Day 61: Cowboy, take me away…

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I am a lover of poetry… I am a lover of cowboys… and the two combined…can there be any better formula for perfection?  Perhaps I have not lived enough to answer that question. Today, I was invited to attend an event that I had only heard of until now and it may have given me an answer…  A cowboy poetry reading…

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When the idea was presented, I had this strange internal conflict brewing.  How could a cowboy, rugged, tough, and strong, deliver poetry and what would that look like?  I sat back and let my mind wander to think about that vision… a campfire, under a dark night only illuminated by the light of the stars, the sound of crickets and coyotes in the distance, the deep voice of a man tired from a day’s work, but inspired by something so powerful he is compelled to create words that lasso the mind and warm the heart.   Is that what I would find at the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park some 20 minutes south of here?  I wasn’t sure, but I was looking forward to finding out.

I was encouraged to bring a lawn chair, a packed dinner and a cold beverage with or without alcohol.  And that is exactly what I did.  I decided to wear a casual pair of shorts, a white sleeveless button down rayon top, and my favorite sandals. I put my hair up as the day was a hot 95 degrees.  My light dinner was packed, a beverage to drink, my camera, and of course my good friend, Siri, at my side… and off we went.

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The drive was uneventful and relaxing.   I was able to take in the views of cows grazing in the grassy fields that sat at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The sun was unobstructed as the sky was a deep blue. The view left me inspired by the landscape to sit back and take in words of the poetic kind.

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As I came closer to where Siri was saying my turn would be, I was confused as the only road ahead was a gravel path that seemed to lead to an old farmhouse.  As she directed, and with a little bit of courage, I turned down this gravel road not knowing where it might lead.  As I made my way down the bumpy gravel, the view seemed to be something out of a western movie, a perfect little ranch that any cowboy would love to call “home”.

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I pulled up and breathed a sigh of relief as there were indeed other cars parked and I knew I was in the right location.  I stepped out of the car and for a moment shook my head at the old house that sat in front of me.  The paint of the house was weathered but well kept; the grass at the foot of the house was green and plush while the towering cottonwood trees rustled their leaves in the breeze.  I just stood for a moment and looked 360 degrees at the sight I was lucky enough to enjoy.  A ranch… with land as far as the eye could see, nestled closely to the mountain range, I could almost picture those that had lived in this house and appreciated the daily view.  It truly was breathtaking.

I made my way up to the tent where the event was to take place and was approached by a gentleman wearing a pair of wrangler jeans, a plaid shirt, and that sharp looking cowboy hat.  Did I mention the smile he had?  Yes, that smile, the type of smile that says, “Whatever can I do for you?”  Well, that is almost exactly what he said!  I mentioned I had not been there before and he so graciously gave me a brief history of the house that was built in 1856 by Heinrich Dangberg.  He and his family created a ranching empire that included 48,000 acres.  He founded the town of Minden, NV just south of the ranch and he was a successful businessman.  Four generations lived on the Dangberg ranch.  He offered that I return and he would give me a private tour of the house.  I thanked him for his time and information and he directed me where to sit up front.  He certainly was not short on being gracious and polite.

As I sat down, I looked up and one of the cowboy poets walked over to shake my hand and introduce himself.  I smiled and thanked him for the introduction.  I looked around and there was a crowd of about 40-50 people and they all looked and smiled at me as if to welcome me to the event.  Before the event began, a gentleman next to me kindly offered me a beer.  Before I knew it, I had many new friends to share the event with… what a fantastic feeling!

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The two cowboy poets, Ken Gardner and Tony Argento, were nothing like I had envisioned.  The first poet, Tony Argento, had a very long grey beard and an outgoing gregariousness about him mixed with a little dry humor.  He was dynamic in his storytelling as you could tell he enjoyed the dramatic flair with his recitations.  The second poet, Ken Gardner, I will admit, melted my heart from the first poem he recited.  Young?  No..   Strong?   At one time… Rugged?   Perhaps in his younger days.  Words that could lasso my mind and warm my heart?  Without any doubt!   He was a man about the young age of 80- something, but a spirit so wise, gentle and humorous he had me waiting on his every next word and poem.

(Below is a short rough clip, pop in your headphones and have a listen.)

 

 

Ken used a cane to walk and slowly made his way to the center to deliver his poems.  His voice had a roughness that revealed the years gone by.  He recited the poems like a professional storyteller, but made subtle references to his age as he announced that he and his wife had been married for 60 years!  Yes, 60 years!  And then, he caught me off guard as I had just been thinking about his health and what a sad day it would be for those close to him to have him leave this earth.  Ken recited a poem about a good friend that had succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.  The words delivered were full of love and passion but also acknowledgement that he faces similar situations in his older years, as was noticeable with a line or two forgotten here and there.  But make no mistake, it made the appreciation for Ken’s wise and poetic words more valuable and appreciated.

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At one point during the event I looked over and saw Ken resting his eyes and I couldn’t help but think of the stories he could tell and how valuable his advice would be.

The event ended and as I packed up my chair that cowboy I had met at the beginning of the event thanked me for coming such a distance to hear the event and I was reminded that he gives private tours of the house.  I thanked him for his offer and with a smile and a wink I was headed slowly back to my car.

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I thought I knew what a real cowboy looked like, the wrangler jeans, cowboy hat, rough and rugged appeal… No, tonight a real cowboy was 80-something, had the priceless wisdom with poetic words that lassoed my mind, melted my heart and made me fall in love with cowboy poetry, just as Ken had fallen in love with his wife some 60 years ago.   The words, the setting, the community, the stories… were real, not anything that I thought it would be, but so much more!   Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

 

 

 

Day 60: Notable for so many reasons…

“Music can change the world because it can change people.”

-Bono

Most of us have been blessed with relatively good health. We have our full faculties and physical abilities.  And as appreciative as we are most days, it is fair to say that as human beings we do have a tendency to take these gifts for granted.   And perhaps in taking our lives for granted, we forget about those who were born with challenges that we call “disabilities”.   And yet, that word never entered my mind with what I witnessed today when I was given the honor of attending a concert for a local group of physically and mentally challenged adults.

When I received the invite and was told about “The Notables”, I was certainly intrigued and eager to hear them perform, but my mind was trying to wrap itself around the concept that someone with profound disabilities could be part of a band that played music.   Being that I have had experience caring for children/adults with disabilities, I was aware of the obstacles that were present in day-to-day activities, but for them to hold a concert, and at the airport, I was starting to wonder just what this band was like.

The concert was scheduled to begin at noon and I made sure to arrive 15 minutes early to get a feel for what I was about to experience.  When I arrived, there in the entryway to the terminal was indeed a band of about 9 members:  Three guitar players, singers, a piano player, and drummer. There were 3 women and 6  men.  One of the female members was in a wheelchair, but made no hesitation to help direct the band in their activities.  The others mostly stood and before I knew it, they were testing out microphones and strumming some notes on the guitar.  The travelers in the airport were busily walking by as if not even noticing the band that prepared to play for them.

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There was still a little time before the concert was to begin so I made my way to the information table.  There in their pamphlet it stated that the Notables main mission is to provide music therapy to adults and children with the following challenges:

Autism

Down Syndrome

Developmental and learning disabilities

Parkinson’s disease

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia

Substance abuse issues

Acute and chronic pain

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Mental health issues

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I finished reading the pamphlet and turned around to see who was sitting in the 30 chairs or so and I made an inadvertent frown when I only noticed a handful of people.  I was excited after reading their mission and who the program served, and that left me feeling a little disappointed that not many more people were in attendance.  Well, I stood off to the side as I wanted to get some pictures when the lead band member announced in a delicate but determined voice that they were going to start the concert.  Having played in a school band in my younger days, I knew the excitement and anxiety this group was experiencing before a concert, or were they?  They all appeared very calm and organized.  Then the first couple notes were played and they were right on key.  And before I knew it, the lead band member began to sing and I didn’t want to hide my delighted smile.  I stood in amazement as the sound, the pitch, the notes were all as perfect as they could be.

