Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven

Photographer Unknown

Recently, in a restless moment, I decided to dive into a challenging item on my Bucket list. Somehow restlessness = challenge in my line of thought. Maybe I just needed to have another one of those “let’s see what you are made of” adventures just to give me the courage to keep fighting the daily challenges of selling a house, parenting a middle school child, starting a new business and running a church! Believe me, each one of these is a major undertaking in itself, and lately, I feel like I am working my tail off, but not getting where I want to be. This is frustrating. Anyway, I think that’s why I decided it was time to hike the Incline in Colorado Springs.

Friendly Conversations
A week or so ago, I was chatting with co-workers and my boss and mentioned I wanted to do the Incline this summer. We left the conversation at that and moved on to more pressing matters like electrical pumps and finance committee reports and meetings, until Thursday around 4:00 pm when my boss walked in from meetings and asked “what are you doing at 7:00 am tomorrow?” Talk about a loaded question! I paused. “I don’t know, what do you want me to be doing?” I timidly threw back at him, trying to leave myself an out in case he was looking for “volunteers” for some kind of major spring cleaning activity around the church.

“How about hiking the Incline with Father Mark?” he asked.

“Whoa” I thought, “I didn’t see that one coming. Tomorrow at 7:00 am was only 15 hours away! Who is Father Mark? I have work to be doing! My daughter has no school what do I do with her? Can I really make it up to the top of the Incline? I hope this Father Mark guy is a patient kind of man!” All these thoughts raced across my mind in the next nanosecond.

“Hmmmmm, I don’t know, can I call you tonight and let you know.” I tired to leave the door just a tiny bit open in case I experienced a major panic attack.

I went home, conducted a detailed research of the Incline just to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I found some beautiful pictures online and a few really intimidating ones. My reaction was that you should almost be tied off with a rope to be on that kind of a slope, no safety net or belaying friend below to save your tail if you fell. I made my decision. I called my friend and begged her to join me in this misery fest!

Father Mark
Next came the awkward call to Father Mark. He has never met me or even seen a picture of me, he has no idea who I am, what kind of shape I am in, or how old and decrepit I am. Talk about a man of faith!

I gave him a call and started asking questions like what kind of shoes, is there snow at the top, what are the temps, how do you get down if you get to the top, do you haul water, where and when would we meet, the easy stuff. Then I tossed him the hand grenade of all questions. “How long do you think it will take a first-timer?” I realize how unfair of a question that was, I mean, he has no idea if I have ever hiked to my own mail box, much less done anything more challenging. “I would say at least an hour, more if you stop to rest,” he answered. (Heck yes, I am going to have to stop and rest, I thought) He said he has friends that he does the Incline with that are runners and they do it in 28 minutes. He however, admitted that it took him 45 minutes to do.

That was it; we struck a deal and made our arrangements. Now all I had to do was get some sleep.

Next morning Susan and I hit the road at 5:45 am and met Father Mark at the base of the trail. We grabbed our gear, Camelback, jacket, snack, toilet paper, camera, phone etc and off we went. It wasn’t until we got to the first set of steps that I realized Father Mark had hauled nothing. He was going very light. Hmmmmm. Fighting the urge to question him about his choices (I believe in the Boy Scout mantra of Always Be Prepared) we forged ahead.

As I stood at the base of the stairs and looked up, it was impossible not to be intimidated. The old cog railroad left an impressive scar on Pikes Peak Mountain from the base straight up as far as the eye could see. The top was currently cloaked in a light fog, so the stairs just sort of disappeared into the sky. It was striking. It was a Stairway to Heaven. (“Stairway to Heaven, Led Leppelin, 1971) How cool.

Next, I noticed the little bitty dots of moving people on the stairs. It was 7:00 am on a Friday morning, and I was amazed at the large number of other crazy people dreaming of overcoming the Incline.

Faced with only two choices at this time, either start going up or run for the parking lot. I took a deep breath, the last time I did so without my lungs being on fire, and put one foot in front of the other.

At this point, my dear friend Susan, mentioned to us that we would be going up 5000 steps, gaining 2000 feet elevation in just over one mile. The majority of the stairs are at a 40% incline, but there are very steep parts that hit 65%. Holy Guacamole!

As we walked on, my mind began to process my new reality. Yes, it was extremely pretty, the stairs were blanketed on each side by a veritable forest of Christmas trees. Tall Ponderosa Pines everywhere were stretching to the sky and gently swaying in the breeze. Huge boulders were randomly scatted on the hillside, adding to the amazing beauty of this place.

The people on this trail were interesting. They were all friendly and most seemed kind. Each was faced with their individual demons to face down on this journey to the sky, so most walked on in a determined, thoughtful, and consistent, paced manner. By nature of the steep percentage of grade, the people on the trail that day all had assumed the same posture. They leaned into the stairway, trying to get their equilibrium in balance with the slope of the mountain. They looked down at the trail immediately in front of them, intent on taking the next thoughtful step. The reality is that you had to do this. The steps were not created to be a nice, easy, winding stairway with beautiful curved banisters, that would allow you to stop and enjoy the sights along the way, and keep you safe at the same time.

