40 before 40: 108 Sun Salutations on the Solstice

On Saturday, I participated in my first-ever summer solstice event, joining about 50 other people in doing 108 sun salutations at one of the parks downtown. It really doesn’t get much more Ithaca than that – in fact, I might as well buy myself some Birkenstocks and grow dreadlocks and dine on chia seeds.

I read somewhere that the 108 sun salutations is yoga’s equivalent to a marathon, which I don’t think is entirely true. Mostly because without any training, I managed to finish, and while I was pretty sore the next day, I didn’t want to die — which is generally my experience with running.

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Take note of my unbelievably perfect form. What? You can’t see it? That’s too bad for you. Because I was perfect.

I was proud of myself for doing it — and I think I owe that to this backwards “40 Before 40″ bucket list thing. It’s inspiring me in exactly the way I had hoped — to try new things on a more spontaneous basis. When my future sister-in-law (a part-time yoga instructor) first told me about the event, I was intrigued, but not enough to fully commit… until I remembered I could add it to my list. Then it became very exciting.

So, why 108 sun salutations?  That’s the first question I’ve been asked by nearly everyone.

The number’s significance seems to be open to interpretation. 108 is a sacred number in Hinduism and yoga. Traditionally, malas (prayer beads) come as a string of 108 beads (plus one for the “guru bead,” around which the other 108 beads turn like the planets around the sun). The number also connects the sun, moon, and earth: The average distance of the sun and the moon to earth is 108 times their respective diameters.

Happy Solstice! Now pass the vegan cheese please.

 

A Day of Remembrance

Exactly twenty years ago, today, I took the last final exam of my high school career. It was the Physics Regents exam — the same test that every physics student has to take in New York in order to graduate.  The test started at 9am, and I was done at 11:30. The answers to the test were posted on a brick wall outside the testing room, and I checked them and confirmed that I had passed before calling my mom for a ride home.

It might seem weird that I remember so many details about a relatively mundane day, but that’s because of what happened after that. My mom picked me up, and we went to Subway to get sandwiches for lunch. I ate meat at the time, and my favorite was the ham and cheese sub with extra veggies.

We got home, and I unrolled my sub. I hadn’t even taken one bite when the phone rang.

My uncle Jeff had died that morning. He committed suicide in his hometown of Kansas City.

The rest of my high school experience — all of the things that should have been celebratory and memorable — are a blur. I went to prom with a group of girlfriends, and remember nearly nothing — and not because I was passed out drunk in a bathroom. I attended senior week celebrations, and can’t tell you even one of the activities. I lived in a complete fog of denial, anger, and sadness. After we got back from the funeral, I cried alone in my bedroom every night. I bargained with God — with one of the only chips I had: I wouldn’t go to my commencement if he’d just bring back Jeff.JeffSuit1.gif

Jeff was a 31-year-old kid. He was the uncle that every kid wants to have, even if they don’t know it. He wasn’t afraid to roll around on the floor with all of us cousins, laughing and delighting us with his Donald Duck impersonation. He let me drive his car VERY slowly down a country road, months before my parents (or the law) would allow me behind a wheel. He and his wife, Corina, hosted a few of us for a weekend in Kansas City that surely would have tested Gandhi’s patience– we were away from our parents, we ate whatever we wanted, and we slept on a leaking air mattress that we made Uncle Jeff blow back up every hour or so.

Yet, Jeff was also a friend, and as supportive of an extended family member you could ever ask for. He gave me a day planner — my first — when I was accepted into college, and I still have it to this day. As a somewhat aspiring writer himself, he was proud of me for wanting to pursue a journalism degree, and even though that’s not ultimately what I did with my career, I still think he’d be proud. (Ironically, his death actually connected me to a reporter at the Kansas City Star, where I later had an internship — an internship that convinced me I wasn’t cut out for journalism).

There was a dark side, too — Jeff suffered from depression, and that’s ultimately what took his life. What made it so unbelievably hard for me to accept was that I never saw that Jeff. The Jeff I knew was bubbly, loud and vivacious. His death instilled in me a greater understanding of mental health, and a deep appreciation for anyone who works in mental health services.

Every June 16, I take a moment to reflect back on Jeff. Some anniversaries have been harder than others. The third anniversary was particularly tough because I was living in Kansas City at the time, and I got stuck in a traffic jam not too far from where Jeff’s life had ended. Six years ago, I was Jeff’s age when he died – 31 – and that was also a tough one. Eighteen years was difficult because it marked an age at which I had known Jeff for as long as he had been gone.

