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Learning Brave in the Rockies

I often bite off more than I can chew. I can't say that I like choking on my life projects, or running around like a stressed chook with my head cut off because I have taken on more than is reasonable, but it keeps happening. I think big, dream big, and the result is that sometimes (often) I end up overwhelmed and wondering how the heck I ended up in such a situation.

Better more than not enough....right? Better more adventure and challenge and going for my dreams than not having dived right into life....right?? That is the thought process anyway.

Ross and I have begun a tour business. It's a great idea! We love to travel, and we're experienced at discovering and enjoying foreign cultures. We are a perfect team - I am the visionary and the creative, he is my competent executioner. We envisioned running small trips with 10-12 people in exciting locations all over the world. Then covid hit, and all our plans took a sideways turn so we adapted. Somehow I ended up feeding, caring for and running activities for 45 people in the Rocky Mountains. Oh, and at the same time I also evacuated my home for a bushfire while my babysitter ended up in hospital, landing me with 7 extra children ages 4-13. Like I said, biting off so much at once!

But I'll back up. Ross and I were so excited at the interest our proposed tour generated. We quickly filled every available space and we found ourselves planning for a very large group. But as much as we meticulously planned for everything we could imagine, we still couldn't predict everything that might come our way. I was especially unsure what it would be like to actually run such a big event. I've never fed such a large group, I've never organized so many activities and taken charge of so many people. It was hard to imagine, but we dived right in anyway.

The night before the tour, Ross was so excited to see his students. He knew them all and he was so excited he couldn't sleep. I was sleep deprived for a different reason, I was so stressed I couldn't sleep. And then, before I knew it, I was greeting almost 50 new people who were under my care....oh boy.

Over the space of 6 days we were amazed and joyful and also stressed and horrified at unexpected events. We learnt much about ourselves and we grew to know many beautiful people. The experience was amazing, though we certainly skirted that fine edge between crazy and brave. But then, that was the theme of our tour - Learning Brave. As I was faced with new and overwhelming challenges, I found myself once again learning that I am braver than I thought, stronger than I imagined, and that life is always surprising.

Here are 7 things that surprised me during our Rocky Mountain Teen Adventure.

1. Teenagers can be the most inspiring and beautiful people, and adults have a lot to learn from them.

Ross has been raving for years about how awesome his students are. I have had little glimpses of this on different occasions, but my life is usually crowded with all that is in my care - my 5 children, travel demands, running my household, my own pursuits etc. I was actually terrified that I would never remember everyone's name and that they would all feel offended if I asked them each 27 times what their name was.

We had a few devotionals centered around our theme of Learning Brave. On the first day, Ross shared my poem that I was too embarrassed to read myself. He then opened up for sharing and it was lovely to hear some of the kids talk about what they wanted for their life, I was impressed that they were so open. Mid-week Ross ran a creative visualization session and I found it amusing that he had become such a meditation guru.

During our first hike, one of the kids talked to me about how they often get to hear Ross' insights as their teacher, but she would like to also hear from me. I really appreciated the gesture, but honestly, I couldn't think of anything, my mind was so full of food! On the last day I decided to share my blog post about the time in my life when I had written the poem that Ross had shared. It was a time when I had really leaped outside of my comfort zone and had been met with massive blessings and challenges. I shared that as I chose to reach out and go for my dreams, that both the joys and the struggles had increased, but that I felt it was worth it. We then opened things up for sharing, and invited the kids to talk about how they are also learning to be brave, or how they have experienced challenges in their life and what they had learnt.

What followed was such a unique experience. Almost all of them wanted to share, and share things from the depths of their souls. They opened up about their struggles, fears and faith and the reception from their peers was one of complete acceptance and love. Truly, I have never witnessed such a large group of people be so open and vulnerable with each other and then to have that received with so much caring was such a beautiful thing to see. Boys being willing to admit insecurities and then have their mates jump up and hug them and cry with them. Girls who were extremely shy opened up about wanting to be brave and they were received with great love. There were so many tears and hugs and my heart was so full. I did not expect that.

2. Feeding 50 people every day was an enormous task.

Um...Duh. But I don't always picture things clearly, like when I go to a new country expecting it to be just like a romantic novel (a common phenomenon). I mean, I daily cook for about 10 people (there are seven of us but my kids eat like ravenous wolves), so cooking for 50 is just the same, but more. Yeah, technical stuff going on in my brain.