No, this trail was engineered for a cog railroad supply train. It was created for function; it had a job to do. The steps were old, cut railroad ties, nailed into place with huge steel spikes. The amount of space between the steps was uneven at best, some required huge strides, and others equally unexpectedly short. Some of the steel spikes were uneven with the ties and presented a trip hazard. The trail was not nicely covered in cement or other smooth material; it was loose gravel and slipped easily under your feet. There were no benches on the side for peaceful meditation and reflection, offering a nice respite from the journey. The spring mountain snow melt had caused deep gouges of runoff that had seriously further scarred the trail. Volunteers had attempted to shore up the really vulnerable spots with pieces of leftover wood, but at the best it looked insecure, at the worst downright dangerous.

Anything at altitude is a challenge, and anyone who has hiked even the flattest trail can tell you it is different when the air is thin and your lungs have to work overtime to bring in and process the oxygen needed to breathe. I have even hiked a trail to the top of a 14,000 ft mountain, (we call them 14’ers) but that too, is different than the Incline. On the mountain trail, the path wanders in small S curves, picking its way through the challenges of the individual mountain terrain. This trail just went straight up.

As I slowly worked my way up the mountain, I quickly realized the ticket to success. Breathe, exhale, step, lean in to protect yourself from a fatal fall backwards, watch the step you are on, and the one coming up next. If necessary, lean down, to the point you are almost on hands and knees, use your hands to pick your way up. Don’t stand up and stop to review your progress. Your blood pools and you immediately feel as if standing upright is actually leaning back. Your balance is off, and it is really easy to loose your equilibrium. The same advice goes for standing up and looking upward. It messes with your brain and your equilibrium. You feel as if you have not made any progress at all, even though you know that you have been working hard, and putting one foot in front of the other.

Sometimes, the view from this angle is distorted anyway. It can look like you are almost there and when you experience this “fake top” it is really discouraging, as you climb over the crest, thinking you will be greeted with the beauty of the views of the summit, and instead, are faced with a second,, seemingly endless trail of stairs.

I am not trying to make this sound impossible. It isn’t impossible. I am also not trying to make it sound easy. It isn’t easy in any way.

I did not expect to be so struck by an almost surreal spiritualness on this journey. But time and time again, I was hit by the revelation that this adventure was a striking metaphor for my life as a Christian, trying to follow Jesus Christ. I am buying a Stairway to Heaven, like my favorite rock song of all time says. I don’t get to “buy” with money, my way into heaven, or anything else that truly matters, I have to earn it, all by myself, one step at a time. I am buying my stairway with thoughtful intention and the dedication I put into focusing my efforts on this path.

The Incline, to me, visually represents my own personal Stairway to Heaven. It is not impossible, but it is not easy. The journey is beautiful, but not paved in gold; it sparkles in a simple, real kind of way. I was experiencing God’s beauty and raw simplicity at the same time. In my view, free will sometimes makes it hard to follow God. God gives me the free will to make my own choices, but then I have to live with the consequences. If I had chosen to run back to the parking lot, when I first gazed up at the base of the stairway, I would never have had this experience, I would not have had this personal revelation, nor would I have experienced the knowledge, that I had traveled a difficult road and made it to the top.

Likewise, I would not have had the revelation that God does not promise a life of riches, or even a stairway made of pretty railings, and beautiful carpet beneath our feet. God promises a way to heaven. The reality, is that the way is challenging in ways we cannot expect, the progress is hard to see along the journey, there are false summits along the way. Just when you think you’ve made it God offers something a little more to overcome.

Continuing with the revelations I experienced that day, is that free will is dangerous. One of the most significant struggles I experienced was at the halfway point. The Barr trail is the safest and most logical way back down. The actual Incline is way to steep, narrow and slippery to retreat the way you came up. The problem, is that the Barr trail runs parallel to the Incline, and it only intersects at the midpoint and the summit. In other words, you can bail out at the midpoint, and go back down, knowing you had a vigorous and challenging hike, but you have only gone halfway. What you can’t do, is go on up the Incline past this point, and then give up. The only way down is up, once you’ve made the decision to keep going. That was a difficult point for me.

I struggled. I came to climb the Incline; it was harder than I thought, in ways, but easier, than I thought in others. At the midpoint, I was struggling, but I was doing it. I wanted to go to the top, but this was really hard. Maybe I should cut my losses and take the out at the mid –point? Maybe I should train for a few months, and come back and try it again when I was more prepared. Maybe, I didn’t really even want to get to the top. Did I really need to reach this summit? Maybe it wasn’t really all that important to me. Maybe I could find something easier. I seriously second-guessed myself. My mind and my heart waged an internal war. In the end, I made the commitment to continue to the top, no matter what it took, to get there. Having no other way out but to finish the goal you set for yourself is really scary.

Stairway to Heaven
At that point it was clear, I had no extra energy to continue this inner battle. If I was going to continue to the top, it was going to take every bit of physical, mental and spiritual strength I had. It was at this point, that I finally let go of all this other stuff. I only thought of the end goal, I certainly did not look back. I think this is often how life goes for me. I knew I did not have the luxury of going further and then saying “ah this was a bad idea, I need to get myself our of this situation.” Instead, I had to make the commitment to simply get to the top of my Stairway to Heaven.

Once I let go of all these doubts, I went on automatic pilot. I focused on the task at hand. I stopped trying to chat with my fellow hikers, I stopped letting my mind wander. The fact is, it was at this point the trail got really hard. It became consuming to carefully pick your way up. As I got lost in this section, I found myself surprised when I realized how far I had actually come, progress I had made with out all the internal doubt and noise. Very interesting.

