Prying the lid off my bucket list

“That’s on my bucket list” is a common refrain I’ve used in the past.

In reality, I didn’t actually have a list – just a general sense of things I wanted to do if and when I ever got around to it. So, several years ago – long before we began losing weight and getting healthy and long before our 6-month trip around the world – Glenn and I decided to write down our goals in the form of a bucket list.

It seemed that taking our general notions of what we wanted to do someday and putting them in writing would give us the impetus to actually start making those things happen. We took a full week to come up with our respective bucket lists. We had two rules: 1) Our lists could be no longer than 10 items, and 2) We couldn’t talk to each other about it until both of our lists were finalized (so as to not influence each other).

The process of making my list itself was very illuminating.

First, I had way more than 10 things I wanted on my list. I had to make hard decisions about which things were most important. I’d whittle my list down to the allowed number and then inevitably think of two more things I wanted to add. Second, even though I’ve known Glenn since I was 14 years old, I learned new things about him. There were several items on his list that I had no idea he was interested in doing. Like “learn to play the guitar” – where did that come from?

We sat down with our new lists and decided to pick an item and make it happen. Glenn had drink a Guinness in an Irish pub and sleep in a castle on his list. We figured a trip to Ireland would take care of both at once, so off we went.

Glenn and I exploring the wonders of Ireland.

Glenn and I exploring the wonders of Ireland. (Photo by Chris, Glenn’s brother)

Drinking a Guinness in an Irish Pub. Check!

Drinking a Guinness in an Irish pub. Check!

Spending the night in a castle. Check, check!

Spending the night in a castle (on Halloween even). Check!

Next, I tackled one of the items on my list which was to get a tattoo. I already had a small tattoo on my hip but I wanted to get something much more substantial. For more years than I can count I told myself that if I lost 25 pounds I would reward myself with a big tattoo. Over the years, as the weight continued to creep up, that goal became to lose 30 pounds, then 50 pounds, and then 75 pounds. At the rate I was going my new tattoo was never going to happen. By putting get a tattoo on my bucket list with no strings attached I finally gave myself permission to get something I wanted just because it was important to me, rather than continuing to punish myself for not achieving my weight goals. Ironically, by the time I figured out my tattoo design (I wanted a hummingbird, in honor of my amazing mother who loves them) and got an appointment with the artist I wanted (her waiting list is over a year long), I had actually lost nearly 90 pounds.


Get a tattoo. Check! I’ve since gotten a similar tattoo of a crane on my other shoulder, as my hummingbird needed company.

If you’ve read about my Aha! moment – the moment I realized I had become a spectator in my own life…the moment when the switch flipped inside of me and I decided to turn my life around – then you’ll know that biking through Vietnam had been a dream of mine for a long time. I saw promotional materials for such a trip when I was flipping through an adventure travel magazine looking for a trip Glenn and I could take with his brother Chris. I was mesmerized by the photos of people biking through the lush green rice paddies and kayaking through the towering rock formations in Halong Bay. I desperately wanted to see those sites for myself. At that time, however, I weighed over 300 pounds. The biking trip was more physically demanding than I could manage so we opted to go hiking in Greece instead. I still dreamed about that trip and decided to put bike in Vietnam on my bucket list anyhow. In the end we were able to make the biking through Vietnam trip a reality – and we did it our with friend’s Kim and Brian who were instrumental in setting the stage for my Aha! moment.

Biking through the mountains of Vietnam with our dear friends Kim and Brian.

Bike through Vietnam. Check! We were lucky to share this adventure with our dear friends Kim and Brian.

Glenn giving the village children high fives as we rode past.

Glenn giving the village children high-fives as we rode past.

Biking through the rice paddies was beautiful - just as I imagined it would be.

Biking through the rice paddies was beautiful – just as I imagined it would be.

Kayaking in Halong Bay!

Kayaking in Halong Bay!

A bucket list item Glenn and I had in common was to learn to ride a motorcycle. Well technically, my list said motorcycle and Glenn’s list said scooter. Those distinctions say a lot about our individual personalities. Oregon has a great program to teach people to ride motorcycles. It is focused on teaching rider safety, both in a classroom setting as well as out on a driving range. Glenn and I walked into the class having never driven a motorcycle. We left at the end of the weekend feeling confident in our driving skills and with a motorcycle endorsement on our driver’s licenses. Soon thereafter I bought a motorcycle and Glenn bought a scooter. We’ve enjoyed several two-wheeled adventures together ever since.

Learn to ride a motorcycle. Check! It wasn't nearly as hard as I imagined it would be.

Learn to ride a motorcycle. Check! This is me in class, driving the motorcycle for the first time. It wasn’t nearly as hard as I imagined it would be.

I watched a National Geographic type show about polar bears when I was a child and became determined to see them myself one day. As such, see polar bears in the wild became the #1 item on my bucket list. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that walking with the polar bears in sub-arctic Manitoba was, by far, the most amazing experience of my life to date.

Walk with polar bears in the wild. Check!

See polar bears in the wild. Check! Up close and personal. (Photo by Chris, Glenn’s brother)

Two mamas with their babies passing by each other on the ice right before our eyes. Wow!

Two mamas with their babies passing by each other on the ice, right before our eyes. Wow!

Glenn had see the northern lights on his bucket list. We considered going to one of those places where you can sleep under the stars and watch the northern lights from your own personal glass igloo. We still want to do that someday! But, in the meantime, we thought we’d try our luck at seeing the northern lights at the same time we went to see the polar bears. We were in luck!

See the northern lights. Check!