I devised a yummy menu and was all good to go until we did our first shop. My brilliant and creative organization gave Ross heart palpitations but he followed my lead.

For some dumb reason I thought it would be fun to shop for the tour, that I would enjoy getting the things on my list and then spontaneously choosing additional treats as I saw them. The reality was far more overwhelming. We had a time limit in Costco, and by the time we had filled 4 giant trolleys over crammed with every kind of food and had half the staff helping us to get out after closing, I began to glimpse what a monumental task we had taken on.

It was all a delicate balance between amounts, dietary requirements and refrigeration. We had to cater for dairy free, gluten free, tomato free, and sugar free diets. We couldn't put anything in the accommodation until after everyone arrived and we checked in together, which caused difficulty with refrigeration. My solution the night before was to put a heap of bags out on our porch in the cold air, but then I had to bring it all in before dark when the bears come a callin' in the Rocky Mountains.

I had separated what was needed for the first two days, had it driven to the accommodation once we were in, and organised to have the rest picked up later. It all would have gone smoothly if I had not forgotten a few key ingredients for the first corn chips for the taco salad. Yep. I had a little panic and then sent Ross off to collect the missing ingredients. We did in fact all get to eat taco salad with corn chips, it just took a little longer than expected. But no sour cream, I'd forgotten that too...

Almost every meal I had a kitchen full of beautiful helpers and the work was lightened considerably. I loved getting to know them and I admired the willingness with which they followed instructions and worked on any task.

The rest of the meals were complete with all desired ingredients and we ate many delicious things. It was successful, but boy oh boy was it a lot of work! I'm thinking that for the next tour, hiring a caterer would be a sensible way to go, it turns out that feeding 50 people instead of 10 is rather a big difference.

As of now, I'm on strike for the next few weeks, my kids can forage around the cupboard for a can of beans if they feel hungry.

3. I am old and I need sleep.

I am young at heart. In my head, I'm barely a grown up. I have always been a night owl, but all my old-lady grown-up responsibilities have made my body need sleep. The teenagers...not so much. We started with a strict(ish) 10:30pm lights out, but as the trip progressed and they all were spontaneously singing and talking endlessly, it was hard to force a stop to all the bonding.

My cranky side came out one night when some idiot young man (my son) decided it would be a good idea to start a 'We Will Rock You' stomping chant in the bunk room upstairs at midnight...cue scary Skyler face.

4. Some teenagers are crazy out-of-this-world talented!

We planned for an un-talent night. I didn't want the participants to feel intimidated in sharing talents and skits and so my plan was to make it an UN-talent night, where we showcase weird funny stuff and just have a laugh. For example, I don't actually have a talent I can perform, but I can hang a spoon from my nose and sing the alphabet backwards. Pretty special.

Well, little did I know all the talent that we had with us! Our un-talent night turned into a Broadway show!!! I was amazed at the incredible performances, it was wonderful!

5. Teenagers make birthdays more fun!!

Ross had his birthday on the 4th day of our tour. His door was covered in sticky notes of appreciation, we sang a zombie-choir happy birthday and he was treated to multiple singing performances!!!

6. Everything can go wrong but still be a success.

Halfway through the trip I was required to pack up my house in case we had to evacuate, there was a huge fire blazing across Colorado. Where we were staying for the tour at the YMCA of the Rockies we were completely safe and on the other side of town from the fire, but my home and kids were right next to the oncoming path of the fire. Mid-week I went home and spent hours packing everything we own and having it ready to go.

On Friday, this is what happened;

We spent the morning doing our personal development workshop and because it had been so wonderful it had gone much longer than expected. After we finished we were texted by our babysitter and informed that he had to go to the hospital, so we arranged for our kids and his to join us at the YMCA.

With 7 extras, we ate a very late lunch and then Ross had to quickly leave to take the majority of the tour participants on our planned hike.

I walked with the remaining teens over to the art center (Ross had taken the car) and set them up with their art projects. All the kids came with us, I got them to play on the playground while I sorted the art stuff. My son peed his pants and I had no spares.