In ways it was harder than I thought, but in ways it was easier. I had friends along the way, and Father Mark was very sweet. The higher we climbed the more he stayed by my side, quietly talking about this and that, keeping my mind off the struggle. He was there to place a hand behind my back, more than once, as if he was there to catch me if I fell. When I had to stop to breathe, he would provide a piece of history or other information so that I did not have to feel compelled to talk and recover at the same time.

It hit me as we finally neared the top, by breaking this journey down to single thoughtful steps, and by committing myself to this journey, I had found a peace and courage with my goals in life. One of the reasons I came on this adventure was because I was feeling restless, I had been working very hard in my everyday life, but was not feeling the success of all my efforts. I was starting to doubt myself and question myself. I was letting free will get in the way of my success. The Incline helped me get squared away mentally and spiritually, once again. It was just what I needed. I felt like it clarified, for me, why I was living my life the way I was, and God revealed to me in a very visual way that he is not only there right beside me on the journey, he is there to catch me if I fall, and if I just keep focused, on just what I have do to, at that time, I will in fact, achieve my goals.

I am confident this experience came to me on a beautiful Colorado April morning just when I needed it the most. God showed me I would always have just what I need; at the time I need it the most, on my journey.

I am glad I went. I am glad I climbed to the top of my Stairway to Heaven. It renewed my faith in my own spiritual journey.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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Lean Mean Fighting Machine

Kickboxing is an interesting sport, one I have never paid an ounce of attention to until now. I signed up for Ferrell’s Extreme Body Shaping Classes because I knew it was time to get off the couch and get back into they gym in some sort of fashion. I signed up because I liked the concept of 6 one hour classes per week combining cardio and strength training along with quality instruction and lots of motivation, the kickboxing part just came along with the package. I signed up to try something new and to help me meet my goal for the new year of leaning down, waaaaaayyyy down.

The first night of class we were all taught how to wrap our wrists, the idea being we would need extra support to protect our wrists when punching. I was pretty sure this was unnecessary since I have the upper body strength of a slug. It seemed the risk of real injury was fairly remote, at least in my mind.

Next, we put on our HUGE boxing gloves, suddenly I felt more like Mickey Mouse than Muhammad Ali, but if nothing else I am game to try something new so I too put on my massively over-sized gloves and stood alert waiting for my next set of instructions.

Our very fit instructor turned on loud music with a driving beat and started warming us up with a series of jabs, hooks and kicks. Within 30 seconds I felt like I was going to die. Hell, just holding my gigantic gloves up by my face seemed like a workout to me; within moments each glove started feeling heavier and heavier by the second.

In telling this little story, to describe my efforts as, awkward, is really being kind. I was taught to be a “little lady” and growing up with only a younger sister the need to defend myself from someone pulling rapid punches at my face was just not ever a problem.

I would start out ok, hands up, jabbing away, only to realize soon my tired arms had dropped and I had left my entire face exposed to the nearest bad guy willing to throw a punch. Then, talk about coordination, you are supposed to keep your feet moving constantly so you are not an easy target. Don’t you remember Muhammed Ali’s old saying “fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee?” Picture him or Mike Tyson bouncing back and forth on their feet, dancing away from his opponent all the while holding his gloves up to his face, always protecting and waiting for his opportunity to jab and cross, striking before his opponent even saw it coming.

Now that you have that image in mind, transpose this one, me dressed in my dusty workout pants and baggy t shirt standing in a gym with 40 other people, trying desperately to be invisible in the back of the room, and still peer out periodically around my associates to try and follow my deft moving instructor. Alternatively, I would forget to keep my hands up or forget to move my feet. My stance appeared more like a tree trunk rooted in soil than a dancing butterfly and my jab about as harmful as a wet noodle. Now, picture me breathing rapidly, sweating profusely and averaging 4 steps behind the group at any given point in time. Ya, I looked good.

Sensing I might be a natural at this sport, I continued my efforts to keep up.

Next the instructor had us move huge punching bags out into the center of the room. I realized what I was really up against when I pushed with all my might and it merely laughed at me. Seriously, I watched as my peers pushed, tilted and rolled their pads into the middle of the room. Trying again, I threw my entire weight against it hoping to knock it over and instead it bounced back at me like Bozo the Clown, nearly knocking me out on the rebound. At this point, a buff looking female classmate had mercy on me and quickly maneuvered the punching bag into proper position. Well, ok, time to move on.

Our instructor resumed his stance and proceeded to demonstrate a series of sidekicks and alternating punches. He outlined what he expected. Gloves up, I danced in place nodding my head that I was ready to go for it.

I threw my punch with all I had, danced back on my heels and brought my knee up for a menacing sidekick designed to disarm and disorient. The bag didn’t even move. Really, not even a tiny bit. I looked around the room, people were waylaying into their bags, loud smacks could be heard and bags teetered back and forth from the force of the kicks. Mine stood still staring back at me. Daring me to try it again.

After several exhausting minutes of this our instructor paired us with a partner. The plan was to have us stand on opposite side of the bags, alternating our punching and kicking. My partner was a stout man who had done this before. He nodded I could go first like a gentleman, so I grinned and threw the first of my punches, I hit with all I had, jab, jab, hook, upper cut, jab, side kick, side kick. I think I looked like I was having a seizure. The bag didn’t even twitch. Gasping for air I stepped back, impressed with my furry. I waited for my partner to go at it. Nothing happened. Finally, after a few seconds my partner peered around the bag, looked at me and said, “oh I guess you went already”. Then he proceeded to beat the living hell out of our bag and I soon found myself defending my face and head for fear the bag would fall over onto me, certain to kill me instantly. Seriously, he hadn’t even realized I had gone, what the hell!