Twenty years ago, I took my physics final. I was thrilled to be ending my high school career, though I’m not sure I was ready to grow up quite as much as I did later that day. But if there is a silver lining, it’s that I’m grateful that I’m the oldest cousin: I had the most opportunity to know him and love him.

Jeff, you may be gone. But you’ll never be forgotten.

40 before 40: the Five Boro Bike Tour

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Yesterday’s Five Boro Bike Tour was one of the more out-of-character things I’ve done in a while. The ride begins in Manhattan and travels through Central Park, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, before finishing up on Staten Island, where you board a ferry to get back to Manhattan. The ride attracts 32,000 bikers, who travel over 40 miles on roads, bridges and highways that aren’t open to cars.

As everyone knows, I’m not a big fan of New York City – I spend a lot of time there because of my job, but rarely do I choose to go. I’m also not a fan of large crowds of people. However, I have a few friends who have done this ride over the years and have enjoyed it, and it seemed like a good way to reconnect with one of my closest high school friends, Kelly. Kelly lives in Queens and because life too often gets in the way, I haven’t gotten the chance to spend much time with her alone in the past 15 years or so.

I’ve ridden a total of 22 miles on my bike since last September, so the idea of a 40 mile bike tour so early in the season was a wee bit daunting.  On top of that, I convinced Kelly that it would be a good idea to take an aerial silks class the night before.

Needless to say, there is not a single muscle in my body that doesn’t hurt today.

Here’s a silly little video with highlights from our ride:

40 before 40: the Lamb Cam

Last Thursday night, as my friend Claudia and I left a memorial service in downtown Ithaca, a gray Subaru came screeching around a corner in front of us, hitting a curb and coming to a stop just a few feet away.  A head popped out of the driver’s side window: a head belonging to my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Liz.

“THEY’RE HERE! WE HAVE LAMB BABIES!” she hollered, her eyes huge and wild.

All my plans for the night – the tap dancing class, the prep I needed to do for a weekend out-of-town – all of it came to an immediate halt. There were LAMB BABIES TO MEET!

I raced up to the farm behind Liz, and we found one of their sheep, sweet Olive, caring for her two twin daughters, AKA the fantastic puffballs of cuteness.

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Olive had given birth in the late afternoon, quietly enough that Farmer Steve only realized it once he walked by the sheep pasture and saw that his flock had grown.

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The three of us — Liz, my brother and I — stood in the pasture for three hours, just watching these two little creatures explore the world for the first time. It was marvelous, and humbling, and educational, and wonderous — I could probably watch newborn lambs every day, all day, and be quite happy.

DSC_0239(Doesn’t she look like she’s smiling?!)

Of the two girls, one was pretty chill and the other seemed to be waiting her whole life to bust out of mama and start running (which, actually, is completely true).  I loved watching her figure out how her legs worked, and then using them to their full capacity!

I took a few videos and put them together here:

It was a pretty spectacular evening, with warm temperatures and a mix of clouds and sun. A brief shower passed overhead — enough to make everything misty for a moment or two, but not enough to drive us inside.

Slowly, Liz and I gained the trust of mom and started to pet the babies when Steve suddenly yelled out, “Look up!”

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The rainbow was so gigantic that I couldn’t actually capture it all in one frame!  I can’t remember another time in my life when I’ve seen such a perfectly formed, full rainbow stretching across the sky.

New adorable baby lambs. A huge rainbow. I mean, come on.  Seriously? Does life get any better than that?

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Cakes that feel good

OK – so ALL cake probably makes you feel good. But not all cakes make me feel as good as my last two.

Earlier this year, I was contacted by an IC student who was organizing this year’s Relay for Life. She asked if I would be willing to donate a cake for the survivor’s reception. I made a similar cake last year, and agreed right away. The day she contacted me also happened to be the day I found out a friend’s husband was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer (he’s never smoked), so it felt especially important to help out with this request.

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I’ve been registered with another nonprofit, Icing Smiles, for a while now. Icing Smiles is an organization that accepts requests for cakes from families who have a child (or children) facing a critical illness.  They apparently receive an average of 52 requests a week from families across the US, and they do their best to find a volunteer baker to donate a dream cake for each child.