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And then….  As if the notes from angels spread like the seeds from dandelions in a breeze, the travelers stopped, they listened, they smiled, and they even danced.  I was a bit overcome by what I saw.  As most people walking by took a second glance at the band that played, perhaps not noticing at first, the physical challenges that several were facing;  but when they did notice, their eyes grew wide and they made sure to listen and then applauded when the music finished.  It was contagious, as even a TSA agent couldn’t help herself to be part of the excitement.   The chairs were filled, the audience had grown and the smiles were more than apparent.  But the music…. the music was nothing short of truly amazing.  The band transitioned from one song to the next without any sheet music, without someone to hold their hand, no, they performed as if they had done this a hundred times before.

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I couldn’t help but wonder what their lives were like.  And just then, a song came on and I had noticed it had a female voice, but could not see which female was singing as it appeared from afar that their lips were hardly moving.  As I walked around to the piano player it was obvious that the perfect voice was emanating from her lips.  And as I stood and watched I noticed a lot about her that was later confirmed to me.  She played the piano perfectly and she sang, but her eyes were closed as if never an intention to open.   This very talented musician was blind, and yet, that disability was hard to detect as she made playing the piano and singing look way too easy.  I thought for a moment, “I wish she could see the smiles she has so generously delivered today… there are many!”

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Their challenges of day-to-day life seemed unimaginable from my perspective.  And yet this group of physically and mentally challenged adults appeared content, happy, gleeful and without a doubt, thrilled at the opportunity to show the abilities they most certainly possessed.  How often it is that we take our own abilities for granted?  The ability to walk, to run, to dance, to work, to live independently, to see, to hear, to feel, to be….  Being grateful every day is a choice.

I have included a short and visually small clip of a song from “The Notables” concert, and I hope that their notes not only carry the sound of music, but the spirit of appreciation and courage to rise above obstacles some couldn’t fathom hurdling.

 

 

Today, I had the honor of listening to a band that was cut from a different cloth… one full of color, vibrant sound and enthusiasm.  A group made differently than some, but no less important than all.

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Their amazing abilities astounded me, humbled me with every reminder that every life is important and should never be taken for granted….  Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

 

 

Day 59: Booking some private time…

 

“One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted.  Do them NOW!” 

– Paulo Coelho

I had decided that one of the many things I wanted to do was to lay under a tree with a good view, and read a novel.  It seemed as busy as life was, this might just have to stay a hope rather than becoming reality.  Thankfully, life has a way of presenting things to us as if it knows what is meant to be.  A new friend had recommended a book not knowing what was on my list of things to do in this lifetime.  So, I had good weather, and a good recommendation for a novel to read, a soft blanket to be laid on, plans to stop and pick up a simple pleasure of the Starbuck’s kind, a sweet treat as well, and the road was waiting for me to find my way to the perfect place to let my mind wander and my body rest.

My bag was packed, Siri was set, and off we went.  First stop was to grab my coffee, as I so needed to have my senses awakened to let my mind drift away into someone else’s story.  Coffee in hand, Siri was in charge of leading me to the Bower’s Mansion Park which sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The drive was about 15 minutes, just enough time for my mind to drift away and try to remember the last time I made time to read a novel.  I usually read many non-fiction books where I try to soak up as much concrete information as possible, whether it be new diseases, philosophical viewpoints, poetry, or biographies… but a novel… a story that was created by the mind in order for one to read for pure enjoyment, that is a rarity in my life…. It is a gift.

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I arrived at the park at the base of the hills and there in front of me was the greenest, thickest grass and several trees to choose from.  There was an outdoor wedding reception that was just starting to take place with little ones running around and adults playing a game of horseshoes and whiffle ball.  The bride in her white dress was mingling with guests and an obvious sense of joy was abounding.  The playground was full of tiny tots testing their skills on the swings and perhaps even making new friends.

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I found the perfect place to spread my blanket under some old white birch trees.  Their trunks streaked with white gave their identity away. The sound of the breeze through their leaves was melodic and as I sat down and removed my sandals I took in the view and wondered why I hadn’t done this before?  Something so simple, so peaceful, so restful, so…..  I felt as if maybe I knew this was needed, but always felt compelled to do one more thing, one more task, one more chore, one more excuse not to.  Then I started thinking, “what other simple things have I resisted for so long?”  And the thoughts began to flood my mind as if a tsunami had arrived.  I sighed deeply and decided I needed to take more time to do these simple things, for who knows what tomorrow will bring.

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As I gazed ahead at the view across the valley, it was apparent a change was about to occur.  A literal and figurative change was on the horizon. The sky appeared to have several shades of grey and the breeze had now changed direction.  I knew exactly what this view meant, as I had only seen it back home in the Midwest a couple thousand times… a major storm was brewing.  I knew my time indulging in a novel would be limited but it just meant I needed to get started!

0fc9f0f6f4da42ec70400fa3e685c031The book I chose was a recommendation by a new friend I had made some states away, “The Keepers Son” by Homer Hickam.  This friend of mine knew that the OBX (Outer Banks) was a place I had visited and enjoyed so very much.  I still wondered why else he recommended the book, but it didn’t matter at that moment, I was about to slip away into what I hoped to become a compelling read.  As I began to read the first couple pages, the character of Dosie began as such,

“She saw herself, in terms of beauty, as needing more work than was possible.  She was, to her thinking neither tall nor short, her figure routine, and her face, though blessed with unblemished skin, uninspiring.  Her brunette hair, which she considered her best feature, was silky but only because she brushed it religiously, and it lapped down to rest lightly on her shoulders.  Often, when she held her head in a certain way, a lock of her hair drifted across her cheek and it gave her, though she had no conceit of it, a look of such vulnerability that men felt driven to protect her even as they longed to ravage her.  Dosie had a clever mind, interrogative and incisive by nature, careful by design, but it was incapable of seeing herself as others did.  That was a blank spot.  She took no notice for instance of the ferry master, who had difficulty taking his eyes from her during the 3 hour journey.” –The Keepers Son

I stopped right there…. Took a deep breath and felt a kinship with Dosie.  We seemed to have some things in common, though I hesitated to admit that.  At that moment, I could hear the guests of the wedding party talking about the storm and all eyes were on the sky.  I looked up and the storm had moved closer and lightning was now visible.

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A squirrel was playing hide-and-go seek from me, wondering if I had any treat to give him.  I sat wanting to return to my novel as this story’s lead character sounded very familiar indeed… and so I did.  I sat, I laid, and I held my iPhone tight in my hands as my kindle reader fed me the pages that I could not devour quickly enough.

 

no13It wasn’t long before the temperature had dropped, the storm was now ever closer and the people in the park made noticeable movements to end their day early in a plan to return to their cars and get home safely.  I sat for just one more minute taking pictures of the sky and noticing the scent of rain in the distance.  My light sweater could not prevent some goose bumps from forming due to the cold breeze that seemed to be more constant now.  You could see movement in the clouds and the dust and leaves became airborne with a short yet strong gust of wind.  I felt as if this were apropos, perhaps a reminder that days like this, ones that allowed for time to be spent doing something or nothing at all need to be more frequent, more deserved in my busy life.  Perhaps that was the unintended reason a friend several states away having recommended I read this book, perhaps there was no coincidence that the main character captivated me so, perhaps the storm’s arrival was just a reminder that time is needed to feed the mind and soul and just be… even while taking refuge under a group of white birch trees on some plush grass reading and watching a storm approach…

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Today, I gave myself permission to take some time to do one thing that led to another and ultimately I nourished my mind and my soul… if not by the recommendation of a good friend, I never would have met “Dosie” and fallen in love with what turned out to be a great read…  Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

Day 58: Looking at courage through Paula’s window…

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Some of us take on quests because we choose to, others have no choice.  A friend said I really needed to contact a woman he knows because her story was one that displayed great strength and courage.  When I heard her story, my heart broke.  I could hardly fathom what she was going through, but I also felt humbled to have the opportunity to hear her story and share it with the world.   The last I wrote in this blog I had sent her a note and waited anxiously to hear back from her.