Day one at Ferrell’s Extreme Body Shaping had me extremely whipped.

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The Best Last Day of the Worst Year

It was an unexpected gift, it wasn’t planned and I didn’t think it would feel that good but I had the best last day of the worst year of my life. I don’t mean to sound mellow dramatic here but it has been a tough year and I feel a sense of relief that it is finally over. Time to move on. 2012 here I come.

Once the Christmas holiday’s rolled by I had no big plan to ring in the New Year. I am not a big club girl by any means and midnight is way past my bedtime so I usually don’t even stay up to watch Dick Clark drop the ball, but when my sister called to say she wanted to rent a cabin up in the mountains for a few days at the end of the year I jumped on her bandwagon. My little family all had plans so we decided to channel our inner wild women vibe and head out alone into the Rockies armed only with our two dogs and a 3 inch knife to defend ourselves with. See picture.

Our little cabin was pretty rustic but had all necessities needed by a couple of wimps like us. We had a cozy little 100 year old log cabin complete with a bathroom and shower, small tv, cook top stove and microwave, boom box and little porch for coffee drinking. All we needed.

Since we only had a couple days we rented our cabin, scouted out the possible day trips and made a plan, that is what we do, we are moms.

The cabin, while cute and cozy, was located right in the middle of a small mountain town. We were nestled in tall Ponderosa pines and it looks like we are out in the middle of nowhere but the reality is we are surrounded by regular folks in regular houses and we are about a block away from the local coffee shop. A convenient location for a couple of scardy cat sisters who have no business alone out in the wild.

Vicki was brave and arrived a couple days before I did, her first night with Mack her dog going smoothly enough, maybe because they were exhausted after they’re 12-hour drive. The second night did not go as well. Half way through the night Vicki awoke to Mack growling fiercely on full alert at the door. Vicki did the only reasonable thing, -she yelled at Mack. After the third time of him fiercely guarding her with the demons at the door she admitted fear. Thankfully , all was well when in the light of day as Vicki opened the curtains to be eye to eye with 5 deer. So much for guard dog.

When I arrived with my own personal guard dog Rowdy Obiwondanobe, we settled in for the night, Rowdy in his kennel and Mack on his blankie by the door. I took my Ambien and we all started catching some zz’s. Peaceful enough until Mack twitched in his sleep and accidentally knocked over a broom , scaring the beejeebees out him. Doing what a good guard dog would do when faced with a bad guy (broom) attacking him in the middle of the night, he made am impressive three foot jump from the door landing in one move right on top of Jackie in her bed. Alert to the commotion Rowdy lept to his feet and stood shaking head to toe in his kennel. Talk about excitement!

After a few cups of coffee in the morning, Vicki and I managed to pull ourselves together and head out for the day. Our big plan was to go for a scenic mountain drive, hit a couple off road 4 wheel drive trails and then spend the afternoon snowshoeing. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it!

So after arming ourselves with even more coffee from the local coffee shop we headed out only to discover 100 mile an hour winds were whipping the heck out of the mountains and were sending snow swirling in white-out conditions. Sensing that maybe this was not a good situation we turned around and headed back into the safety of town. Somehow we landed at the local 125 year old Saloon. I am honestly not sure how that happened. After a delicious lunch in this historical setting we decided to play a game of pool. Picture this, the two of us, wild daring western women ie suburbian mom’s ended up spending the afternoon playing pool, drinking beer, listening to old rock and roll and having a very special afternoon. An unexpected sense of contentment settled over the two and us and we decided life was good and we were ready for 2012.

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What’s Next On Your List?

>This has been quite the year. No wonder I am tired as I face the end of 2011 and reflect on what I hope 2012 will soon be.

In the time span of the past 12 months, I have jumped out of a plane multiple times, flown in a hot air balloon, climbed a frozen waterfall, said my final farewell to my mother as she went to her heavenly home, learned to love rock climbing, seen my daughter graduate from college, become the family bread winner, gone to work for a church, learned to make fantastic clam chowder, gone zip lining, been heartbroken, realized the extent of my family’s love and support, helped start a new business, encouraged my sister to get out of her comfort zone a couple off times, made new lifelong connections, created a successful blog, shared my life stories with the world, been in the middle of a pod of a 1000 dolphins, stuck to my guns over the most difficult challenge of my life, flown a plane over the foothills, connected with family, and realized I am capable of far more than I ever gave myself credit for. I am not sure about how you feel about all that, but in my book that was a pretty profound 365 days.

In many ways I have been challenged this past year. Professionally, I made a major career change and under some difficult circumstances have worked hard to make a difference in my work world. At times this has been a rewarding and delightful journey, at other times this has been exhausting and overwhelming. There is so much to do and so few resources to do it with. However, I have seen the power of the Holy Spirit first hand, and have renewed my sense of faith. I have seen firsthand what God can do. It is amazing.

Nothing to push off of


Hands of Strength

Relationships in my world have been seriously tested the past 12 months. I have had to say good by to loved ones, let go of young adult children, reconnected with extended family over unexpected circumstances, and had to see things in loved ones that are not easy to see. This process has left me feeling a roller coaster of emotions at times despair and at others a deep and abiding joy. Knowing that your relationships, if you choose, can stand the test of time is very empowering. Knowing you can make decisions about who gets to be in your life is even more profound.