About a month ago, Icing Smiles contacted me to see if I would make a cake for a 2-year-old boy named Paul who has been fighting for his life since the day he was born. Doctors had actually told the parents his birth defects were so severe that they should just “let nature run its course,” but they refused to give up on the little guy. And tomorrow, he turns 2 — how could I refuse a request like this?

Paul loves the Wiggles, an Australian children’s band that I had never heard of. I made the mistake of plugging their name into YouTube and watching a video, and then had one of their songs stuck in my head for 5 straight days. It was positively maddening, and my respect goes out any parent who has to listen to that insanity on a daily basis.

If you MUST watch it, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woYuBhkIlK0

Please remember, I warned you.

For Paul’s cake, I decided to play on the theme of one of the Wiggles’ most popular songs, called Big Red Car. In the video, the entire band stuffs itself into a  red car and goes for a ride. The guy in the back — Jeff — falls asleep for a while. So naturally, he needed a snooze on my cake as well.

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(Remember, this is an Australian band… so the steering wheel’s on the right side of the car!)

Here’s the cake in all its glory:

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I had a lot of fun making this cake, despite the never-ending ear worm that resulted from watching that hideous Wiggles video. But more than that, I feel really honored, and am humbled, to play a teeny, tiny role in bringing some joy to a family that clearly needs it. I hope this is the second of many, many birthdays for Paul — and I hope Icing Smiles will contact me again.

If my little hobby can do some good in this world, that makes it all the more worth it.

40 before 40: the art of dance, circus and fibers

Now that I’ve introduced the idea behind my somewhat-backwards bucket list, I want to talk about my first three items. I’m counting these because they are all very recent and ongoing new activities, and like I said – I make the rules.

#1. Learn to tap dance.

I took tap dancing lessons when I was about 5, like almost every little girl in America. I have no idea how long I took it for – if I remember right, I decided pretty quickly that I liked ballet better. Regardless, I certainly didn’t retain any of the skills I acquired.

Back in 2010, I was walking into work with my friend and colleague Wendy, and we were bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have enough time in our days to audit classes at IC, which is one of the awesome benefits of working there. Wendy mentioned that she had looked at taking a tap dancing class, but the timing didn’t work for her. “That’s cool!” I said. “If you ever do decide to take it, let me know – that might be kind of fun.”

For the next four years, we never even mentioned tap dancing again.

On one of the first Fridays in January, I was sitting at my desk, feeling a little antsy. I get that way when I don’t have something new or interesting to look forward to. I was suddenly struck with inspiration and sent an instant message to Wendy. “Hey, did you ever look into tap dancing classes?”

“NO,” she responded almost immediately. “Let’s look now!”

We dug into IC’s course catalog and discovered that only advanced tap dancing was offered during the spring semester. “Bummer,” Wendy wrote. “Maybe next fall?”

I wasn’t ready to admit defeat, so I popped over to google and searched for tap dancing classes for adults in Ithaca. Within a few seconds, I was directed to a local arts nonprofit — where a beginning tap dancing class was starting the very next week.

“I FOUND US A CLASS!!!” I wrote to Wendy. Within 3 minutes — I’m not even slightly exaggerating here — we had both registered.

On a hunch, I sent an instant message to another friend and colleague of mine, Claudia. “Any interest in learning to tap dance?” I asked.

“Are you serious?” she replied.

“As a heart attack,” I wrote.

“I have always wanted to learn to tap dance! It’s been a goal of mine for forever!”

The pieces all fell into place so wonderfully and easily. Claudia did take a little more convincing — which was ironic since she was the only one of the three of us who actually had a previous and burning desire to tap dance. But by that evening, she too had registered, and we ordered shoes with rush delivery so they’d arrive before our first class.

We’ve had eight classes so far, and have two more to go. But all three of us like it so much that we’ve already signed up for a second session of classes this spring. We’re not very good, and we’re learning all our steps in super slow motion. But boy, is it fun! And hard! And a workout!

#2. Learn aerial silks.

Three years ago, on our way to Tahiti, Scott and I had a 24 hour layover in Los Angeles, and we decided to take a flying trapeze class.  You can see the highlights of that class below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq241VS_-M0

As you can see, Scott morphed into a circus monkey and was swinging upside down and practicing catches by the end of the class. All I could manage was to swing back and forth and not die.