I woke up early the next morning and opened my email and found her response.  I sat there for a moment before opening the actual email, took a deep breath and had this cautious, hopeful feeling that she would allow me to learn about her life.  I opened the email and found in front of me words that were written in such a delicate and gracious way.   Paula went on to say that she had read my email and that I could contact her at any time.  She then proceeded to say that she was in a lot of pain and dealing with depressive feelings and she didn’t think she was that brave of a person…  It was at that moment that I pushed myself from my desk, shook my head, furrowed my brow and tried to find some semblance of understanding in that statement.  How could she think that what she has shown is anything but brave?  I stood up and walked to the window to look out in search of understanding.

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I knew a couple of pieces of information about Paula, who lives in Portugal.  “Bravery” was an obvious attribute in everything I had learned about her.  How could she not see that?  As I looked out the window, I felt grateful to feel the sun’s warm rays on my cheeks and see the deep blue sky dotted with white puffy clouds.  I stood and thought “It is a perfect day for a walk, but I have to take on a mission that unsettles me.”  I knew I needed to return to my desk and continue to read Paula’s email and face her demons as if they were my own.  What Paula didn’t know was that I was scared to delve into her life.

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When I hear, when I read, when I see… I can’t help but feel.  I feel deeply every ounce of pain and discomfort.  I feel a need to help and the inability to do so cripples my spirit with sadness.  My only gift that I can give to those who suffer is to lend a hand or appreciate their spirit.  It is not mine to take away their pain.  In hearing their stories they energize me to be more grateful, to be more humble, to better myself in their honor, to share their story so that others can appreciate the gifts they have in their lives and learn to strengthen their spirit so they can help others through their efforts.  So, with a deep breath and a passing glance at my desktop Buddha, I sat in my chair with my hands on the keyboard ready to peer into Paula’s window…

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The email was opened and I was struck by her pure unedited honesty, love and a voice that sounded weak yet strong. Her body needs healing but her mind is saturated with a unique wisdom to be shared.  I saw before me a spirit that has walked long miles in this life over rugged terrain.  She is in need of shelter and relief from the unrelenting elements that have worn her thin, but have not yet extinguished the light that glows from her.

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She is a woman who fights a disease that has paralyzed her ability to “live” life as she desperately wants to.   Her pain is constant, strong and does not respond to conventional medications.  The migraines alone would be enough to do me in.   She explains in her own words the symptoms she frequently endures, “Extreme fatigue, pains all over my body, loss of muscle mass, migraines, brain-fog, problems with short-term memory, muscles and joints pains, problems with certain food, abdominal pains, hand tremors, anxiety, high levels of stress, extreme sensitivities to noise and light as well as to some smells, insomnia, muscle weakness, loss of libido, mood swings and of course, depression”  “How could you not have depression with all those symptoms?” I thought.  Paula went on to explain to me the everyday difficulties she has with her condition.  I felt a pull as if my mind were exhausted envisioning what each symptom might feel like. I had to look away to re-center myself in order to continue.

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Her struggle brings a powerful question that plagues my mind… “WHY?”  Why do people suffer so?  For what purpose?  So that others can appreciate their comfy lives?  That hardly seems like the right and just argument to someone suffering!  Because we are only given as much as we can bear?  Really?  Then almost all of us would be suffering in the ways I have seen in my career.  I have witnessed just how much the body can take before it succumbs…  No, this can’t be the answer… then why?

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As I sat for a couple more minutes feeling ever more frustrated, I had to concede there were no obvious answers… just more questions.  I had to remember my mission… to share the power of courage with the world.  As hard as it is to hear about the suffering she faces, what lies beneath is power much greater than the forces that struggle to take her down…  The power to rise again and again is what astounded me… the decision to rise above the obstacles, the power to decide that some days the body needed to rest and regroup, the power to share the infirmity with the world knowing that it provided no relief to her symptoms whatsoever, the power to explain her story to an absolute stranger, the most amazing strength were the words that she lived for… She went on to say that the she continued to fight for the love of her life, the one that sustains her…  I was left speechless by those tender words.

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I set out on a mission to find Qi people who exemplify strength, courage and bravery. Today I did not need to look hard because a good friend knew one such person.  Her story is one that cannot be told in one sitting. Paula’s life has so much more to it.  I will leave her story to rest to be shared in more detail in a near post.  For now, I will sit and think about the times when pain is free, worries are none, and goals are in the distance waiting to be conquered….  I will think about Paula and how she overcomes her pain daily and makes the decision to “live” rather than give in or give up… Her courage energizes my spirit from thousands of miles away…

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The power of Qi transcends the physical body… when we think we can’t, we do… when we think we have nothing left to give, it is shared… when we think we can’t seem to find the strength to endure, we overcome… when our light is diminished… sometimes it is the light of others that keeps us warm and bright… today, I was reminded of all of these powers through the struggling yet determined voice that spoke through the words I feared to read.

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There is still so much of her brave story to share…

Feeling encouraged, enlightened and energized… Thank you, Paula!

Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

 

 

 

 

Day 57: Cold-water courage…

“Always do what you are afraid to do.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson 

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I was invited to swim with an amazing group of swimmers in the Trans-Tahoe Swim relay and although I have swam in Lake Tahoe before, swimming across the deepest and coldest part of Lake Tahoe is not something I have conquered before. To make matters worse, no wetsuits would be allowed… water temp in the lower 50’s… Really?  Why?

Considering it is an honor to be invited, I remember the day I received the invitation and thought, “I have to take on this challenge!” How many times will I receive an invite like that? So, I accepted the invite in the late winter but had wavered and hesitated as the months went by. And then I received the final call to see if I was really on board to be a part of the team. I very carefully and slowly responded….. “….. Y…e…s…” Deep sigh, as there was absolutely no turning back now! I was either going to sink or swim and if it be to sink, then at least it was a great ride!

The Trans-Tahoe relay is a 10-mile relay with 6 swimmers each committed to swim one 30-minute leg, two 15-minute legs and a 10-minute leg. The lake has depths greater than 1,500 ft and temps are an average of 55F in the center which is at the deepest part of the lake. The water has varying shades of clear blue with mountain scenery that simply leaves you speechless as you try to capture the beauty through your camera lens… no matter how many pics you take, being there is the only way to fully appreciate this outdoor gem.  Every trip to the lake reminds me of how fortunate I am, but today, I was feeling a little bit apprehensive.

I was heading out on one of the support boats for a quick practice swim.  I was feeling positive about having the opportunity to practice, but a little apprehensive since I was swimming alongside the Coach/Captain/ Organizer of the team. He wasn’t the only swimmer practicing, but he was the one that had me feeling oh so nervous. Would I meet up to his expectations? This is a man who swam for West Point.  He was a very high-ranking member in the Army and the list of accomplishments is never-ending. ” Why did I accept this invite?”, I kept thinking, “He is going to be so disappointed when he sees me swim”… Feeling inadequate and certainly not that confident, I began to preface our adventure with, “Are you sure you don’t want to phone a friend now and get a replacement for me, because when you see my swim, you might be just a little disappointed.” He just laughed… “He really is going to be disappointed!”, I thought!

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I arrived at the beach and the boat was out in the water waiting, “No turning back now”, I thought. I climbed aboard with my foot on the lake floor refusing to go along for the ride. Alas, I sent the message to my leg, “We must go now!” Up in the boat we went. It was a gorgeous day. The sun was warm, the water was a rich deep blue, I was wearing a light grey tank top covering my swimsuit and my hair up in a clip. I was starting to feel relaxed trying not to think about the “test” that was just a little distance away. And then, there he was, walking so determined and serious down the beach to board the boat. I swallowed hard trying to ready myself for the disappointment of a deep water failure. He boarded the boat and said a quick, “Hello”. Not much else was said and off we went to the center of the lake for a practice swim.