Financially life has changed, my husband, the long time breadwinner in our family found himself without a salary for the first time in his professional life. I returned to work in a fulltime demanding new career and in essence we totally switched roles. Using this as an opportunity to grow as partners, we chose to use this career shift to invest in our own business for the first time. We opened our new business, Max Muscle of Colorado Springs this week. How exciting and what a leap of faith!

So what are my dreams for 2012?

How about a few of the following:

I think it would be cool to win an award for my blog
Go to Hawaii
Celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary
Get published
Go on a snowshoeing adventure
Ride a camel
Mush a dogsled
Learn to make gravy
Match my salary online
Learn to surf
See a whale up close
Swim with dolphins
Ride a helicopter
Learn to kayak
Do a rafting adventure down the Royal Gorge
Have over 5000 readers this year
Ride an elephant
Do a Susan Komen 3-day walk
Raise 3000 for charity
Go snow tubing
Ride the bull
Visit a Comedy Works
Drive a snowmobile through the mountains
Learn to play the bagpipes
Learn to sail
Go snorkeling
Take a belly dancing class
Heal my past
Learn to make chicken and dumplings
Do a wine tour of Colorado
Ice climb The Fang
Learn to make prime rib
Take a mountain biking class
Go gliding
Do improv

It is an absolute fact that a year ago I could not have imagined or predicted what the next 365 days would bring. While the past year has been filled with love, joy, empowerment and excitement, it has also produced more than a few tears and forced me to dig deeper than ever before to prove to myself I am capable of anything.

I wonder what the next 365 days will bring. I think it is good to dream. This reminds me of my favorite saying of all time. “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”

It is going to be an amazing year. I am willing to try, how about you? So I ask you my friend, “what’s next on your list?”

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Leader of the Pack

I thought I knew what a good leader was until I went on a dog sledding bucket list adventure with my son and niece this past weekend. It never ceases to amaze me what I learn about others and myself when I step out of my comfort zone and try something new. It is almost always enjoyable and I usually learn a thing or two.

I thought a good leader was strong physically, mentally sharp and willing to make decisions for others. Boy was I underestimating the job!

What I learned is that a really good leader doesn’t have to be the strongest physically of the group, he/she doesn’t have to always be the smartest in the group either. While physical and mental characteristics all play a role, often, there is something else going on behind the scenes that makes all the difference in the world.

I guess dog sledding is no different. What I learned is that dog sledding could not happen with just one or two of the dogs. The only way these animals were going to pull a sled with two grown adults in it up a steep hill on snow and ice was if they worked together as a team. Each dog played a special and intricate roll in the success of the journey. Life is a lot like this too. We do not operate as a vacuum in this world; we rely on friends and family, spouses and coworkers to get the job done of life. Each of us has an important roll on the many different teams we are a part of in life.

Before I went on this little adventure I naively thought the lead dog must be the only one in charge and that he/she would be the physically strongest and mentally the sharpest. Instead, I learned that the lead dogs are special, but more because they have some innate gift that allows them to be willing to go into the unchartered waters ahead of the pack. Realize that pack dogs like to stay in a pack. They like to follow each other. It takes a special dog that is willing to be the “first in line” so to speak -to lead.

The way it was explained to us is that dogs by nature like to follow each other and the lead dog must be willing to go first. This is counter intuitive for Husky dogs because when they are in front they feel like they are running away from the pack, not necessarily leading it. Hmmmm. Light bulb moment for me. It is funny how this happens! The times in my life that I have taken on a leadership role were very scary. I never knew if I was making the right decision, or if I was heading the group in the correct direction. I remember questioning if I was doing the right thing or if anyone would actually follow me. Leadership can be a very scary.

Humans feel this way too. I think. When you are following what everyone else in the word is doing. it is easy to have confidence. You think to yourself I must be going in the right direction because this is what everyone says I should be doing or this is what everyone else is trying to do him or herself. You try to catch the person in front of you. You try not to fall behind. You don’t veer off the beaten path very far. Often, if we find ourselves following the person in front of us and pushing ourselves to stay ahead of the person behind us, we end up losing sight of where we are going and why we are going there in the first place. If you are in the middle of the pack you can’t see the scenery ahead of you. All you see is the tail end of whoever is in front of you. You feel pressure to keep up the pace and stay in line.

Compare this to being the dog at the end of the line. This guy doesn’t have to think for himself at all. He merely goes where they have gone before him. This mindlessness allows us to focus more on our physical strengths. If I don’t have to use my mind to make all my own decisions, I can rely more on my muscles to just get the job done. The dogs that pull these sleds are much the same. Our guide personally introduced us to each of the eight dogs on our team. He shared with us their names, their personalities, and why they held the place on the team they held. The two dogs that were the last pair were referred to as the “meatheads” in fact, one of them was unable to see out of both eyes so he “sensed where he should go” and often banged into the female to his left because of his poor eyesight. This guy mainly went on feel and just followed the energy in front of him.

I thought the “alpha” dog would be a lead dog but I realized this is not necessarily true. Alpha dogs are so busy trying to keep everyone else in line that they often don’t watch the trail ahead and make good decisions. Looking back and trying to correct all the dogs behind him/her prevent the alpha dog from truly acting as a leader. While these dogs are strong physically and mentally, they spend too much energy trying to control those around them. Another light bulb moment…. hmmm. The real gifted leaders were the ones who were able to just make a decision and head in that direction. They were confident they were on the right path, at the right pace, heading in the right direction. They understood that the rest would fall into place behind them, and that they did not need to control everything that went on behind them. They also inherently understood that for this risk they would be rewarded with the most beautiful scenery and that they would get to experience all the joys that lay ahead on the trail. I think they also knew they would not always make the correct decision. As the brake man on one run I had to jump off the sled because the dogs cut the turn too sharp and the sled almost collided with the tree.

