai. The helicopter swooped and dived through the mountains, over edges, and waterfalls. He hung on and so did I, but we saw some of the most beautiful scenery on the garden island that was only visible from the air. The lush adv08green mountains grew as cliffs out of the Pacific Ocean. We could see the waves crashing onto the shores below as we flew low and fast, the pilot deliberately turning the helicopter onto its side to give us the perfect view and a brag worthy ride. He gave us just the right amount of comfort in the craft, and his skills, offering high speed
turns and dips gave an exciting feeling of danger. He was adv07
a good tour guide.

We wore our little headsets to listen as he gave us the name of each waterfall and bay. He pointed out all of the tour highlights and we were able to ask him questions about the landscape. I had never been on a helicopter before and had the same uncomfortable feeling about it before we started, but it quickly became a favorite experience for both of us.

adv09On that same trip I told him I was a little afraid to go snorkeling way out in the ocean. He had been to Hawaii before and he reassured me on the boat to the snorkel site that I would love it and it was perfectly safe, even though the boat tour guide indicated that the snorkelers sometimes see sharks. The guide even gave us directions on what to do if we saw any large sharks, so I was a little nervous as we hit the water. We descended the stairs of the large tour Catamaran right into the water with our masks on and ready, but as I got in I accidentally got some sea water in my mouth, and as if surprised, I started breathing shallow and quick. He turned to me and said adv05in a really calm, but questioning voice, “What are you doing? Put your snorkel in.” It snapped me right out of it and I laughed and put the snorkel in and he grabbed my hand and we were snorkeling. We saw fish of all colors, but no sharks. I was in love with a new sport. I went on over the years to snorkel all over with Joe, including Cozumel, Mexico, the Florida Keys and Costa Rica, and about 10 years ago I even became a certified Scuba Diver.

A few years after Hawaii, Joe and I went on a helicopter ride down into the Grand Canyon. The helicopter took us over Hoover Dam and over the edge of the canyon. It had the same great mix of beauty, danger and a comfort in the pilot’s skills, as our adv02Hawaii experience did years earlier. We took off from Las Vegas where Joe was attending a conference. Flying over the Vegas strip was a part of the tour that was surprisingly interesting. I am usually only interested in the nature and natural beauty, but looking at the Vegas strip from above, with the many people walking the streets from casino to casino was surprisingly cool. It looked like a colorful river moving in unison along the sidewalks. Of course the canyon was the best.

After we had swooped in and out of the Grand Canyon, seeing some of the best highlights, we landed on a plateau about halfway down where we had a champagne brunch. It was amazing. Those red rocky deep cliffs and the sparse vegetation were adv01beautiful. I have hiked the Grand Canyon but, there was no better way to see a lot of the most famous parts of the Canyon in a small amount of time than to fly over it and get that bird’s eye view.

We have done a lot of things involving uncomfortable heights and things that took us out of our comfort zone. On our European vacation for our twenty fifth anniversary, we took the steep railroad up to the top of the mountain in Innsbruck, Austria. It was the railroad used during the Olympics. We also took the railroad to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado when we were on our intergenerational trip with my parents and our kids. Both took us to great heights and gave us that bird’s eye view_MG_2085 that almost makes a person light headed. It was fabulous.

In 2014 we went to Costa Rica and we zip lined in the rain forest canopy. Our platforms were so tall, they had to build onto the large trees because they were too tall to be braced to the ground below. That was exciting and a little scary, but we were bound and determined to give that a try and we both agreed we would do that again.

We have made it a point not to let small adv03fears define us. If Joe and I would have always taken the safe route and not done things that made us uncomfortable we would have missed out on a lot of very exhilarating experiences. We decided long
ago not to let our fears define or limit us, and we have been good in encouraging each other even when our gut feeling may not agree.

They say you should go with your gut, but that old adage is wrong when it comes to travel and adventure. Your gut many times tells you to be afraid and cautious, but if you never did anything that was a little scary and out of your comfort zone, you would never have that exhilarating feeling of flying sideways over a waterfall on Kauai, getting a bird’s eye view of the Grand Canyon or tasting the salty ocean water and watching for sharks.adv06