LTP1As we cruised across the lake, the spray from the boat gently misted my face. The cool hardly mattered as the sun had warmed my skin, comforted my nerves and calmed my heart before I was to take a dip in the frigid waters.  As I sat there, my mind was tortured with the constant conflict of enjoying the scenery and the boat ride while fearing the swim… I chose to enjoy the ride, but by the time I had made that decision we had already arrived.

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“We are here?” I asked… My good friend and her husband laughed at me and said, “Yup, we’re here!” Gulp! The Coach/Captain quickly got into his swim gear as did another swimmer and before I could slip out of my clothes, they were already in the water. I looked at their faces for some sign of distress or discomfort… and there was none! They swam as if they were otters in their delightful habitat. As I looked out and watched, I knew that I had to prove some value to the team and I had to do the unthinkable, get in the water even if it meant facing that evil challenge, called “Hypothermia”.

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I could feel the eyes on me as the others waited for me to get in.  Slowly, quietly, surely, I made my way out of my shorts and shirt and took a couple deep breaths, said an extra prayer in hopes that someone would listen and protect me.  And it was time…. Into the water I went… I could feel the ice-cold water first numb my toes and then before I knew it, I was a human icicle… but a swimming icicle at that!

We began the 30 minute practice swim and I was full of fear that I would not be able to keep up. As I went stroke for stroke I noticed something unexpected, something so odd because I had envisioned a completely different scenario. There I was swimming to the left of my Coach and Captain, a man who has swam his entire life. Much to my surprise, within one minute, we had fallen into a synchronized swimming rhythm. I felt like a baby dolphin being led by a parent so wise and experienced, yet still able to keep up and follow his every move. He became a guide, a compass, a shadow to find comfort in. The cold was not even recognizable at this point. My breathing and arm movements took on his rhythm and I could feel my body relax and be at ease each time I caught a glimpse of him swimming next to me. The 30 minute swim flew by and we stopped. We weren’t even out of breath and both of us were smiling… I could feel his sense of relief to know that I could keep up with him, but I also felt a new kinship that had formed in that very cold water of Lake Tahoe.

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We decided to climb aboard as our mission had been accomplished. He congratulated me on a good swim and I returned several compliments and it was then that I simply began to bask in the sun’s warm rays. With my fears conquered, I looked around in awe and amazement. I could see the light shimmering off the lake as if a reward for a job well done.

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I sat there and just felt grateful for the swim, for good friends, for the opportunity and that magnificent view that I simply could not reconcile to be a coincidence.

 

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As we returned from the adventure, I couldn’t help but snap as many pics as possible. I knew that on the relay morning, my mind would have to be focused but my fear would not be allowed on that ride. No, it was on that practice swim that I let go of that anchoring feeling of fear… no need for it to weigh me down… I was close to certain that I could face the challenge and rise above the fear that now rested some 1,500ft below the surface.

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On this day, I had to balance my fear of failure with the ability to do my best and enjoy the adventure. In the end, the Coach/Captain that I thought to have every right to be concerned at his choice of teammates, took me under his fin. With no more than an encouraging look, we swam in unison as if we had swum together for years… his look of approval and his complementary words were the energy my spirit needed to be convinced that I belonged on this team. Our swimmers now possessed the confidence to take on this chilly challenge to do what so few people ever have the opportunity to accomplish…

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Feeling grateful, excited at the opportunity, humbled at the challenge and grateful for a Coach that believed in me when this little dolphin wondered if she even could… wondering what tomorrow will bring…

 

 

Day 56: Hurry up and rest…

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It is a rest day!!!!  I have to say, I absolutely love these days!  I get the privilege to start my early morning with a hard and fast run and enjoy a sunrise on the cool down walk home.  Next stop is a refreshingly cool shower and my grey summer robe, some delish coffee and time on the patio to sit and think… about everything and nothing at all.

Today, I thought to make a list of the things that awaken my senses and give me that undeniable feeling of sheer pleasure that you wish would last forever but alas, only seconds go by…

-The endorphins after a good run. Really? These little babies should be illegal in the contiguous 48 states because they can lead to so many good and pleasurable things. I think I need not list their provocation.

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-My runners… those running shoes make me fly! The feeling of running is sheer pleasure unto itself… the wind through my hair, my skin glistening after a hard run, opening my lungs and working my breathing, the burning in my quads, hammys and glutes, my favorite running tank that feels like silk against my skin and weighs close to nothing, my running music playlist that inspires and motivates me to run like the wind… the result: One happy girl!

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-Wearing my favorite flirty skirt that sits just above my knee and gently swings as I walk. I feel like a ballet dancer with delicate moves, and feminine lines accentuated by the A-line cut and a feeling of graceful freedom that makes me want to pirouette when I walk.

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-My pair of black sling back sandals and a new pedicure… what’s not to like about accentuating the toes that help me fly like the wind?

-The beach candle I light only on occasion that leaves the room with a soft coconut, vanilla and sandalwood fragrance that reminds me of a mixture of the scent of suntan lotion and soft beach scents… All I want to do is melt into bed and let my mind drift away…

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-The first couple licks of a vanilla ice cream cone that has been dipped in a hard-shell chocolate coating. That first bite of the chocolate as it melts in your mouth and you taste the rich cocoa flavor and that sugary sweetness that teases your tongue and releases that serotonin that sends you to that happy place where anything is possible. But then to indulge in those long licks of vanilla ice cream so rich and creamy that only a little is more than enough… the two are sheer bliss. If the entire cone were to be indulged in, one might actually reach the state of nirvana!

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-The sound of the early morning as it greets you from a night of peaceful slumber… the birds as they sing to each other, the breeze as it glides over your naked skin, the sun as it kisses your cheeks, that morning scent of flowers blooming by the window, a mixture of bliss that only the earth can provide and we decide to lay in bed for just a couple extra minute to bask in the glory.

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-A glazed doughnut that I would only indulge in but once or twice a year, just enough to satiate my craving but not too much to allow myself to fall in love. I can’t even think about that first bite, because it will lead to thoughts of second bite and I will for sure want more… yes, a doughnut, so dense and sweet, where every calorie is worth the indulgence.

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-New delicates of the black color kind with just a touch of lace that when you wear them you see yourself feeling so seductive and sexy that you have trouble not indulging in some private play time… and although they may be pricey they are an investment that always rewards with that unmistakable shivering sensation that so often leads to a smile.

-The ocean and the beach…. To feel the soft, cool sand between your toes, to taste the salty air, to hear the waves as they roll through with that reliable rhythm, to find those delicate shells that rarely survive their journey on shore, the view that lends the inspiration of what dreams are made of and futures hold. Yes, the ocean, that healing effect that makes the stresses of life drift away and opens our minds to the possibilities of what we can do, who we can become, realizing what truly makes us happy and resets our compass to show us the way.

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On this rest day, I gave myself permission to remind myself of the things that gift me the sense of sheer bliss in an otherwise busy life. To think about the things that electrify my senses, make me shiver with pleasure and lead me to stay in bed for just a couple extra minutes while the rest of the world wakes up from their slumber.

Today, I shared the with the world a few of the secret treasures that gift me with sheer pleasure, but remind me that just a little is sometimes more than enough… Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

 

 

Day 55: In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take…

“We should regret our mistakes and learn from them, but never carry them forward into the future with us.”

-Lucy Maud Montgomery

I have been carrying around regret for a very long time and today I decided to face it, bear my soul and settle my thoughts, if not for her, than for me.  Regret is defined as

  1.  “To feel sorry, disappointed, or distressed about.
  2. To remember with a feeling of loss or sorrow; mourn.”

My regret is something I feel both sorry for and distressed about…and even after many years, I still mourn. Today, I am stepping back in time to a place I left buried and untouched… a place that defined the path I would take in life… a place that forced me up on my own two feet. It was the day my Grandmother left this earth.