The true leaders of the pack were the dogs with heart and courage. They were willing to feel like they were running away from the pack, a somewhat scary feeling at times I am sure, and they were willing to focus only on what lies ahead on the trail. They did not waste any time or energy trying to control others behind them and they were not willing to just blindly follow the decisions of others. They were willing to put it all out there and make the decisions for the group. They set the pace and decided how fast to take the twists and turns on the trail, they were the ones willing to encounter the obstacles first, and face the unknown challenges that lie ahead. They were willing to take a stand and make a decision, and then they didn’t look back. The real beauty of this is that while it must have felt counter-intuitive and more than a bit scary they sure did enjoy the best view and they got to see the sunset in the trees on the trail and feel the fresh powder snow beneath their feet. I think this was a well-deserved benefit.

My job on the adventure was to take turns serving as the break man on the sled and correct the dogs when the leader was making a poor decision, like taking a corner too fast. It was up to me as the brakeman to help push the sled and the team up the most difficult hills and to encourage the dogs when the hill seemed too high to conquer. When I took my turn riding on the sled I had to relinquish all control to the dogs in front of me and the brakeman behind me. I did not get to make any of the decisions. I found riding in the sled the most difficult of all. It is hard to give up all control on the journey.

Personally I decided that I don’t like blindly following along in this world letting others make all the decisions for me but it is scary to be willing to be the lead dog and run away from the pack. Sometimes it is nice to just be inbetween.

I also realized that good leaders are the ones who are willing to step back and let someone else lead every now and then recognizing that we all have off days and would just rather follow along that take all the risks.

Dog sledding was really cool and I learned far more than I thought I would. I think that is the sign of a grand adventure.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?’

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My Someday is Today

I wasn’t even aware that I hadn’t found my life’s passion, but there it was one day, right in front of me waiting for me to notice it, grab it and go for it. I thought I was doing what I wanted in life, I thought I was happy, and I thought I was growing as a person, and I was, kind of. I just hadn’t found my life’s passion. When I finally found it, suddenly my world was a bit brighter and the colors were more vibrant.

I think when you figure out who you are and what you are doing here on this earth everything falls into place. Suddenly, you know that what you are doing makes a difference, and that you are doing just a little thing to make the word a better place.

My whole world revolves around those that I love, my husband, my kids, my family and my friends. I got stuck in a rut, somehow believing that I had to give everything I had to the people I loved. What I learned is that when I did this over time I slowly lost myself in the process.

When I discovered that getting out of my comfort zone and pushing through my self imposed limits was the key to making my dreams come true, I decided that maybe, just maybe, if I shared my story it would help others do the same. When I took a chance and started to give to myself a little bit, everything changed. My silly little adventures made people stop and think. Suddenly, my story became bigger than just little old me. My story helped others; and this became my life’s passion. This sounds a bit crazy, but it is true.

Determination and persistence are the key to most successes in life. Finding your life’s passion is no different. You have to dream, then you have to plan and finally you just have to get off the couch and go do it. So no matter what your dream is, you have to be willing to try. Life is about the journey; it is about the friends and bonds you make along the way. It is not necessarily about the end result.

Once I created this crazy bucketlist, and then started really trying to find ways to make the items on my list a reality, a strange thing happened. “My someday, became my right now” and when I innocently started telling my friends what I was discovering an even stranger thing happened, people were intrigued. They wanted to hear more stories. It got them thinking that maybe they could try something new, or maybe they could dream a little bigger. It seemed that what I was doing became contagious, but in a good way.

I have no idea where this is going to go, but in the meantime, I am having the time of my life, and nothing means more to me than when I get an email from a stranger and they tell me they were inspired and motivated by my story to get out there and live their life a little larger because of it. Wow, that is really amazing stuff.

In the meantime, I just keep trying to figure out new ways to try new things and in the process I hope I am making a difference. Getting out of your comfort zone is admittedly a bit scary at first, but then you start to change the way you think and a really neat thing starts to happen. I think you call it empowerment, but what it boils down to is that suddenly the impossible starts to seem possible.

Living my life to its fullest is now my daily mission. No more excuses, no more feeling sorry for myself. It takes a fit body to live life to its fullest and I owe it to myself and my family to take care of myself and then seize life. The older I get the more active I am getting and I hope that the courage it takes to do all this helps just one person. I am learning that trying new things is the greatest high on earth.

This past summer I took my 19-year-old son rock climbing The Flatirons near Boulder. My cousin and her husband joined us and it cracked me up to think that we were all there, trying to climb a 70-foot wall of granite, because I dared to dream. Me, your average suburban 47 year old mother!

Once I started rock climbing I learned that I loved it. I also learned that if you dare to dream you just might find your own passion and when you share your passion with others it spreads. I think this is pretty cool.

Thank you to Neil Hastings for allowing me to share his beautiful pictres of Telliride Colorado!!

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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No Mental, No Dental!

Last weekend my sister came for a visit and as we sat drinking coffee early one morning on my deck she innocently mentioned that she had recently just discovered her new health insurance lacked Mental health coverage and Dental coverage, I about spit out my coffee, as the realization hit me full force. This was a problem, no mental, no dental; this would not do, not at all.

