Living a Dream into the future

My mom, Helen Thompson Loudermilk and my dad, Elmer Loudermilk had a big dream. They wanted to create a time and space where annually my aunts, uncles, and cousins would all come together to share stories, laugh, play and just be together. Mom was one of 6 children so when they got together, they knew how to have a really good time.

At first, 1966, the gathering was at their Indianapolis suburban home around Christmas but by 1975 the reunion had moved to their newly purchased farm, home on 75 acres of rolling hills near Greencastle, IN. Initially, it was held in fall but morphed to an annual Fourth of July reunion. This place called Airy Knob with its natural beauty and its 19th century Italianate farm house soon became more of a week end destination with mom providing all the food for over 40 people.

As the popularity of the reunion gained momentum, friends became family. Soon, Jan Thompson Goldsmith and John Goldsmith created their first family Video which captured the essence and the emotional love that so naturally flowed as people greeted each other, played croquet, and ate enormous amounts of their favorite holiday foods. Jan’s videos quickly became one of the most dominant forms of capturing memories. They drove more engagement and created more memories than other content types like photos. Her Videos cause a tremendous impact on families because it allows people to be visually and emotionally immersed. This creates and strengthens relationships because they can actually see it and can feel and be part of that memory.

As the love and emotion was captured in this first video, she has created more. Each time, the family watches one of her videos, tears flow as we remember the good times and especially the love! Photos would never capture the feelings and love.

We are very grateful for the vision of my parents to create this wonderful tradition for extended family and friends to be one and for Jan and John to create the videos which allow us all to maintain such wonderful memories.

Helen, Elmer, Jan and John were born to be a blessing to all of our family! This year we will be celebrating our 51st reunion at Airy Knob Farm in Greencastle, Indiana.

Building Future stories with Grandchildren

Vic and I continue our pursuit of an intentional life. One area of great importance is developing relationships with Grandchildren.
Having our 14 year old Granddaughter hiking with us on the AT trail, has been a great blessing and an opportunity to reflect on better practices to build better grandparent and grand child relationships.
Annica has been a great teacher, helping us to take life less seriously as making us laugh when she perches on limbs of tree like a leopard. Or when she talks about her wild hair as “lefty and righty”! Or when she asks Papa Choo Choo, “Is there absolutely anything she needs to do before getting into her sleeping bag for the night”. Or how she directs us to leap over rocks or tip toe quickly over rocks, or how to cross streams, she does so with such humor and again makes us laugh.
Her journey with us on the trail has given us time to share stories of historical significance. Things like what all our grandparents were like, what they did for a living and how they influenced us. Rich conversations that never happen in family gatherings with all the holiday festivities which is their usual time to visit.
On the flip side, she has shared stories about Focus Camp, their family vacations on Cape Cod, her special friendship with her cousin, Grace. She has shared how much she loves taking care of dogs in their family’s dog sitting service through as well as her love of homeschooling.
So as we have always prayed for meaningful relationships, this AT journey has been extra-ordinary in building a relationship with Annica. We have shared the importance of leading a purpose driven life and setting smart goals. We have heard about her new high school and her anxiety about beginning in a new school. We have had endless trail dialogs about setting goals and creating expectations for living. There is no substitute for quality time.
As we have reflected on creating better futures with our grandchildren, we developed some minimums that we deem important.
1. Share passions with your grandchildren and learn about theirs.
2. Follow minimum of one theme with each child.
3. Attend special events and memorialize if possible with pictures, cards, or Shutterfly type books.
4. Find time to reconnect in their routine. Make visits to their home, see their rooms, artwork, look at their school work. Let them teach you when possible. (Our grandchildren are iPhone experts and great teachers)
5. Send old fashioned letters with pictures.
6. Share reading a book.
7. Experience games, music, nature, fish, hike.
8. Keep it light, have fun, laugh often, smile, hug them often, and tell them how very special they are. They can’t hear this too much.
9. Have fun! Smile!
We know that building mutual significant relationships is our goal. We also know our ideas to building meaningful relationships will be dynamic and changing. Annica has taught us much. We would like your insights and ideas too. Please comment to this blog entry

Dreamers: Creators of a new future!

