Corn mazes, pumpkin chucks and pancake breakfasts

I love rural living.

Just typing that gives me pause. It wasn’t that long ago that my requirements for a good home included having at least one restaurant with take-out service, a bar and a grocery store within walking distance.

Now, within walking distance of our new home are a state forest, a couple of other houses, and (probably) a bear’s den.

So the lesson is: people change. Priorities change. Life is an adventure.

We were in our new house less than a week when there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find two burly men, probably in their 50s or 60s. They had driven to our place on their ATVs. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen, and wondered if opening the door had been a good idea.

And then they warmly welcomed me to the neighborhood.  They belong to the area social club, which owns land that borders two sides of our property (the third side is the state forest). They gave me their contact information and invited us to a pancake breakfast that weekend.

Even though it meant giving up a morning to sleep in during a post-move weekend when we desperately needed some extra shut-eye, we got up that Sunday morning and went to the pancake breakfast, where we dined on the largest plate of pancakes, eggs, and sausage that I have seen in many years, surrounded by at least 25 taxidermied animals heads hanging on walls.

It. Was. Awesome.

One of the things I like most about rural living is that folks here don’t seem to realize how precious it is. Sure, they seem happy, but I think they can sometimes take it for granted.  Deadbolts are unnecessary on front doors, neighbors offer giant waves and a “howdy!” when they see you outside, and it’s just known that you can rely on the people around you to help each other out of a jam.  Your neighbor is a handyman? Of course he’ll look at that leaky pipe under the sink for no charge. The lady across the street bakes the best pies north of the Mason Dixon line? Of course she’ll share, and whenever you want to return her pie dish is fine – no rush.

Compare that to Oakland, where I once sat for 45 minutes at a busy intersection because my car had died, and not one person stopped to make sure I was OK. Which was actually fine with me because I was terrified of everyone.

We get a newsletter called the “Danby Town News.” It’s pretty great – just a simple, eight page, photocopied newsletter with news about events and whatnot. That was how we first learned about the Danby Harvest Fest, which took place from 2-5pm last Sunday. Of course we had to go.

Scott had to work Sunday morning, but I got up and met my sister-in-law for a hike on one of the trails near our house. It was a chilly (we saw snow!!) but gorgeous day, and the leaves were in full color.


Scott and I had arranged to meet back at the house by 3pm.  I arrived a little after 3, and we sat on the couch chatting for a bit. At about 3:40, I said, “Wow – we need to leave or we’re not going to have time for the harvest fest!”

We jumped in the car and drove to town.  The festival was held in the little park near the center of town. The newsletter had mentioned overflow parking at Town Hall, so we pulled into that lot. My first clue shoud have been the fact that we were the only car there.

We walked across the street and into the park. I looked ahead towards the festival canopies. There were three, each about the size of a picnic table.

Jen: Um. It may not take us very long to get through this.
Scott: It’s a good thing we rushed to get here!

The “festival” had attracted about 25 people. A few hovered around a campfire, some were munching on (free) food, which looked like it came from a dish-to-pass. There appeared to be tobacco leaves drying in one of the tents (couldn’t immediately figure out what that was all about). There was a woman teaching people to make stamps out of erasers, and there was a giant slingshot set up to chuck pumpkins into the air. That was it. That was the whole festival.

We watched the pumpkin chuck for a bit.

Then we ate a free granola bar, made an eraser-stamp, and a whole 5 minutes had passed. We looked at each other, shrugged and agreed perhaps we had seen all there was to see. We headed back towards the car — but then circled back because we simply had to know what was inside the weird tobacco-leaf drying tent.

The Danby Harvest Fest was absolutely wonderful — the best fall festival I’ve ever attended. On the drive home, we agreed that we had made a very wise decision in choosing to buy a home here. It’s beyond perfect.

40 before 40: Own a church house

I alluded to this in my last post, but this is big.

This is really big.

This actually would have been on my bucket list if I had done one in a traditional way — that is, write things down before doing them.

When I lived in Boston, I gained an incredible appreciation for history, and along with that, an appreciation for historical homes. I was fortunate that my job provided me access to some of the most amazing abodes — places that had seen generations of history unfold before them. I particularly loved visiting homes that had previously been gathering spots for community members, speakeasies, one-room schoolhouses, or churches.  There’s something about the quirkiness of those homes that appeals to me — it’s the ultimate form of recycling, and it can make for a very magical dwelling.