Deciding to take matters into my own hands, I immediately mentally adjusted our weekend schedule. If she had no mental, then I would have to provide a little mental adjustment for her of my own. If she lacked dental, I would have to take that into consideration also. Not good.

I immediately started planning; we had much to do and very little time to do it in!

I whipped out my iphone and with a few keystrokes had us scheduled for a little giggle fest-a pole dancing class on Friday night. Then I checked the weather and blocked out all day Saturday for a much needed mountain drive through Estes Park to do some fall leaf peeping, followed by a Sunday adrenaline rush with a little ziplining adventure at Royal Gorge.

Estes Park is a truly amazing place, especially in late September, for some reason the animals that reside in the park are much more visible in the late fall, not to mention the way the crisp mountain air bites at your cheeks and golden hews of the Aspen’s dance on the hillside in their full fall glory.

Vicki did not remember visiting the park when we were young kids so each twist and turn of the road was a happy surprise for her. The view of Trail Ride Road slowly winding its way up the mountain to the Continental Divide provided her with amazing vista’s of rugged mountain ranges, field after field of fiery red and golden yellow leaves dancing in the wind and wild mountain lakes tucked into the sides of massive mountains in the distance as far as the eye could see.

There is something about a fall drive in the Rockies that helps clear your mind, replenish your batteries and fill your lungs with enough fresh crisp air to last all winter long.

We managed to see Elk munching in the yards and ditches of the town of Estes Park, as comfortable with the tourists as the snow on the mountains. We caught a glimpse of a large male Moose grazing just behind the tree line and we saw the most amazing mountain vista’s that grew more impressive with each curve of the highway.

Along the way we sang to vintage classic rock and enjoyed the ride with her windows down in her very cool red Jeep. We sang along with Bob Segar and Bon Jovi. We talked about our dreams, our fears and our struggles. We laughed and ate sandwiches and sipped our Diet Cokes and we concentrated on the simple joy of breathing in the fresh woodsy smells of the mountains. That was all we had to do. No problems to solve, no fears to overcome, no deep revelations to discover. We just drove around a beautiful mountain park in the height of a gorgeous September fall day with the windows down and the music up in her cool red Jeep. Life was so simple. Life was good. We are blessed to have each other as sisters and friends.

By the end of the day, our mental therapy needs had been met and our energy levels were restored. The mental part was taken care of.

Now for the dental, I think I will send her the pictures of our glorious September Rocky Mountain drive with a package of floss and let her figure the rest out for herself.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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Fins the Left, Fins to the Right….

A Jimmy Buffett concert has been on my bucketlist now for many years and I have been waiting, ever so patiently, for my opportunity. It takes a lot of patience to wait as long as I have, but I finally got my chance and I am happy to report it was worth the wait. Jimmy Buffett, rock and roll legend, margarita-in-hand icon, stick it to the man himself, arrived in Denver, Colorado in October to fulfill one of my dreams.

Parrot heads are an interesting bunch, ranging in age from 7 to 70, they come in all shapes and sizes, gathering like a flock of migrating birds to city after city on the tour. They arrive for the show all dressed in their best Caribbean beachwear, straw hats, coconut shell tops, and flip flops with their beers in hand to pay homage to one of rock and roll’s most interesting characters, Mr. Jimmy Buffett.

I have never seen so many decked out vehicles, surfboards and VW vans in one place. The crowd left their careers as doctors, plumbers, lawyers and teachers behind as they gathered for the biggest beach party Colorado has ever had.

Drinks in hand, the crowd joined as one, in singing anthems such as Wasting Away in Margarittaville, Brown Eyed Girl, and we all became Pirates together like a bunch of kids. The party was a hoot, everyone managed to leave their worries checked at the door, no deadlines, bills, stock markets, or Middle East standoffs to worry about, all we did was dance and sing like a bunch of fools, multiple generations joining together, teenagers and grandparents, youngsters and parents, we all joined together and pretended we were dancing in the sand as the waves rolled in, nothing but time and friends on our side.

Finland is a magical place; the Caribbean sound floating in their while the invisible smell of the salty sea fills your senses. While I was there, I relaxed, I let go, and I put my hands on above my head and sang along to “fins to the left, fins to the right, like you’re the only bait in town!!” Jimmy Buffet has it all figured out. Don’t let life get you down; all you need is a good song, a guitar, a surfboard and the sea. The rest of it really doesn’t matter, cause “If we didn’t laugh, we’d all go insane!”

Watching the generations merge together, the stress and worry disappear from all of their faces, I realized I danced with new friends and I sang with the best. Somehow, it will all be all right.

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Not for the Faint of Heart

Zipline Adventure
What do you get when you cross four stressed out women, 1 mile of cable, and a Tarantula? Well, you get a Royal Gorge wild adventure that’s what! Recently, I found a brand new zipline course at Royal Gorge and felt compelled to give it a try and rope some friends into the adventure too.

The players:
Andrea- game to give it a go but forced to overcome her inner anti adrenaline demons first. She was a natural, and had the biggest smile of the entire group in all the pictures. Once she got going she became a nut and even mastered the elusive spinning trick!

Tracy-a fellow Bucketlist aficionado, Tracy is always up for something new and the source of many of my own bucketlist ideas. This is one wild woman and she is a ton of fun to hang out with –no matter what you are doing.

Vicki-as the unchallenged athlete of the group her natural talents, coupled with her excellent physical strength, helped make her the show stopping master and helped her land a 10 on her form and landings!