My mother was frequently burdened with the care of 6 children.  I would frequently find refuge at my Grandmother’s house.  She transitioned by default to be my surrogate mother, with unconditional love included.

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I have not allowed myself much time to dwell on her since I painfully placed those memories away so many years ago. I try not to think about the times we shared and the laughs that permeated my days with her. Not thinking about it provides a coping and defense mechanism for what is missing. But as of late, as I live this year as if it were my last, I need to reconcile some things. This is my first “official” reconciliation to an important person in this Quest.

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My Grandmother was truly unique. She and I shared a birthday and maybe that is why we found a special kinship. We were alike and yet so very different. She had a free spirit, was fun and loving to all, enjoyed good food, good company and a good German beer never hurt. I remember feeling her strength and abundant love when I was within feet of her front door. I can still remember that feeling of standing at her front door and knocking to come in and she always said the same thing, “You don’t need to knock, just come in…” And she said it with the most gracious and generous smile. I would walk into her house and we would sit and talk… yes, at the age of 10 we would sit and discuss everything and anything we could… from world events, to the seemingly important things going on in my young life, to “All My Children” that she so loved to watch. She would make the most fabulous lunches for me with not even an ounce of worry of whether or not they were nutritious. It was her very generous and giving way of showing her infinite love.

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We were inseparable most days. I spent the summer cutting her grass, going on bike rides and walks with her, plenty of gardening and yes, this dolphin loved to swim with her in her pool! She so enjoyed watching her grandchildren enjoy the time at her house, until one day…

My grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. My family privately received the news from her doctor right before the Christmas holiday and making the right decision, the diagnosis was not shared with her until after the first of the year. The cancer had spread to her bones and elsewhere and although there were options to do chemotherapy, it was not going to end the way we all hoped, this much we knew.

As I sit here and type, it is hard to express the words that could replicate the feelings I had with that fateful news. I can feel the exact moment and hear the words as they escaped my mother’s mouth when they told me. There was a moment of silence while my brain tried to find logic in what was being said. I was in complete disbelief with a twinge of anger and resentment toward the power that allowed this to happen. I remember thinking… How could the very balanced and centered part of my life leave? What would I do without her as there is still so much to learn and share? Why now? Will she ever know how much she meant to me? And the tears… dare I admit, there were so many…

It was a long battle over several months. Even at a young age, I couldn’t understand why she was put through the pain and discomfort from the chemotherapy to the radiation. If I had to describe her days with a couple words, they would be: strength, pain, fight to live. Yes, that was my grandmother… strong until the very end, but the pain could be heard in the reluctant gasps when she had to move ever so slightly. I will admit with no hesitation in my heart that as much as I loved her, I just wanted it all to stop… the pain, the suffering… the long goodbye. I wanted to remember the grandmother that played ball with me outdoors, the grandmother that would walk with me and share stories, the grandmother that believed in me and made time for me when my parents were busy with work or other family obligations, the grandmother that never let me forget that I was truly loved by someone in this world.

love courage She was admitted to the hospital and I remember spending the week at her side with other family members. I sat and watched her slip away each and every day. Then it was around a week later when my Mom said to me, “Michele, you need to go home, shower and we will come back to the hospital.” I remember telling my Mom I didn’t want to leave my Grandmother’s side, not for a shower, food or drink. My Mom said in a gentle but firm voice, “I will drop you off at home and be back to pick you up and we will return to the hospital.” And it was obvious that no argument would be won. I had that feeling that I shouldn’t leave. I felt it in the pit of my stomach as if I were betraying her by leaving. I felt as if she had been there for all of my good times and bad times and there I was leaving to go take a shower. I arrived home, and like lightning, took the fastest shower ever. I grabbed my comb and sat on the couch and in an unusual fashion, I found myself combing my hair, ever so slowly, as if time were standing still. The next thing I knew, I had fallen into a deep sleep. I could feel my Mom’s hand on my shoulder in a gentle attempt to wake me carefully. I heard my Mom then say, “Michele, I have to…. “.  I quickly cut her off and said, “Mom, I know she is in heaven.” I then closed my eyes and returned to my peaceful slumber. No tears shed… no overwhelming sadness… no regrets at the moment… just a peaceful slumber that felt like I had been placed under a spell.

When I awoke, my body felt refreshed but there was an unmistakable fissure that started to form in my heart. It was a feeling of loss that I hope to never feel again, as if the energy from my body had been drained with no possible way of recharging. I can remember feeling like I was walking aimlessly through life. Not knowing what direction to turn and with no compass to take me there. Yes, the light of my delicate life had been extinguished and I wasn’t even there to say “Goodbye” or give one last hug and kiss or “I love you.” And I know in the deepest region of this healed heart that perhaps she chose to go when I wasn’t there. She left on her terms and in her way, because that is just who she was. But I have carried this regret for not being there for some time now. Rational, or irrational, it is a regret I need to reconcile.

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So, today on this Quest, I will open my heart and bare my soul and share what I had hoped to be able to say in that last precious time with her…

“Dearest Grandmother….You gave me all the love a person would need. You made sure that I had everything I ever wanted. You made every effort to make me smile. You hugged me when I didn’t think I deserved one. You welcomed me into your home at all hours of the day. You shared with me when you had little to give. You made me feel worthy when I thought less of myself. You gave me time when minutes were few. You tucked away the pain to spend a little more time with me. You gave me joy in teaching me to appreciate the simple things…. A delicious cookie, a cup of coffee, a sunrise, a walk in the park, a new sweater, learning to embrace a haircut, a home cooked meal, to forgive my flaws because no one is perfect, to look good when you don’t feel good-it makes all the difference, and to enjoy the sinful delight of a cool Peppermint Patty when the day just didn’t turn out right. Your priceless wisdom, advice, and that loving spirit have gifted me in a way that I will always be grateful for. I cannot imagine going through the years without you. Please know that you are always missed, never forgotten and will always be loved. And yes, I have had the courage so far to do some amazing things. I have always known that you would be watching and either smiling or laughing. Hopefully, you are content knowing that it is never too late for me to follow in your footsteps and share the true spirit and your wisdom of how to live, with the world. “

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I woke up this morning holding on to a regret that I have carried for many years… not being able to say what needed to be said. Today, I grabbed hold of the courage needed to open my heart and let the words of love and appreciation stream from my soul, to my hands, to be typed into the computer. Too often we hold back on the things that need to be said. We sometimes fear the response, or we simply do not take the everyday opportunity to let the ones in our lives know how much they are loved and appreciated. It takes but 3 seconds to say those 3 simple words. Three seconds is priceless when compared with the potential of years of regret.

I am certain that this Quest would never have come to fruition if I had not been graced with one of the greatest influences in my life.  It was my father that taught be about determination and from which I know my stubborn streak was born, my fears were extended from my mother, but my spirit of adventure that propels me forward on this Quest could only have come from my loving, adventurous and spirited Grandmother!

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Feeling lighter, relieved, content, happy, and loved from afar…. Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

 

 

Day 54: No apologies necessary…

“An apology might help, but you can change your life without one.”

-Robin Quivers

 

Today presented a very different challenge.  Today, I was going to resist the urge to apologize for things I can’t control, for other unfortunate happenings that I had nothing to do with, for the clouds in the sky, for bad news of the day, for everything I wish I could change but have no ability, control, strength or magical wand to fix, correct, make better or improve.  Yes, today I had to face one of my bad habits of apologizing for everything under the sun.

The only place this habit could have come from was growing up.  I would frequently read the stress in my parents’ eyes and the look on their face when the world seemed to go against them.  Raising half a football team could not have been easy on them, financially, emotionally and otherwise.  I remember many a day when they would try to discuss, without the prying ears of their six children listening, how they would possibly afford to pay for medical expenses, dental expenses and groceries.  It was hard not to feel guilt for existing, knowing that if they had one less mouth to feed, one less child to clothe, one less…..  Perhaps, life could have been easier for them.  I soon found myself making apologies for anything and everything.