This may sound über hippie-dippy, but I like buildings that have souls. I can understand the appeal of a newer house, its gorgeous amenities, spacious rooms and well-designed floorplans. But I could never see myself owning a place like that. For me, it’s the difference between walking into Super Walmart and visiting a ma-and-pop shop on Main Street. Walmart may have lower prices, better selection and less dust, but you can tell ma and pop built their store with sweat, tears and love —  it feels good to purchase something from a place like that.

For many years, I’ve not-so-secretly wished that we could buy a home that had that kind of magic.  When Scott and I had conversations about what we wanted in a dream home,  I would eventually bring up my desire to live in a converted church or schoolhouse.

It was never, ever something that I imagined could become a reality. It felt as far away as the idea of winning the lottery or visiting the moon. Mainly because there aren’t a lot of houses like that, and the idea that one would be available in a place we liked and at a time when we were ready for it seemed totally impossible.

I can’t really remember exactly how it all started. I think I may have been poking around a real estate app on my ipad one night. Or maybe a friend mentioned it to me. But regardless, I first saw the house back in early January. I sent the listing to Scott, a few friends, and my parents, all of whom were well-aware of my dream. Scott and I even had a conversation that night about how great it looked — but sadly, it was priced far over our budget. I all but forgot about it.

Five months later, in early May, I got an email from a friend who was spending a month in Europe — she was looking at real estate ads one night.

“Hey – did you see that the price dropped on that church house?”

The price dropped.

The price dropped!


Then another friend told me she saw an open house sign in the yard for the following Sunday.

That Saturday night was our five-year wedding anniversary. Scott and I got dressed up and went downtown for dinner — and over our meal, I asked him if he remembered looking online at the church house in January. He did. I said I planned to drop by the open house the following morning.  He had to work, but Claudia (the friend who had seen the open house sign) would meet me there. “I’m sure there’s something wrong with it — but I just want to see the inside.”

The next morning, I met Claudia and we went to the house.  I swear, I was trying to find everything wrong with this place. The yard was too small, it was close to the road, the interior was dated, the heating situation (a coal stove) was scary.

But the truth was, it felt right. And none of the things I tried to find wrong really mattered. The yard is the right size for what two people with lives can reasonably handle, and it backs to a state forest – meaning we can take advantage of vast quantities of protected land without needing to care for it. There is literally a hiking trail 25 yards from our front door.  The road isn’t that busy, except during commute times. The dated interior was a reason the house was affordable, and I love home improvement projects (cosmetic ones, anyway). I was quite sure we were smart enough to eventually figure out the stove.

And most importantly, it had been a church. A CHURCH! MY DREAM!

At home, I told Scott about it, and suggested we go back to see it together. We had a very relaxed attitude about it — if someone else made an offer before we were convinced we wanted it, then it wasn’t meant to be. We have seen too many friends let emotions drive their home-buying process, leading them to pay too much or compromise on things that had previously been non-negotiable. We didn’t want to start home-ownership filled with resentment or regret.

Over the course of 3 weeks, we went back to the house a few times. We did a ton of research. We did some internet stalking. Eventually, we made an offer.

The entire home-negotiation experience is a stressful, frustrating and anxiety-ridden game. For several days, we went back and forth with the sellers, and we lived and breathed by every email in our inbox, allowing waves of adrenaline to surge through us every time our realtor’s name popped up as the sender of a message. Eventually we hit our magic number — the price we had said at the beginning we wouldn’t go beyond. At that point, we were only a few thousand dollars away from the sellers’ offer. But… we were at the price we promised ourselves we wouldn’t exceed.

We did what we knew we had to do to stay true to ourselves: we walked away. And because we celebrate big moments with cheesecake, we bought a cheesecake.


Although I’m sure others thought we were idiots for getting so close and then letting it go, we were proud of ourselves.

We were also sad. And angry. We went through all the stages of grief. To cope, we tried to focus on all the downsides of the house. Its age. The crazy wallpaper. The coal stove.

A few days passed. Then a week. We let it go.

And that’s when the sellers of the church house decided to come back to us, offering to take us up on our last offer. Even our realtor seemed surprised by the turn of events.

Having emotionally detached ourselves from the house, we returned to see it one last time. We took videos to show our families. We invited my brother and his wife to look at it with us. And then we signed the papers and it was a done deal.

Well, it was not a done deal. Buying a house takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy, and even though millions of people do it, it felt at times like this was the first time anyone had ever gone through the process.  The bank did stupid things, the appraiser did stupid things, the sellers ran into unforeseen challenges… and every problem delayed our closing by another week. Our apartment lease ended and it appeared for a while that we might be homeless.

But eventually it all came together.

We own a house. We own a CHURCH HOUSE.