Doug and Priscilla Douma

Let me share with you some people along the Appalachian trail with a love of the trail and the folks who hike! These individuals have created new futures for themselves. They have seen a new course for their lives and have written new future stories.  A future story is a plan for ones life based on thoughtful thinking, setting smart goals, and implementing.
First, Hot Drinks (Pricilla Douma) and Bonzai (Doug Douma) have a passion for building relationships with hikers. Doug, an ordained Presbyterian minister and author is a pastor at local church at Barnardsville, NC near the Appalachia Trail at mile post #318 or Sam’s Gap.  He is working to acquire a building to create a Christian based Hostel where he and “Hot Drinks” can minister to thru-hikers around meals, coffee and introduce hikers to a better life building relationships with Christ and other people. They plan to call their Hostel SOLA (a Latin word that means a singularity with Christ).
Another example is Lumberjack Mack Spainhour and his wife Kelly who moved from North Carolina to Ceres, Virginia. Lumberjack Mack has hiked 2100 miles of the AT and fell in love with the people thru hiking this trail. With his wife Kelly who also has hiked parts of the AT, they searched and found a perfect spot to build a home with a Christian based Hostel attached. They not only have a beautiful setting and home cooked meals but Mack thoughtfully prays thanking God for food but also for hikers, for their safety, for the beauty of the mountains. All hikers have to sign an agreement that they won’t drink or use profanity while at their Hostel. Mack is present to show you his goats, chickens, juke box or just to talk. He has literature, bibles laying around and doesn’t push but wants to plant seeds of Christianity to hikers especially those in transition of which there are many.
There are many other examples of people along the AT who have created new future stories. Matt Hall, soon to be a Methodist minister who himself has been addicted to alcohol created a new future. Today he has been addiction free for 5 years. Soon he will be Southbound hiking the AT with a new future story of ministering to hikers with addiction issues.
Future stories create for individuals a new path for their lives. The people, I met not only had a dream, they also had a passion to help people build relationships with others and with God.

Lumberjack Mack

The Power of Habits

Before leaving home, my friend, June Wolfe recommended reading Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, Why we do what we do in Life and Business which we listened to while hiking. Duhigg states that habits are the by product of cues or triggers, routines which are the physical, mental, and emotional behavior that follows a cue, and rewards are the positive stimuli that tells one’s brain that the habit worked well.
According to Duhig, Habits are more important than goals or willpower. By creating routines to a cue, we can profoundly change. A predetermined disruptive habit can create significant change in designated parts of life that then often filter in many other parts of life.
We have found that hiking on the AT requires finding habits that work and this has not been easy. After experimenting for a few months, we have developed some tested habits that have created the grit and endurance necessary to daily hike the Appalachia Trail.
First routine is train and get “right” equipment for hiking up and down hills. We unfortunately trained on the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina.
Second routine: Eat right! (50%carbs, 25% protein, 25% fats with a minimum of 3500 Calories to 4500 calories per day). This means on the trail, we eat ~1400calories for breakfast, 400-500 calories for a snack about 2 hours after breakfast, 1200-1300 calories for lunch, another 500 calories snack, 1200-1500 calories for supper and a before bedtime snack. And in towns, we eat an exceptionally large portions of food.
The third routine is get plenty of sleep. Most hikers try to get 10 to 12 hours of sleep and are in their sleeping bags by 8 pm (“hiker midnight”). Sleep is very important for tired muscles to allow muscles to repair overnight.
Fourth routine is take a complete “zero” day (a day we do not hike) every now and then to give mind and body a break from the rigor and concentration required to hike the AT. On a “zero” day we simply rest.
So we have routines that give us the capability and the needed energy to hike the AT. We have many cues as hunger, fatigue, or a complete relaxing day that drive our routines and motivate us. Our brains tell us our routines have worked and we feel rewarded and a sense of grand accomplishment!
For everyone, developing good habits will positively change ones life. By creating and choosing certain behaviors a head of time, willpower becomes a habit. Habits are powerful!

