Sunday, February 21, 2016

Blue Skies and Gentle Breezes: In My Eyes...

Found it!!! Now I'm off to riding lessons!

Blue Skies and Gentle Breezes: In My Eyes...: This morning at the gym I witnessed a sight so warm, so true, so magical I think it could easily carry me on for days.  Even now, hours ...

Blue Skies and Gentle Breezes: Animal House (revisited)

Taking a long trip down memory lane in my neglected but not completely forgotten blog, looking for an delightful, heart lifting entry about ageless love (I WILL find it!) and I came across this from March 9, 2006...

Blue Skies and Gentle Breezes: Animal House: It's official.  My home has been taken over by animals. Dogs, to be exact. Three of 'em. There are days when I feel I exist solel...

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lessons in Life: Open me up

You never know where a book will take you.

Even after you've opened the cover and listened to the music of the pages turning, you never truly know. Until one day it hits you.

Right now the only thing that's going to hit you is the realization that this is a very long entry. For those of you with 2 second attention spans, may I suggest you cozy up with a recap blog or something shallow you can wade through without getting your ankles wet.

Twenty years ago I discovered a book that later would open doors I didn't even know existed. From the moment I first saw Diana Gabaldon's novel, Outlander, in the monthly Literary Guild catalog it pulled me like the moon's power over the ocean tides. And I bathed in every aspect of it. I had to read it. From the opening line on the very first page, it consumed me. I've read it numerous times...I've lost track of how many. The cover art grabbed my attention. The synopsis spoke to me. Everything about it appealed to me.

It's the kind of story you don't want to end, you know?

But this isn't an entry about the book or the story. There's plenty of blogs on the internet devoted to everything Outlander. Google it, I dare'll be gone for hours, days...hell, you'll never make it back here to find out where I'm taking this. What I want to say, right here, right now, is how this book created the bridge over which I walked to reach a childhood dream.

My childhood was filled with lofty dreams. And yes, if you've read past entries you know that wasn't always the case, there was another side to my 'formative' years. A darker side. What-ever. From that darkness emerged a spark of wild imagination. A passion for life fueled by a thirst to live. This desire to restore and rebuild the core of my existence. To be wild and free, bold and bright. Like wildfire, this spark of life in me, spread.

Only one thing was missing. The vehicle that would carry me, propel me, and deliver me. Only one creation on this earth possessed the magic to mesh with all that breathed inside me, bringing wind to be wild, speed to be free, thunder to be bold, and spirit to be bright. No other animal encompasses all that and more...but the horse. Pat Parelli once said, 'The horse is nature in its finest form.' Simple words of a simple truth.

So now, we have a book. And a horse. The two fundamentals on which my childhood was built. Books and horses. Sitting here now I am smiling from ear to ear because now I see how it all came together. Looking back, I had no idea when I bought Outlander the instrumental role it would play in my life. That it alone would be the catalyst to tie everything together.

After all, we are all connected.

So let me tie it all together. In my youth, having a horse in my life--one I could call my own--was my one desire. Unfortunately, it wasn't practical and my parents said no. I pushed and pleaded, begged and dreamed, but the answer was always no. We can't. So I pushed that dream to the back burner and left it there to steep for about forty years. Then in May 2008, time and circumstances turned in my favor and Duke, a then 13 year old bay Morgan gelding, entered my life. Followed four years later by AJ, a then 5 year old palomino Quarter Horse.

Fast forward to August 9, 2014, the day Starz network premiered the much anticipated television show, Outlander. From the opening scene, and narration, I knew the show would be spectacular. I watched it three times that day, flushed with satisfaction, like a teenager bingeing on a pepperoni pizza. Everything aligned, creating a harmonious feel to the production. Within Starz, a team banded together, bringing to life a beloved story and it's characters. Pure. Magic.

Who knew sitting there on my couch, watching Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe breathing life into Jamie and Claire, would breathe life into my inner desire to get off that damn couch and get moving? I certainly didn't!

The first spark happened a couple of months later. In early October, I took AJ to his first horse show. We entered a couple of classes to keep it simple. I was wearing a beautiful show shirt custom tailored and sewn by my sister, styled in a slimming fashion. My friend Hillary took a photo of me. Everyone complemented me on that shirt, but all I saw in that picture was my muffin top bulging out above the waist of my jeans.

At that time I weighed 160 pounds, and I was miserable, health wise. Walking up stairs hurt my knees, but I always took the stairs instead of the elevator; it's a habit I formed long ago. Having horses means having hay, and hay bales weigh between 50 - 75 pounds a piece, and horses eat a lot of hay. Every summer I buy seven ton, and every year I struggled to unload and move the hay. I was severely out of shape. Painfully out of shape. And I hated that! But my love for all things Outlander would put me on a journey back to fitness.

Through the Starz Outlander Facebook page I started noticing posts about the main actor, Sam, and his passion for fitness. In December I saw posts about reaching your peak. Shortly after the New Year, he revealed an event to take place on March 14-15 called My Peak Challenge (MPC) and invited anyone interested to join in the fun. The idea behind MPC was two-fold, 1) help raise money for his chosen charity, Bloodwise UK while 2) challenging yourself to reach your peak. Did someone say challenge? I'm in! The peak could be anything, but many participants chose a physical challenge, such as marathons, climbing, swimming, and hiking. To raise money, those interested could purchase a package from a UK clothing company, Bear Strength Clothing, which included items such as a t-shirt and a wrist band commemorating the event. Between January and March everyone was tasked with preparing for their own challenge, while Sam and his fitness coach, John Valbonesi provided access to guidance, tips and fitness tests. Without knowing exactly how far in advance Sam planned the event (maybe the fall after shooting for Outlander completed?) support for My Peak Challenge grew as news spread among fans and enthusiasts.