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I felt strongly that we needed to think about the very first things to move into the house. I didn’t want our first trip inside to be with a box of socks or a blender. Our first carload was simply ourselves, the two cats, and the love letters we wrote to one another the night before our wedding, locked in a wooden box that we’ll open on our 10th anniversary. These are our most precious belongings, and their arrival at the new house was a symbolic way for us to begin this new chapter.


The love letter box.


Charlie hid in the back of a closet with one of Scott’s t-shirts all day…


…meanwhile Leo tried to dig through the bedroom door (his “safe room” for the first 24 hours) to explore the rest of the house.

While that anecdote sounds lovely and romantic and charming, make no mistake about it: the rest of the move was awful and incredibly exhausting. But the worst parts are over, and I will say that though some of the things we have done have not been particularly fun (putting safety cables in the garage door springs comes to mind – a job that should have taken 20 minutes and instead took half a day), it’s been a joy to work side by side with my better half, figuring it all out. We’re definitely in the honeymoon period with this house, and in some ways, we’re in a honeymoon period in our marriage again, too.  That’s kind of awesome.

We also bought another celebratory cheesecake, although I didn’t decorate this one because we got it at the end of moving day and we were so hungry we needed to get it into our bellies as quickly as possible.


He looks that tired because we were that tired.

As for the home itself, we definitely want to spend some time piecing together its history. From what we have researched, we know that it was built in 1836 and was called the Danby Methodist Episcopal Church.  Almost 100 years later, the church closed and the building was turned into a community center. Then, in 1958, a 36-year-old named George Peter, who had a fondness for the church because he had attended services and Sunday school there, bought the property and converted it into a home. We’re only the third private homeowners, which is kind of amazing.  It’s also kind of a local landmark, at least according to this tourist brochure describing historical sites in Danby.

Apparently, one of the libraries at Cornell has some historical documents related to the church’s construction, as well as former church membership lists. While we may not make it there in the near future, it’s definitely on the list for the long term… on a freezing, snowy January weekend perhaps.

I can’t end this post without thanking the many people who helped make this dream a reality — not least of which are our parents, who have been incredibly supportive throughout this whole process.  Our dads are also being put to work, helping us think through our endless DIY projects. Steve and Liz did so much to help us move, from carrying huge boxes to delivering pizza on moving day.  I also have to thank my friend Wendy for telling me about the drop in price, and Claudia for accompanying me to the open house.  Other friends and colleagues gave us boxes, advice and tools — along with emotional support during this roller coaster of a summer.

It takes a village to buy a church house, I suppose. We’re lucky to have a superb one.

Like pulling all-nighters, binge drinking and shopping at Abercrombie, moving gets harder with age.

This summer, Scott and I purchased a home (more on that in another post), which is very exciting. What was not exciting was the idea of moving into that home.

I didn’t always feel that way. I remember every time I moved in Boston, an overwhelming sensation of hope and possibilities negated the hard work involved in boxing up all my possessions and schlepping them to my new apartment, which was often in a building with no elevators.

But that was many years ago, and this is now the 21st time I’ve moved in my life. My moving adventures are of drinking age. I’m not sure that’s a point of pride — it’s just a by-product of a very nomadic lifestyle (which actually is a point of pride).

The difference between this move and so many others is that it didn’t involve going to a new state or country. In fact, this is the first local move that Scott and I have ever undertaken — as a result, we didn’t sell or donate most of our belongings in the process. Instead, we had to move them.

We envisioned closing on our house in early August, and moving slowly over the course of three weeks. But it never, ever works out like that, does it? Instead, we had 72 hours in which to pack up everything we owned, move it, clean the old space, and clean and organize the new space enough to be able to function and go to work.  Since it was also college move-in time, there were no large U-Haul trucks available. But somehow, with the help of my family and some insanely long days, we made it happen.

(A warning: the rest of this post may not be for everyone. If you’re feeling squeamish or reading this while eating, I’d advise you to leave this site and look at some cute baby llamas instead.)

Hands down, our lowest moment came about four days before the big push. Some almost-new moving boxes had magically appeared at the end of our driveway — left over from a neighbor’s move, I guessed. We took them all, grateful that we didn’t have to spend yet more money on packing supplies.  The boxes were neatly folded and stacked in a larger moving box.  It was a gift from heaven…

We got to the very last box — the box that had been holding all of the other boxes — and I pulled put a few handfuls of bubblewrap to start putting away some kitchen dishes.  As soon as the bubble wrap left the box, a hideous odor smacked me upside the head. It was so vile I actually jerked my head back and shouted. Scott looked up from across the room. “What is it?”