I walked back with the kids and discovered I was left with a mountain of washing up, and a giant meal to prepare without any of my usual helpers. I was exhausted. I put on a movie for the kids and set my daughter to washing up once she returned from the art center. I then cooked a ginormous pot of sausage soup, and an extra tomato-free version, this took about 2 hours. During that time I received a message from my babysitter stating that I needed to call a doctor and he gave the number. I had no reception, only internet, and the people with phones and reception were on the hike. Ok, well, that would have to wait. More cooking....Then one of the kids ran over to me with his iPad. His Mum had called to tell me that my landlord had contacted her to inform me I had to evacuate. I had no car, no cell service, no adult, no way to reach Ross. Our accommodation was at the far end of a gigantic property and it was dark. I had a babysitter in the hospital and a fire about to take out my house and belongings.

Lets just say the my stress levels were pretty high.

Thankfully Ross returned about 20 minutes later, I literally ran up to him and ran to the lady with cell service. We delegated dinner and left. We drove past the town and over the hill to our house, as we crested the hilltop, we could see the whole ridge of flames behind our house, I burst out crying, it was the worst thing I had ever seen.

The wind was pushing the fire past our house and not towards us, but I was not going to risk it. I pronounced; "I have a personal policy, if I can see flames, I'm OUT!"

Because the babysitter had been taken suddenly to hospital, he had not prepared to evacuate, so we spent a long time gathering his belongings and ours and loading them into the car. We then drove back late to the talent night that was underway that evening. We put all the kids to bed on the floor of our room and there were little sleeping bodies covering every available space.

This was by far the most challenging day. We had other set-backs such as kids with tummy issues and throwing up, kids with tummy issues and needing chicken broth, ripped pants that needed mending, a sprained finger, adults with unexpected family problems, and many more challenges. But despite the hardship, the kids were so wonderful and they had a wonderful time. Just as Ross and I were leaving to evacuate, they all gathered together and offered a prayer on our behalf, 45 teenagers praying together because there was someone in need.

We got back halfway through the talent night and after putting kids to bed, they all gladly repeated their acts so that we could see them. One of the Mums had whipped up a huge amount of brownies for dessert, and another Mum had come to the rescue in organizing dinner and running the talent night.

I cried a lot that day. I cried that morning during the PD when the kids were being so beautiful, I cried when I was faced with such an enormous amount of washing up and cooking by myself and I had no energy, and I cried when I saw the terrifying fires. But the day ended a success. My kids were safe, we had our belongings, the teens were having a blast, and we had made it though a crazy crazy day.

7. Sometimes their brains will leave them.

Ok, so far we've learned that teenagers are beautiful and caring and lovely. They are night owls and can eat an endless amount of food. They are fun and talented and intelligent...except for when they have to catch a flight on time. Somehow, their brains seemed to disconnect with their bodies. Ross and I decided that it was a combination of three things -

1. Lack of sleep

2. They didn't want to go and spent a large amount of energy bemoaning the fact

3. It's an occasional teenage predicament

On our last morning Ross left to take a group to the airport and I was left with the task of getting the remaining groups on their respective shuttles. On time. I quickly learned that they needed at least half an hour to say good-bye, cry, complain about having to leave, and plan for future meetups before they would even begin to focus on getting out the door. And although I found the impromptu group singing of "God be with you till we meet again" adorable, it wasn't helping with the time issue. Not to mention the insane last minute pack scramble by one lovely young man who left everything to the last second and was saved by his friend's Mum appearing with a car and driving him to the shuttle in the nick of time!!! (I'm looking at you Carter).

But it's ok. Life's about learning right? Like, I now know to make sure to get teenagers out the door WAAAAAAAY ahead of schedule!!! And goodbyes, they require singing, hugs, lots of tears and about half an hour to an hour minimum.

So just like the theme of my blog and the theme of my life, our Rocky Mountain Teen Adventure was wonderful, amazing, beautiful, crazy, difficult, awesome, awful and everything in-between. We upped the stakes, we jumped out of our comfort zones and we made incredible memories. We were challenged and we struggled and we had 'what the heck are we doing' moments. But we were also inspired, moved, and filled with happiness, joy and friendship that will last a lifetime.

Life truly is interesting and beautiful as we go about Learning Brave.

See you all next time!!! (With a caterer...and no fires....)


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