While flying trapeze was really, really fun, and I’m glad I tried it — it was a bit… too much… for me to pursue on any sort of ongoing basis. Too much adrenaline, too much coordination, too much stress. While we were there, I did notice a few people playing around on aerial silks and it looked like an activity that was more my speed. I mentally stored the idea away.

A couple of weekends ago, I found myself in Boston for work. I had one day completely to myself, and searched online for something fun and unique to do. I discovered that one of the (giant) furniture stores outside the city was also home to a circus school. I joyfully signed myself up for a silks class.

I arrived for the 2-hour class and three things immediately became clear:

1) Every customer in the furniture store could watch the lessons, making this a very public event.

2) There were only three people in my class, allowing us a lot of time with the instructor.

3) My fellow classmates were two 9-year-old girls who, I swear, were made out of rubber bands.

Happy to report that I loved every second of my class, even though I was far less stretchy than the 9-year-olds. It was so much more fun than trapeze — and a killer workout to boot! I asked one of my new friends to take a photo of me doing an inversion — this was just one of about 20 “tricks” we learned.

1507920_10152111573724051_1657911101_nI am going to New York City for a 50-mile bike ride in a few weeks, and I’ve already signed up for another silks class while I’m there. I’m dragging along a friend as well — she’s also doing the bike ride with me. I’m thinking we might regret doing a circus class 12 hours before a 50-mile-bike ride, but hey – at least we’re in it together, right?

#3. Learn to felt.

Back in January, Claudia asked me if I’d take a felting class with her, and like the tap dancing, I agreed without really even knowing what I was getting myself into. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure what felting even was.

Basically, you use little insanely sharp needles to shape raw wool into 3D objects. You can also “paint” by poking the wool through a piece of fabric.

We’ve taken three classes so far.  The downside is that our cat Charlie apparently has taste for wool, and has chewed on everything I’ve brought home. But luckily, I have photos to prove I did it.

During our first class, I made a white sheep and Claudia made a brown one.

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During the second class, we “painted” birds. I made a puffin.

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And during the third class, we made baby birds.  Claudia made a baby chicken in honor of the baby chickens she’s currently raising. I made a duckling, in honor of my brother and Liz’s new baby ducks.

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See the resemblance?

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Three new things down, 37 to go!

 

40 Before 40: a journey into the unknown

I envy people with bucket lists. (For anyone wondering, that’s a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.”)

I envy people with bucket lists because I love to cross things off of lists. I am a do-er. I like to get stuff done. I am the kind of person who does something, and then adds it to a to-do list, just so I can cross it off.

So here’s the obvious question: why don’t I have a bucket list?

The answer is simple: I have absolutely no idea what to put on it.

I have already done so many of the things that I think people put on bucket lists. I have gone sky-diving and hot air ballooning. I am certified for scuba diving. I lived abroad. I have felt true love. I completed triathlons. I hiked a 14,000 foot mountain. I swam with sting rays. I traveled to many amazing places — too many to list here. I ate grits with Bill Clinton.

In 27 months, I turn 40. (I know. I have several family members who just read that and gasped.) I have a crappy knee and I take a daily vitamin to keep my macular degeneration from progressing. I’ve said goodbye to friends and family who passed away as a result of both disease and accidents. I no longer feel invincible, like I did in my 20s.

My mortality is real, and while it scares me a little, it’s also a great source of motivation. Our time on this precious planet is limited, and that inspires me to embrace it.

But all of that doesn’t help put items on a bucket list.

So I have decided to start a bucket list the only way I know how– I’m going to do something and then add it to the list so I can cross it off.

My goal is to do 40 bucket-list-worthy items by the time I turn 40.

Is this backwards? I don’t know, and I don’t care. This way of doing things fits with my lifestyle. While I do like planning some things, like travel, I enjoy seizing life’s little moments even more. (Case in point: I signed up for a 10-week tap dancing class after a 3-minute conversation with a friend. I spent more time trying to convince another friend to join us than I did thinking about whether or not it would be something *I* would enjoy.)

It’s my bucket-list, right? So I get to make the rules.

I arrived at this idea earlier this week – and as it’s settled in, I’ve gotten more excited about it, mostly because I have absolutely no idea where this will take me. But what I do know is this: in just 27 short months, I’ll have done 40 new things.

I can’t think of a more awesome way to start a new decade.

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