I looked into the box, and what I saw was so horrifying and grotesque that my brain shut down. “Oh, oh oh oh….OH OH…,” I said over and over.

“What is it?!” Scott anxiously said.

“It’s… OH…..OH….” my brain couldn’t make the words come out of my mouth.”Oh OH….”

“Bah… Bah…. Babies!” I finally said.

“Babies?” Scott said, in an octave so high I thought he might have broken his vocal chords. I wish so badly that we had a recording of this interaction, because “babies” was the very last thing he expected to come out of my mouth, and I would love to laugh at his facial expression now.  But at the time, it was not funny.

My head still couldn’t register the horror, so I just said, “Babies….BABIES… make it go away, oh my God, make it go away….”

“What do you mean, babies?” Scott asked, grabbing the corner of the box from my outstretched arm.

Suddenly, my reflexes kicked in. I needed to protect him.

“DO NOT LOOK IN THAT BOX,” I said. “Just… just make it go away.”

But it was too late — the babies, which I assume were mice, started falling out of the rotten corners of the box.  The next 2 minutes were a blur of frantic sweeping, gagging, running outside, and trying not to look at anything for fear an image would permanently imprint itself on our brains.

After getting everything outside, we agreed that the entire crime scene needed to go down the driveway to our dumpster. “I’m not putting that box in my car,” Scott declared. So he put it on top and drove very, very slowly away.

After that, we gained a new perspective on our move. It’s not that bad! In fact, it’s downright pleasant!

It’s been two full weeks since we first found ourselves in our new space. We’ve hung most of our clothes in closets, stacked our dishes in cabinets, and have enough space cleared in the garage to park our cars. We’ve also learned a lot.  We have purchased a mower, a shop vac, and a million other things we “needed” to get the house into a livable state. Scott rewired the broken garage door opener, I installed new locks and deadbolts (which required cutting an enormous hole in the door — quite a scary moment as there are no do-overs), and we rigged up a harness system to get onto the roof (28 feet in the air!) to clean the gutters. It’s been a move like no other for us…

…but now that the worst part is done, I’m allowing myself to feel the hope and the endless sense of possibilities, and I can’t wait to start making this gorgeous house our own!

40 before 40: Witness my baby brother get hitched

Last weekend was a big one for my family — Steve, my younger brother, got married to his long-time partner, Liz.


It was a wonderful celebration — and one that I had the privilege of helping to plan.  Almost every weekend this summer found me at the farm, planting sunflowers and trees or clearing brush and laying woodchips. There were tasks I did at home, too – I designed the save-the-date and invitation, and I painted about a dozen signs to help direct guests, and to add a little color and fun to the festivities.  It was great – I got to use my creative and crafty side, which doesn’t get nearly enough attention in my daily life.


And of course, I made the dessert — 300 cakeballs, to be exact (actually, my grandmother gets 1/2 the credit for these, since she came early to help me roll all those balls!).


The highlight was the cake topper, which was designed to match the image on Steve and Liz’s wedding invitation.  Steve is wearing chaps and a helmet, and holding a chainsaw, while Liz is doing yoga. The entire sculpture is edible — made from modeling chocolate and gumpaste.

53f14816b2e5d4000087fe10Their pups, favorite sheep and goose were also featured:



Steve and Liz designed a really lovely family ceremony for Friday night — we honored relatives who have passed, but whose spirit still is with us. We also helped build the chuppah for the following afternoon’s ceremony, which was also very personal and thoughtful. So many weddings seem to treat the actual ceremony like an after-thought, and put all the emphasis on the reception and party. Steve and Liz had clearly spent a lot of time designing their ceremony, and they incorporated our family in some really wonderful ways.

One of the best things about this wedding was that it was truly a collaborative affair. Friends and family spent hours upon hours helping to craft a perfect day — from performing manual labor and arranging thousands of flowers to decorating the tents and lighting the fireworks. My parents came early in the week and helped wire the tents for electricity (dad) and finish all the favors (mom). (I should also mention that my mom did an amazing amount of work helping to organize everything, including managing RSVPs, arranging the rental items, cutting and folding more than 200 napkins from multi-colored fabrics collected over the past year, making the table runners… the woman is incredible!)  Even the reception meal itself was a community effort — each guest was asked to bring a favorite family dish to share with everyone. The result was a wedding that felt incredibly intimate and special — one that we all helped make happen.

Scott even got to participate in his very favorite activity – fishing! He entertained several of my cousins for quite a while after dinner, helping them to fish the farm’s pond… and everyone who tried managed to catch at least one fish!