Dealing with adversity: Praying for fortitude and resolve.

As we have been hiking for more than 60 days, we have faced many trials on the AT, torrential rains, sub zero wind chills, falls, bruises, frost bite, sprained ankles, wet clothes, exhaustion and bugs. I have found that these trials test my very being and my very core. I turn to God in prayer for guidance. When trail adversity hits, I have learned to deal. I have learned that I have the fortitude and can rise above it with Gods help. It seem that these trials often have a simple solutions, rest, stretch, talk to other hikers, seek medical attention and I will come out of it. I have discovered that “coming out of the storm” that I am not the same person who walked in. The “storm’s and hardships” of the AT are all about about coming up with a solution, and realizing that I am ok.
But in the rigor of day to day life, I am not adept at finding solutions. Often multiple people are giving me conflicting advise, I become super discouraged and distraught. On the trail, my email failed. My usual Internet Technology support had changed and I was navigating on my own on turf that I barely understand and getting multiple advice from different providers. Frustration and inadequacy set in big time. I found I was not able to come up a solution like I could on the AT. I want to develop the same resolve that I have on the AT into my total life. So I am praying for fortitude and resolve that God will show me how to deal with all kinds of adversity graciously and patiently just like HE has done on the AT.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (KJV)
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

Discovering Flora on the oldest mountains in the world!

Is there anything more glorious than the flowers that appear in the spring of the year on majestic mountain tops? This week hiking over mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, we have been so touched by the beauty of spring flowers and the melodious sounds of the birds who sing joyously. The landscape of the southern Appalachians, the oldest mountains in the world, is rich in biodiversity, offering us an opportunity to discover flora not found anywhere else in the world. Trillium, violets, spring beauty’s. and redbuds herald the arrival of spring with their showy blooms. As the season progresses, budding wildflowers climb in elevation to the tops of the highest peaks. This progression provides one of the longest wildflower seasons in the country. We are experiencing the forests covered with flowering trillium, lady slippers, jack-in-the-pulpits, Dutchmen breeches, and wild ginger. Soon the mountain laurel, rhododendron which create arbors along most mountains will be blooming. This is a paradise of wildflowers galore and we are loving it. All good things come from God and His hand in nature displays His glory for all to see. We are truly seeing His glory.
Song of Solomon 2:12 “Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season for singing has come. The cooing of doves is heard in our land.”

Abundant Life, When an ending is Just a beginning!

Today, Easter Sunday, represents a time when Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s disciples were mourning the death of Jesus only to find that he had risen and had brought new life to all Humanity. The life of Jesus living on earth as they knew it had ended but it was the beginning of our life never ending. Because of Jesus death and resurrection, all humanity can have life never ending, a new beginning.

For me, I am ending many things that have been a part of my life. I am not sure what my new beginnings will be.

We just sold our beloved Lake view Milwaukee condo (an ending) and are waiting to under stand our new life in Milwaukee. Are we going to get an apartment or live in a hotel when we are in Wisconsin?

We are selling our commercial property, Barnabas Business Center which I have devoted 20 years to managing and creating a community of tenants in a campus like setting along the Milwaukee River. We are expecting to sell this property very soon ending my career as a property manager. A void is being created and I am anticipating a new beginning.

Vic has merged Hunter Business Group into Apexx Group/Hunter Group. HBG has closed it’s doors and after 30 years is no longer in Glendale, WI. He is no longer operationally in charge. What was has ended and what Vic’s role is is going to be determined. He is going to be fostering new business prospects and encouraging younger employees into proven habits and teaching the processes he has mastered over the last 30 years on customer service and business growth.

The Hike along the AT is like a dividing line between what was and what will be. Vic and I are discussing options to create a new vision for how we want to spend next few years of our lives. We are not sure yet exactly what we are being “called” to do or what obstacles we are facing. We do know our priorities. Building relationships with family and friends is number one. I have a burning passion to continue working with Transformers finding more effective ways of truly helping those who are marginalized and struggling to make ends meet. Then it is creating a life of magic and fun at our Indiana farm to serve the community and our family and friends. And lastly, we both hope to take up something new as woodworking, music lessons, or better gardening.