Besides my weight, my biggest challenge was being out of breath while doing anything, especially loping either Duke or AJ. Three laps around the indoor arena was the most I could pull without having to stop to catch my breath. So, I selected two challenges: lope AJ more than three laps around the arena without getting winded, and ride my bike over 8 miles in one day. Two tasks that twenty or thirty years ago would have been everyday activities. And we all know what time and neglect often does to the body.

First I needed a plan and words of motivation. At work I keep an acronym close by for those days I need a little extra something to keep me aligned with success. The acronym is F. A. S. T., which is Focus, Accountability, Support, and Time limit. I started working out on the elliptical at home. In the beginning all I could muster was a paltry four minutes before my lungs started burning and my knees screamed at me. But I set reasonable goals, adding 2 minutes every few days and by the end of January 2015 I was putting in 30 minutes on that machine. No problemo! Focus...check!

As luck would have it, I learned a cousin of mine is a Beachbody coach, so I contacted her about the fitness programs available, a topic she had brought up a few times before but I hadn't chosen to pursue. We chatted and she signed me up for the 21 Day Fix program, invited me to one of her groups, and the ball was now in motion. At the same time, I discovered a group of Outlander fans involved with MPC on Facebook. My experience with fan groups always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Since one summer night watching television in 1965 when the Beatles performed live in Shea Stadium, the word fan makes me want to quickly run for cover. I don't do fan groups. Period. gut instinct nudged me forward and so I cautiously ventured over to the group, known as 'The Peak Posse' and asked to join. Between the Beachbody group and The Peak Posse, I now had Accountability and Support in place. All the remained, was the Time limit, but that was already determined and set for March 14. All systems go!

Through those two groups I learned so much and quickly realized how my eating habits affected my health, which translated into my life style. I participated in a one-week clean eating challenge with my cousin, which became a major turning point in my shopping decisions. Through that challenge I learned about cooking with coconut oil and adding almond butter to my snacks, and I keep both stocked in my kitchen at all times.

For the next two months I woke up 45 minutes early every day, popped in my 21 Day Fix DVD and worked out for 30 minutes, five to six days a week. It was tough at first and I didn't push myself too hard, but by the end of the first month I felt myself getting stronger and feeling better. I looked forward to the morning workouts. One day I noticed I wasn't fighting that 3 o'clock crash at work. I felt better, healthier, and happier. The weight and inches came off. By the time MPC weekend rolled around, my steps were light and my lungs were strong. I made both my goals, with a slight delay on loping AJ which required a creative approach to address a bad habit I created for him. I video taped both events for prosperity. I made the 8 mile bike ride, up and down hills no less. I loped AJ 13 laps around the arena before stopping. I wasn't even winded. And I felt vindicated. 

Better yet, I lost twenty pounds and five inches from my waist. But this isn't where the story
ends. Here is where my goal to build up my stamina to lope AJ would tie everything together. While attending a local horse expo in late March I heard news of a newly formed equestrian drill team in the valley. Now we're talking folks!! This is exactly what I had been dreaming about. Dancing to music on horseback. Point me in the direction and sign me up!!! 

A month later, on April 20th my friend Erica told me the drill team was practicing at a local arena and I should come watch. I did. And I wanted in on the fun. But some of the manuevers scared me. I wasn't sure I had the confidence to ride a drill. And I thought it over. Should I join? Could I control a 1,000 pound free spirit with one hand while holding a flag in the other? Did I have what it takes to ride a drill? And if not, could I live with the regret if I didn't? Two weeks later on May 4, I loaded Duke into the trailer and showed up at the arena to ride. Just as the drill master was calling the team together, I chickened out and spent the time riding Duke in an adjacent smaller arena. But the following week, I came back, mounted up and rode with the group. I haven't looked back. The manuever that scared me then, is now one of my favorites.

This is a competitive drill team. We don't ride every Monday just to have something to do. We ride to compete. Last year Silver Creek Drill Team performed in several local parades, taking first place in the Horse division in all but one parade. This summer, our first drill competition is in May. I can't wait! I've since switched to riding AJ since he's younger and doesn't break gait as Duke tends to do. AJ loves drill. It's a great match for the two of us. Looking forward to the competition season, I'm nervous and excited all at once. But I know, standing in formation, waiting to enter that arena my stomach will be tied in knots and fluttering all at once. The music will begin, we'll go through the gate and just like every other competition I've attended everything else will fade will be just AJ and me, with our team mates, dancing with the wind and the rhythm. I'll be living my dream...finally. After all these years.

So, thank you Diana Gabaldon for challenging yourself to see if you could 'just write a book.' That book basically changed my life. Thank you Sam Heughan for challenging me to take my health and fitness more seriously. You built the bridge I needed to cross over from misty sometime dreams to solid fulfilling reality.

You know, I could easily have told this story in a couple of lines or paragraphs. Reading Outlander led me to watch Starz Original series Outlander which got me involved in My Peak Challenge so I could get fit enough to ride my horse in competitive drill, which I dreamed of doing as a child. But I'm a story teller, not a kindergarden teacher.


Want to get in on the fun? Join My Peak Challenge 2016 today. Become a part of something big, help yourself while helping others and get healthy. The MPC team raised the bar for 2016 and created an inclusive package to get you on track to better health. Check it out today. You won't be sorry, but you will be happy.

You can also help Bloodwise UK. Make a donation, or learn more about what you can do to help.

And don't forget to get geared up at Bear Strength