Jackie-the mastermind of this crazy adventure and the connector for this rag tag group of 40 something’s as they channeled their inner Tarzan!

On the Bucketlist

Ziplining has always seemed to me to be the ultimate in irrational, adrenaline seeking fun, and although I had never actually done it, was high oh my must do bucketlist. The good news is that I found a zipline course close to home, which proved to be far more affordable than the Costa Rica or Hawaii trip I was envisioning. When I discovered the new course only 2 hours from home I jumped on the bandwagon and started recruiting friends to join in the craziness.

Female Recipe
I have been doing zany stuff all my life, but especially in the past year and if I have learned anything, it is that you can’t beat the fun of gathering a bunch of women and getting out of our comfort zones together. A little bit of adrenaline pumping in our veins usually proves to be very invigorating. What consistently follows is an amazing combination of giggles, squeals, stories, bonding, love and encouragement. It happens every time, and it doesn’t matter at all what crazy activity we are doing. The magic is in getting a group of women together and then getting out of our comfort zone together.

Why does this recipe create the same outcome every time? I think it has something to do with the fact that these women are usually givers. They give to their husbands, their children, their homes, families, neighbors, churches and employers. They give and give and give until eventually they start to feel like they have lost themselves. Now, I don’t want to sound overly dramatic here, but all the women I have run into fit this description. When I start talking about all the craziness of my bucketlist, they are interested. Sometimes they think to themselves, “well, that’s cool but I could never do that” or they think I am special in some athletic gene kind of way, but when they listen to the stories they realize I am not that different from them. They start to ask more questions or follow my blog so they can live vicariously through my crazy world. Eventually, they start to wonder if they could do some of this stuff too. That’s when the magic starts to happen. They start to dream.

Dreams are Good
Dreams are good stuff. You give up the restrictions and responsibilities of life. You don’t ask “if” something could really happen, you just imagine it happening. You stop asking yourself “could I do this?” and start asking yourself “why couldn’t I do that?”

I love doing new things and living life to the fullest. I don’t ever want to look back at my life and wonder why didn’t I do that. I want to look back and say I can’t believe I really did that. That is what my bucketlist is really all about. It’s about living life to the fullest in everyway I can imagine.

The ziplining proved to be very cool. I must admit I was never scared and I felt totally safe. Our guides were very knowledgeable and careful. We got to go on a total of 9 different ziplines ranging in distance from 300 feet to 1000 feet. All in all, we covered over 1 mile of line and got to zip along at speeds of nearly 45 miles per hour!

Tarantula’s on the Trail
The scariest part of the whole adventure was hearing stories of Tarantula’s migrating on the trail! What? Tarantulas! I didn’t sign up for Tarantulas! Thankfully, we only saw one and it was already dead; a rather nasty, gigantic hairy creature that I hope I never run into again!

The magic of this adventure was in bringing together four women who didn’t know each other at all and ending the day knowing we were all friends. We were empowered and we had finally done something to feed our own souls instead of always taking care of everyone else.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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Invest in Yourself

The Big One
One of the big items on my bucketlist is to start a business with my husband and help him make it grow. This is something we have talked about and dreamed about for years. Over the years we’ve worked for others to make their businesses grow, and have had varying levels of responsibility in doing so, but this is something different. This is a chance to create something of our very own and watch it grow. I think that sounds exciting, and maybe just a little scary.

Leap of Faith
We’ve never been in a position to take this leap of faith, but now we are and I am proud to say we are doing it. I think it is one thing to dream about something big like this for years, but to actually have the courage to make it happen is something totally different. It would be easier to just work for someone else, have them take all the risks, have them worry about paying the bills and making payroll, but then we’d never get to see what might happen-if. If we took the chance, if we bet on ourselves for once, or if we believed we could make it happen, what would happen?

Invest in Yourself
I like Warren Buffet, he seems like a levelheaded regular guy. He’s from Nebraska and he doesn’t subscribe to the Hollywood version of success. He seems like he tries to do the right thing. One my last trip through Nebraska I saw a billboard with his picture on it. The words were simple, but profound. They read plainly “Invest in Yourself.” When I saw these words up there it hit me, why not? Why not invest in us, instead of always investing in someone else’s dream.

This has been an incredibly hectic, exciting, stressful and liberating time for us. We’ve spent months researching what kind of business we’d like, we searched for a business we could purchase that was already up and running and couldn’t find one. We worked hard to come up with a unique business idea that we could create from scratch and we had a few but in the end we decided to go at this a different way.

Lifestyle Living
One of our criteria in this search was to find a business that would grow, would support us and most importantly would serve and help others. We also wanted a lifestyle business. Please don’t get me wrong, we were not searching for a business that would let us live a lifestyle of the rich and famous. That is not who we are or who we would ever want to become. What I am talking about was creating a business we believed in, that allowed us to do what was important to our family. We wanted to live where we wanted to be, we wanted to be able to focus on the things that were important to us, faith, family and helping people. We wanted to center our life on activities and fitness and the great and beautiful outdoors.

We finally found it and when we did we looked at each other and decided yes we were going to do more than just dream, we were going to take action, we were going to believe, and we were going to invest in ourselves.

I am sure there are those out there that think we are nuts, and maybe we are a bit off, but we are trying to live life in our own terms and we are following our heart. It feels really good.

We are embarking on the biggest adventure of them all and I think this is going to be great fun.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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