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My friends today often tell me that I need not apologize for sending a long email, or for asking a question, or for interrupting their day….  I have friends that often tell me not to apologize for imposing on them when I visit.   I have neighbors that suggest I not apologize for the accidental wildflower seeds that drift into their yard… I have strangers say I need not apologize for their seemingly bad day they are having…  And the list goes on.

I was curious what the reasons are for carrying this apology habit into my adult world.  In doing some research, I found a fascinating explanation with information on how to break the habit from Dr. Carol at http://dr-carol.com/2014/02/19/why-do-girls-apologize-for-everything-stop-saying-youre-sorry/

 

“Now, when it comes to excessive apologizing, girls tend to read into things very differently than boys.  They will over analyze their actions and words wondering how they are perceived by others. Carefully calculating their word choice while looking for verbal cues of acceptance. If they don’t see those verbal cues of acceptance, that’s when “sorry” comes into play. It’s a very critical way of viewing oneself that can produce anxiety and sometimes low self-esteem.

Although there may be nothing to apologize for, young girls will use sorry like a verbal crutch to fill space and feel more secure. As one article points out, women sometimes say sorry a lot because they view it as being polite.  If a girl hears the excessive use of sorry by their female role model, they too will adopt it as an acceptable form of politeness. Kids learn early on that saying sorry can help calm things down quickly, or defuse difficult situations. Do girls subconsciously believe that apologizing will help prevent disruption? Is this their way of minimizing or avoiding conflict? When this behavior is observed and accepted by adults, they too are condoning the excessive use of the word. Parents have a responsibility to step in and look at their own use of the word sorry and help their daughters (and sons) understand when to use it appropriately.

Remember, apologizing is confirming that you have done something wrong. Within the proper context, this can be a very brave thing to do. However, constantly saying “sorry” sends out a message that you aren’t a confident individual.

Girls can break the pattern of unnecessary apologizing by taking a few small steps:

  • Pay attention to how many times you apologize in a day. Under what circumstances do you tend to apologize?
  • Make sure you know what you are apologizing for and why before apologizing.
  • Become aware of your pattern. If you realize you are about to apologize for something that doesn’t require an apology,  STOP! Do not apologize. Find the appropriate words.
  • Do not avoid conflict by apologizing; however, if you really messed up, then apologizing is the right way to go.

Girls need to stop saying sorry out of habit, guilt, or accommodation. Apologies should only be given when deserved.  The result, a more confident and strong young woman.”

 

In trying to determine what my apology means, I have come to the realization that if I had the power to make everyone’s day the best it could be with no pain, no accidents, no disappointments, no tragedies… there is no doubt I would.  I know in the back of my mind I have had no control or influence on the events or issues that I apologize for. Apologizing is my way of simply saying that I do not want to affect their life in a negative way–as I may have affected my parents’ lives.  Perhaps Dr.Carol is right and it is a lack of self-confidence.  As much as I cringe to admit that, I think most women would admit to feeling less able, less intelligent, less beautiful, perhaps less entitled to feel confident in all aspects of life at one time or another.  We live in a society where women frequently measure each other against unreal standards, and set unreal expectations, and I am not immune to this.  Unfortunately, when we set too many expectations and are unable to meet our goals, we also set ourselves up for failure and this can lead to low self-confidence and the apologies begin to flow like a river….

I try to live by a personal creed to never be an imposition, obligation, bother, or have any negative affect on others in any way, shape and form.  My creed is to share a smile, lend a hand, make things better than the way they were found, contribute in positive ways and to try to listen more and speak less…. and although some days I do the best I can, other days I may feel I have not fulfilled these goals as well as I would like and find myself apologizing for anything and everything!

So, after a little research, I decided it was time to face my fear of accepting why it is I continuously apologize and to try to stop this unproductive habit, so that I can become as strong as I know I am, I can feel confident about who I am and where the road is taking me.  If I have my head facing down, how is it that I will ever know which way to go?

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So with those thoughts and that goal, I sat at my desk preparing myself for the challenge of the day.  Climbing mountains, taking pictures, indulging in a sweet treat were nowhere on the agenda.  Today’s challenge might actually be a little bit more difficult and introspective than that.  Did I have the strength, courage and ability to accept of the flaw I know existed and do I have the self-confidence needed to better my relationships and strengthen my spirit?  I was soon to find out….

The day started well. The first opportunity came when I went for my alter-G run and a staff member was commenting on the challenging weekend they had. I caught myself in mid-sentence ready to say those two words, “I’m sorry.”  When the conversation ended I thought about how refraining from making such an apologetic comment felt.  I felt as if I was saying goodbye to a comfy blanket that was too tattered to save or to an old friend that was leaving this world.  It felt final… permanent, uncomfortable.  I then thought about how I handled replacing this sentence with, “That must have been difficult to handle, how did you deal with it?”  And her answer to this response was much more nourishing than the typical, “You don’t need to apologize…”  She went on to say how she handled the situation and that it did turn out well in the end.  I have to say that exchange left me feeling more fulfilled as there was a productive discussion that transpired.  The conversation centered around her and her situation and that made me feel pleased as if I had done something… anything to help and this morning it meant just listening.

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The day continued from there when I returned an email to a friend.  I realized at the end of the email that it had been longer than I had anticipated but felt that each sentence carried value and not being able to edit it down, I started to write those 2 words… and as soon as I realized that my fingers were trying to covertly sidestep the mission of the day, I stopped typing.  I sat there and thought about it for just a minute.  Was I hurting this individual by sending this email of a particular length or would this friend find my words appreciative regardless of their number?   This friend had never complained before, but always said I need not apologize.  So, my cursor deleted those words as quickly as they had been typed.  The email response was just as I had predicted with no mention of length only about substance.   In hindsight, this really wasn’t a surprise, just a confirmation that this friendship is as centered as it should be and that had me smiling…

The last challenge came late in the day.   When I was at the store and ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in many months.  It was a great conversation until she confided in me that she had come across some challenges as of late and with a depressed look on her face, I was ready once again to apologize… but I quickly looked down and searched for those words that I thought carried more value… I simply said, “That is a terrible set of circumstances.  How are you coping and is there anything I can do to help?”  The words were sincere and behind her look of worry and sadness emerged a half smile as if to extend an unspoken sign of appreciation.  I have to say that I remember walking away feeling better about my life and the tiny challenges that I face, but also knowing that eliminating those words and replacing them with a more gracious sentence carried far more value as seen by that heartfelt half smile she gave me.

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This lifelong habit will not be eliminated in one day.  It will require a concerted effort on my part to remind myself that there is no guilt that should be felt in existing, no guilt for sending a long email, no guilt in not being able to control where the wildflower seeds land, no guilt should be felt in having self confidence in knowing the direction I am headed.  After all, how is it that this shy girl can climb a mountain so tall, bare the truth under the sun and indulge in a delicious daydream she shared with the world, but apologizes for everything that is…?  No, today this shy girl has found a little bit of confidence to stand tall and apologize for only what she has done wrong, and knowing that Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.” –Samuel Johnson

 Today, I gave up a tattered blanket so comfy and secure to say that I make no apologies for existing; instead I hope that I can continue to strengthen this spirit and spread a message that is bigger than the mountains that I climb and the lakes that I swim…. Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

Day 53: : A hike of Olympic proportions…

 

“You must remain focused on your journey to greatness.”

Les Brown

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It was the day after my 5k, I have to say, I was still on cloud 9!  I felt like I could take on Mt. Olympus if I set my mind to it!  Well, since Mt. Olympus is many miles away, I decided on visiting and taking on the next best thing, Squaw Valley, CA… home to the 1960 Winter Olympics!

Having never been to Squaw Valley, I decided to follow the recommendations of several friends and visit the historic haven of winter sports.  I thought that after completing my racing feat that doctors said was impossible, that an almost 2000ft hike to 8000ft was in order!  So, I woke up that morning and started the day with a 2.14 mile swim to clear my head and prepare myself for the adventure ahead.   The swim was cathartic and relaxing and my knee was feeling good after the race.