See the northern lights. Check! (Photo by Chris, Glenn’s brother)

Like the polar bears, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu had also been on my virtual bucket list since I was a child. As my weight continued to climb year after year, the odds of being able to take on such a physically demanding trip became more and more tenuous. While adding get a tattoo to my list was about not letting my weight hold my desires hostage, adding hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was about setting a seemingly impossible goal that could only be attained through improved health. I wanted to inspire myself to take action. Walking through the Sun Gate, after several days of demanding Inca Trail hiking, and seeing Machu Picchu for the first time was a very emotional experience because of what the accomplishment represented in terms of my improved health.

Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Check! Still a bit teary-eyed and super proud of my accomplishment.

Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Check! We had just emerged through the Sun Gate – still a bit teary-eyed and super proud.

Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu!

Glenn and I have checked a lot of items off our bucket lists in recent years.

We’re ready update our lists again. That’s the beauty of such a list – when done right, you are never finished!

There are still a few undone things on my existing list that are likely to make it on the new list. For example, I still want to learn Spanish. I absolutely fell in love with South America on our recent trip there and dream of returning again someday soon. I’d like to learn some Spanish before my next trip and then spend time in various South American countries becoming more fluent.

Donate an organ is on my existing bucket list and will certainly transfer to my new list. I figure that, with luck, donating my organs may very well be the final item I ever check off my bucket list. In the meantime, I have been in the national bone marrow donation registry for over 25 years. I’ve even been called as a potential match for someone with cancer, although I wasn’t able to donate to that person in the end. If you aren’t in the bone marrow donor registry, you should be! A simple swab of your mouth could enable you to save someone’s life (click the link above to learn more). I’m also looking into donating a kidney to a stranger. Until recently I thought you could only be a “live donor” of a kidney for family members. I didn’t realize that donating a kidney to a stranger was even possible until I listened to a fascinating podcast about a woman that did it. Donating an organ was on her bucket list too, so that makes me feel a little less crazy about it being on mine!

In terms of new items for my next list….I think run a marathon will probably make the cut. Along with hike to see wild mountain gorillas. I also think I’d like to try technical mountain climbing – ya know, with ice picks, crampons and possible death in a crevasse. I’ll be interested to see if learn to play the guitar and learn how to brew beer transfer from Glenn’s current bucket list to his new one. Who knows what new adventures and experiences he’ll dream up to round things out on his list?

For us, it seems that the act of actually writing down our bucket list transformed daydreams into a more actionable to do list. As a result, we got things done! Amazing things. Unforgettable things. Once-in-a-lifetime things.

Do you have a bucket list?

If not, I’d encourage you to make one. It helped me gain clarity about what was most important to me and gave me the focus to move forward on those things.

If you have a bucket list, I’d love to hear what’s on it in the comments section below. I’m looking for some new ideas!

12 comments on “Prying the lid off my bucket list

  1. Pingback: A fond farewell. | A Life More Extraordinary

  2. I enjoyed reading about your bucket list. You have certainly done some amazing things and have gone to wonderful places. My bucket list ? I’v been thinking about it and haven’t come up with much. I tell myself because somethings that could go on a list I’ve already done (run a marathon, learn to fly) or decided I shouldn’t attempt further (ride a motorcycle). So instead of a bucket list I have a list of things I want to get done before the end of 2016.
    1. Replace the vinyl strips on outside furniture. 2 1/2 chairs are done. 1 1/2 to go.
    2. Read the three books friends have loaned me.
    3. Go through the boxes of professional material that has been stored in the attic for 13 years.
    4. Get rid of stacks of papers, magazines, etc sitting around the house.
    Well, this certainly doesn’t sound very exciting. But perhaps with the mundane taken care of I can look forward to something exciting.

    Have been thinking about your mother. Hope her treatments are goin well.

    Guess I had better get busy. Only 53 days left in 2016.


  3. I love this!!! I am excited to see what’s on the next formal “list!” I think I need to take some time to come up with a list…I have knocked off so many that I had on my list for my whole life, I haven’t started dreaming up more!!! Time to get on it, so thank you! 🙂

    • Kat – you’ve done enough adventuring for the two of us. I’m going to have to steal some items from your “done” list I think!

  4. You’ve been on my mind a lot lately, and then in my inbox is this magnificent blog 🙂 I’m actually moved to tears by your mention of just exactly what became possible when you freed yourself from the limits your weight was imposing. Free to lose the weight and gain the reality of dreams. You are a dreamer of all things, and a doer too! Best combo ever. Always in gratitude for you and Glenn sharing your lives with us. Thinking of you with love 🙂

    • So great to hear from you Paula! In the end, I think I wasn’t losing the weight (despite years and years of effort) because I didn’t believe I deserved to be healthy. Such a vicious cycle. Why do we do these things to ourselves? Much love right back to you!

  5. Hey Cuz!
    I have been thinking of you guys and thought I would catch up on your blog today. I too have a long list and I agree that I need to whittle it down to a more actionable list.

    Some of the ones that I’m looking to cross off my list by the end of the year are:
    – Take Maddie to Paris
    – Visit Versailles and the over the top that was Louis
    – Fly first class on long flight. Because why not live it up?
    – Attend Christmas mass at Notre Dame. I’m not catholic, but the place is iconic

    I have some of the same items on my list that you have marked off. The Guinness in Ireland seems to be a popular one. 😉

    Great read and thank you for the motivation.

    • Fun list! I found that a smaller list felt more actionable than a long one. Forced me to figure out near-term priorities. Great to hear from you…and I look forward to seeing pictures from your adventures!

  6. I have over 70 things on my list, though I’ve checked off at least half! Learn Spanish is on mine as well… and I’m updating it to “learn Spanish with Juniper.” I love your list!!! Will you post when you’ve both got your new 10 items??

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