Life as we have known it for the last 11 years is ending. The Hike on the AT creates a time and space to reflect and prayerfully create a new beginning. I am grateful for new beginnings in my life and I am especially grateful for the new beginning we have because of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Building community!

The AT builds a unique community by it’s very nature which is especially evident at Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn.
First, hikers go by their trail names and even book rooms in towns using their trail names. Tonight at Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn, I had dinner with the Terminator, Carmen Sandy Diego, Fishbate, Papa Choo Choo (Vic), Spring Dancer (Annica) and me (Elsa). People really don’t ask your “real name”. They go by their alias identity.

We have discovered that there is a common thread that describe people on the trail. Most are in a transition period of life, recently graduated from college, taking a “gap” year after high school, just back from military service in Afghanistan or Iraq, people recently retired, or people recuperating from illnesses or addictions. People want to share their passion, their desire to find meaning, their struggles and needs.

Many are on a journey to self sufficiency. They know the trail will advance their self confidence and their own self reliance. The trail teaches you what is necessary and what can be eliminated. The trail forces one to making tough decisions. What do you want to carry on your back? What is absolutely necessary?

The trail forces one to ask for help or seek advice. As a group, we become a community of learners willing to share information about safety, health, towns, conservancy, shelters, etc along the trail. People along the trail recognize the importance of shared relevant knowledge. As a group, there is a unique trust and confidentiality.

As a rule, those on the trail have a since of spirituality. Some talk about the woods as a refuge with God. Others sense a greater power simply from the grandeur and magnificent beauty of the mountains. Some believe the forest bathes them in the spirit of the Devine that leads to a healthier life. For many, it is to commune through walking with God.

But to know Elmer is to know a man that stays true to his values. His Inn has no internet, no TV, no DVD’s. It does have plenty of room for conversation or reading from his vast diverse libraries. His meals are a table fellowship where guests share and answer his philosophical questions of the day. As I read on an article framed about Elmer, “To visit Elmer, his travelers, and everyone else I meet here, reminds me that the Appalachia trail as well as life is all about communion with others.

It is harder, more rigorous, more rugged than expected!

Try as we do, we lag behind our granddaughter, Annica. We all start out ascending, she summits while Vic and I are still huffing and puffing. I think , ok descending a mountain, surely we can keep up but she lilts and sways over rocks and leaps over boulders while I cautiously place every step. The years have their way of slowing us down and making us more cautious. We can’t perform like we once did.

Of the thousands that hike the AT, only less than 30 wIll be over 65. We hope we are among this elite group . As of today, with approximately 205 miles completed, we have hiked to the highest point in the AT, Clingman’s Dome and are still putting one foot in front of the other up hill and down . We won’t ever be the fastest but we are doing the hike with fervor and perseverance. We pray we are amongst the ones who make it to Maine.

Are you ready to “CLIMB”?

To Hike the AT, plan to be prepared to hike up further and up more elevation than if you hiked to the top of Everest. Compared to trails in higher elevation mountain ranges, many falsely assume the AT to be relatively flat. In fact, over the course of the Appalachian Trail’s 2,189 miles, thru-hikers gain over 464,464 ft., or more than 89 miles. So climb we will!

Today CLIMB reminds Vic and me that we need to nurture ourselves to be able to care for others. In this context, CLIMB stands for
C- connecting with Christ every day
L-learn something new
I- invest in key relationships
M-move toward a vision
B-better my physical health
So out into the wilderness we go! Daily, we climb while each step remind us of our connection to our creator, while each day brings more and more learning experiences, while each discussion deepens our investments in each other and our granddaughter. And all the while, we are getting our daily exercise ascending and descending mountains on the AT. We are praying for discernment and wisdom to do God’s purposes for the remaining days of our life. So our AT journey is a CLIMB to greater vision and purpose. It is a climb to use our gifts and talents in ways that we cannot imagine at this time. All we know, is God is leading us!