I arrived back home after the swim and packed my bag and pulled out my hiking shoes I had not used in over a year. Then I applied a little bit of sunscreen, wrapped a light long sleeve shirt around my waist and Siri and I were ready to make the trek to Olympic village.  The drive would be about an hour but the sun was bright and not a cloud in the sky, almost as if it were just supposed to be.   I turned on the radio and found myself lost in music that had me going miles with smiles… not a thought in my mind except excited anticipation to see and walk the grounds that were graced by true champions!

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Siri directed me to the Squaw Valley resort and a green meadow with a crisscross wooden fence greeted me.  I followed the road next to the meadow for about ¾ mile when suddenly there in front of me were the Olympic rings and a lit Olympic torch which sat at the base of the rings.  I gasped with disbelief… it was majestic, magical, awe-inspiring and left me thinking, “What an honor it must have been to be part of these games!”  I struggled to focus on the road as taking pictures was all I was concerned about at that moment.  I turned into the Squaw Valley village and it was as if the air had an energy that I can hardly describe.  It felt as if everyone in the village held onto the same appreciation of where they were…

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I parked the car at the base of the trail that would lead up 2,000 ft. to an elevation of 8100ft.  I was unaware of what to expect on the hike except that I knew I was going up!  The trail started with a gentle incline through a cool forested area.  Before I knew it I was climbing… climbing rocks anywhere from a foot high in some places to actual large boulders in others.  The resort had spray painted blue directional marks to help lead the way.  This proved to be useful as I found myself spell-bound by the landscape not wanting to miss a tree, flower or view, as I climbed ever higher.

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The wildflowers were abundant and the mixed colors were reminiscent of a Claude Monet painting. They were delicate from afar, with muted lines, but ever pleasing to the eyes.  The butterflies danced in joy and I could hear water as I continued the hike.  There to the right was a waterfall that beckoned me to come frolic, but alas, it is snowmelt mountain water and the temp was just a little too chilly to shed my threads and frolic.  However, my naked toes were thankful for the quick dip to cool them off just because I could.  I stood atop a granite slab and in every direction the view was more than worthy of a picture or taking a minute for pure appreciation.    A quick sip of water and the 4 mile hike was nowhere near completion.

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I continued upward and the trail had me entering thick cool lush forest where the ground was as soft as cotton as I walked on a pine needle layered trail.  The trees were giants by Olympic proportion.  It was obvious that this forest was quite old as the trees that lay on their sides had a girth that indicated that the rings need not be counted to calculate their age.  I continued the hike and my mind began to wander.  I was feeling good and the knee was holding up just fine.  I thought for a moment about all the Quests I had completed up to this point.  I thought about how each day I wake up feeling grateful not only to be able to do these Quests but to share the adventures and revelations with the world and whoever might find them remotely interesting to read.  I tried to think back to the day, not so long ago, that this shy girl would not even want to pick up a phone to place an order for something or walk into a new store without feeling some sense of fear.  I couldn’t help to think about how this Quest has changed my perspective on so many things that I would never have done or seen had I not decided to take on this mission.  And as I thought about the past, one thing was very clear, I did not want to go back!  I am excited about the fun, challenging, thrilling and provocative things still left to do and the people I hope to meet along the way.  And just as I was lost in thought, I came across yet another waterfall that was different than the last, but still required my full attention to absorb its beauty and movement.

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I continued yet again with the hike, until I came upon a concerning part of the trail.  There in front of me were more rocks to climb but in this particular section,  a dried up creek/river bed, there were trees to climb over and rocks I had to scramble over and “precarious” would be the only way to describe it.  I remember looking up and then looking down and thinking, “If I fall my body will probably land… there!”  With that, I cautiously made my way up the rock and relishing the accomplishment when I completed the climb.  Again there was a forested flat area to hike until the next rock climb.

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As I exited the forested area there was a muddy ravine and then one long and questionable rock climb to the top…  I was able to traverse the ravine but the rock climb was rated a Class 3 over a granite cliff face.  Although it proved to be challenging yet again, I cannot even describe the view but to say, I could not think of a closer place to heaven than this.   When I made it to the top, I sat for what seemed like an hour but just felt compelled to take in the view and make sure it was locked away securely in my memory.  The sky was as blue as I have seen it and the sun warmed me as though I were a lizard laying on a rock in need of a recharge in energy.  The village sat off in the distance and there I sat confounded as to why and how I was presented with this mission.  There was so much to ponder and take in that I had to force myself to stand up and feel secure that the time I spent was nourishing for both my body and my spirit.… there was still mountain to climb and I wasn’t going to leave a single rock untouched by my hiking shoes.

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sq71Just a little further and I came upon the most serene and picturesque lake…  her name was Shirley Lake.  A small alpine lake that seemed to come out of nowhere.   I was being called to come sit and enjoy her beauty.

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I sat and rested one last time and had no hesitation to dip my naked toes in the water and found the water to be warmer than I had anticipated.  If only I had my swimsuit!!!   I must confess that skinny dipping sounded so tempting as I have never done that, but alas, with other hikers around, it wouldn’t happen today.  But somewhere along this Quest, I may just have to go Eve and take the plunge!  No, here I decided to just sit and rest and think… and as I looked around, it appeared that the other hikers seemed to feel the same pull, the same draw, the same need to just sit and be.

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After just a little while and a couple hundred pics later, it was time to finish the last portion of the hike and climb to base camp to take the tram down the mountain.  The climb was just that, an all uphill climb, no forested breaks, just up and beyond!  I came around a bend and there in front of me was an area of snow!  I realized at that moment that in fact I was close to the summit.  I stopped to inspect the snow.  I reached down and picked up a handful to rub onto my neck and chest as my body was feeling hot at this point from the continuous climb.  The snow on my body felt oh-so-cold and refreshing!  Laying in the snow sounded like a wonderful plan, but time was ticking and I had to continue on the trek, but not without leaving a reminder for the hikers that followed.

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The trail leveled off at 8100 ft as I had made the summit!  If I thought the views were fantastic at the granite cliff, these views were truly breath-taking!

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I remember thinking that I could do this climb all the time if it meant having the privilege to see such a sight.  As I arrived at High Camp, I was impressed to find it was an important Olympic venue in 1960. This was a place that Olympians from around the world graced with their presence.  There was a roller skating rink at 8,100 feet that once served as the venue for Olympic hockey. There was a swimming pool, climbing wall and more activities than I could even mention.  And there by the skating rink stood a tall reminder of the greats who once visited and had the courage to use every ounce of energy and spirit to compete for that coveted gold medal… the Olympic rings were aged but regally standing with no less majesty than they did so many years ago.  I stood at the rail as I looked out with the other visitors and just remembered thinking, “The trail that led the great athletes to this place of competition was one of challenges, difficulties, disappointments and surprises.  They had the courage to take chances to believe in their abilities when perhaps others did not.  To work hard and then work even harder everyday with their eye on the medal. They worked to continually condition their bodies.  Determined, strong, fearless, brave, driven and some destined for greatness…  How humbling it is to stand in the shadow of greatness from countries across the globe…  as I stand here I am inspired to be the best, do the most, and appreciate everything life has to offer… and they may never know the gift of inspiration that they have gifted me some 64 years later.”

 

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The tram ride down allowed for more spectacular views and once down the hill, it was time to indulge in some not so low calorie pizza and a cool refreshing and rewarding glass of Zinfindel…  It was gratifying to sit and take in the views of the village after a hike of Olympic proportion.

 

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Today, I had the privilege to climb a mountain and appreciate the bounty of the earth. I crossed difficult terrain cautiously but determined to reach the summit.  I made sure to fuel my body and nourish my soul with views and images that encouraged me to remember life before the Quest.  A hiking trail that is as good as gold helped me know that this is the path that I was meant to be on and to think the adventure has only just begun….

Walking in the shadow of greatness…  Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

 

Day 52: Racing toward independence…

“To win without risk is to triumph without glory.”

-Pierre Corneille

 

It was 4th of July and the day started early.  I woke up, indulged in a fantastic cup of warm, strong coffee.  I remember thinking, this is the day… this is the day I get to race again!  The legs felt good and strong with minimal achiness in the knee.  I was ready to run!

I walked to my closet and searched for the black Nike tank that I had deemed my racing top.  I knew the exact location.  I remember the day I put it away with a sinking feeling in my heart that it would be a donation to the local charity and never worn again.  I found it in between a couple of shirts I no longer wear and like an old friend I smiled as I lifted it from the rack.  I stopped and stared at it for a couple seconds remembering the cut, the look, the feel, and even recognizing the tiny pinholes from the previous racing bibs that were affixed to it.  I remember feeling like it was Christmas time, and getting an unexpected gift from a friend.  You don’t know what to say but feel humbled by just the thought.  I grabbed the other parts of my racing gear and changed into them.  I had to stop as I saw myself in the mirror… it felt like just yesterday that I last wore these pieces and yet many months and had actually past.  My hair was a little different, I was a little leaner, but still recognizable.  It felt as if these pieces gave me an energy I hadn’t felt in so long.  Yes, I could now remember the feeling of racing.. the adrenaline, the excitement, the competition, it flooded my veins like medicine that was just injected.

I grabbed my trusty black running cap, my iphone armband, my water bottle and Siri… I took one deep breath and looked at Jet and smiled as I walked out the door.  I communicated to Siri that we were to go to Gardnerville, NV and like the good friend that she is, she quickly returned the proper directions and off we went.  The drive took about 45 minutes and I started off by listening to some music to help awaken my senses.  Before I knew it, I had entered the valley that led to the race.  I reached over and turned off the radio as if I had to have a serious discussion with a companion in the car.  I took a deep breath and began to think and speak openly…

“I am here… I am doing this… I am going to race… this is it… (smile)….  please give me the strength to run like the wind… please let me run like I ran before, with purpose, enjoyment and without pain…  Whatever happens, I am ever grateful for the opportunity… If this is my last race, I will accept that, just please let it be a good one…  Amen!”

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I took another deep breath and before I knew it, Siri had told me to take a left turn and I could see a sign for the race event.  I parked my car and stepped out.  I felt like I had stepped into a movie where a small town was celebrating the 4th of July.   There in the center of a park was a pavilion with red white and blue draped around it.  I could hear the sound of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless America” playing from the DJ hired for the event.  The town folk were setting up their booths of running gear and arts and crafts.  Everywhere I looked people spoke to each other reminiscent of a small town gathering.  I had many that greeted me with a smile and the words of “Welcome”  as if they knew I wasn’t a Gardnerville resident.  But they took me in as one of their own as you would expect a small town to do.

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I registered at the appropriate booth and the head of the chamber of commerce was manning the booth. She was cheerful and excited to have me attend their race from out of town.  I remember the feeling when they handed me my bib, #1923 and the safety pins with it… I held it in my hand with a moment of disbelief, slightly confused and not mentally accepting what it was I was to embark on.  I still had feelings of concern and doubt that the knee might decide at the last minute not to participate.

I stepped to the side to retrieve my participant t-shirt and then slowly walked to a picnic table in the sun to prepare for the race.  I sat down and saw an American flag table decoration and felt a strong sense of patriotism and love for my country.  I sat and thought about the countries across the globe where women are still not able to have the freedoms that our country affords its citizens.  I then thought about my Dad and how he so enjoyed celebrating the 4th of July and wishing he were there to see me and how proud he would have been that I could run again.  I just sat and felt lost in thought as race was to start in just 10 minutes.

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It was then that I lifted one foot and laced up my runners and held onto that feeling just in case it might be the last time…  One foot… then the other… I then opened the safety pins and found the previous holes in my running tank and lined up my bib to be as level as possible and closed the safety pins one by one.  I then placed my hands over the bib as if not to forget what it felt like to wear one, the paper ever so smooth and perfectly even.  I then made sure my running app was set for the 5k distance.  Then over the PA system was a delicate but firm female voice announcing the events of the day.  She then asked for everyone to take their hats off, place their hands over their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  I looked around and almost in a proud unison, we all did as she requested.  The voices were strong and loud in the recitation and an abrupt applause and cheer filled the air at the end of the pledge… I could feel my heart skip a couple beats at the feeling of devotion to my country.

The runners lined up, and we sang “America the Beautiful” and within one minute I heard that sound announcing the beginning of the race and off we went.  I remember running about 30 steps expecting pain and feeling none… I suddenly felt something I had never felt before.  My eyes were tearing up and I was feeling a bit choked up.  I was a little confused;  I have never felt this in a race before.  It was a surreal feeling as if my body was running and my mind was aware of the feat I was about to embark on…  I accepted for a couple seconds that this was supposed to be insurmountable and that the goal was just to finish and it was in that very moment, like a light switch, my mind sent the order to “RUN LIKE THE WIND… BECAUSE YOU CAN!!!”  I heard it as clear as day and I am not sure who gave the order but I followed it as if my Dad ordered me to clean my room as a child, there was no option to disregard, it was full throttle ahead…  And just like that, my legs began to pick up the speed and the turnover was quick and fast.

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I passed one runner after another, and then I had the sudden realization that I was close to the head of the pack.   I could hear my feet as they hit the pavement and I could feel the burn in my lungs.  My quads felt sore by the 1.5 mile mark and I couldn’t help but smile…

 

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It was then that the path took me through a dirt trail and I had a middle aged grey haired man running next to me.   He was an obvious runner who had a long beard and that zen running energy that was magnetic which reminded me of Forrest Gump… I found myself  drawn to pace with him.  We said but not a word just ran together as if we both understood that this race had real meaning for each of us.  We ran the next mile together and that’s when I decided to run just a little faster… With my breathing heavy and my legs starting to tire and my mind saying, “This is a lot harder than you thought!” I pushed forward with no option to stop until I crossed the finish line…

I came around the bend knowing that at any minute the finish line would be in sight… I suddenly felt a surge in energy and the power came from somewhere.  I saw the finish line ahead.  I took a deep breath and my arms began to pump and my feet felt as if they were barely touching the ground with each quick step I made in the last 100 yards.   My arms and legs moved faster by the second as they responded to the intensifying cheers from the crowd that lined up near the finish line.

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42I looked down and I could see my left leg cross the finish line and my body begin to relax when my arm reached to the sky as I said a “Thank you” to anyone that might be listening…  I bent over, almost overcome with emotion as the gravity of what just occurred was beginning to be realized.  Just then, the man that I had paced with came up to me to give me a high-five and it was a confirmation that I not only had accomplished my mission, but reveled in the fellowship of other runners that knew nothing about me, but shared in the enjoyment to have the chance to run in this 5k race.

I stepped aside and was ready to leave the race when something reminded me to find out how I did and where I placed in the large group of runners.  I went over expecting to hear that I had finished somewhere in the top 50% and in complete surprise was told I finished 2nd female, 1st in my age group and 6th overall….  The 5k was not a sanctioned event, so no awards were to be given… but it didn’t matter in the least.  Today, I accomplished a goal that most said I would never have the opportunity to do again and that was an award in itself!

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On this 4th of July, I laced up my runners, donned a racing bib, heard that squishy sound when my runners hit the pavement, felt the adrenaline surge with arms pumping and my feet flying as I crossed a finish line I never thought I would see again.  Today, it wasn’t just a race, it was a moment that reminded me that when others say you can’t and you won’t, you need to dig deep, center your spirit and defy the odds.  If for some reason, this is the last race I will ever have the opportunity to run in, it was a beautiful day in a small town that welcomed me as one of their own, proud to be an American and feeling grateful for just the opportunity to run again…. Wondering what tomorrow will bring.