I could go on and on about the weekend’s events, and how ecstatic I am for Steve and Liz, who really are a perfectly matched couple. But as soon as the wedding ended, Scott and I had to start focusing on our next major “event” – our move! So I’m going to wrap this up and get back to packing…

Congratulations to my baby brother and my new kid sis! Couldn’t be happier for you both!


(Several people asked me for a copy of my toast, so I’m pasting it below.  I did manage to get through it without breaking down in hysterical sobbing… although there were a couple tears.)
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I was really into gymnastics.  One evening, my gymnastics school was having a little show, so that we could impress our families with our amazing moves. It was a very important day for me. My mom insisted that we have dinner before the show, so that night, the four of us sat at our kitchen table and shoveled food into our mouths so we wouldn’t be late.

And that’s when adorable little three-year-old Steve decided it would be fun to stuff sausages up his nose.  I’m not making that up. He actually stuffed sausage so far into his nose that mom and dad couldn’t extract it and had to take him to the emergency room.

I mention that because this is a very important day in Steve’s life.  And… revenge is a dish best served cold. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 15 years, but make no mistake about it: I am not above stuffing sausage up my nose.

Being six and half years older means that I can remember literally all of Steve’s life. I remember the first time I ever held him in his candy cane onesie. I remember when he was a bit older and decided that his name was Chad and he was a police officer — he would write tickets to our neighbors for parking in their driveways.  I remember playing house and dancing with him to Johnny Rivers’ “Swayin’ to the Music.”

But being six and a half years older had its drawbacks as well. When we were little, we were too far apart in age to be able to relate to one another. While we had plenty of fun playing Nintendo and Legos and make-believe, we didn’t get to grow up as each other’s best friends.

In fact, ironically, our real friendship started when I moved out of the house for college – Steve called me when he needed to talk because he’d had a fight with mom and dad, or he needed help with working through an issue with a friend. He was just about the age when the opposite gender was becoming interesting, and our phone conversations covered deep topics like the decline of our country, the meaning of life… and what his girl crush really meant when she made fun of him in science class.

In those phone calls, I came to deeply respect and admire my little brother. He struggled with many of the issues that every young man needs to address. But he was coming into his own, and over the course of hours and hours of conversation, it became clear that his path in life would be one that is both unconventional and spectacular.

In my 20s and early 30s, our relationship continued to deepen. He was there for me during my lowest point in my adult life, and he’s been there for me for plenty of highs too.  We’ve gone on epic road trips, kayak trips, hikes, snowshoes and backpacking trips, and we’ve enjoyed long conversations about life, love, death and everything in between.

It was on one of those backpacking trips that I first heard Liz’s name. Steve and Liz had met through a professional network, but Steve admitted that he was making up excuses to reach out to her. As we started our trip through the Trinity Alps in California, Steve wondered aloud if maybe he should re-evaluate his ban on long distance relationships.

Over the course of the next four days, I heard all about Liz, and in a weird way, though she was more than 3,000 miles away, I’m pretty sure I witnessed Steve fall in love. When we parted ways at the end of the trip — me back home to San Francisco and Steve towards DC (and Liz) — I reflected on our conversations. Something was different this time around. I had a feeling that he might have found the one. And clearly, he did.

It’s been an honor to watch this relationship grow over the past 4 years — and even more of an honor to help execute what was possibly the most romantic proposal ever crafted.

As the older sister, I feel like I should offer the happy couple some words of wisdom. But the truth is, my little brother’s been inspiring me for his whole life, and this couple is an inspiration to every one of us.  Scott and I can only wish you a lifetime filled with laughter and adventure.
Liz – I whole heartily welcome you and your family into ours. I feel so lucky. I already had a best friend in my brother, and now I have a best friend in his wife.

But more importantly, Steve is lucky to have you. May your marriage be everything you’ve hoped and dreamed for. And when it’s not, let your love carry you through.

I’d like to invite everyone to raise a glass with me and toast this wonderful couple.

Liz and Steve, may your love grow like a beautiful tree, sending roots deep and branches high, with new beauty every season of your life together. Congratulations!

40 before 40: ocean kayaking

I’m discovering that there is a downside to this whole “40 before 40″ concept — namely, the more new things I try, the more I want to go back and do them again and again. While that’s fine for something free like 108 sun salutations on the solstice, it’s another story when the activity requires a plane ticket and expensive gear. Ah well… it’s a downside that I’m willing to live with.

I spent this past week in San Diego — I was at a conference that was held in a hotel about 100 yards from the ocean, which was extremely cruel of the organizers. The good thing was that lots of breaks were built into the schedule, and for the most part, my nights were free. Everything wrapped up yesterday after lunch, so I found myself with an entire afternoon to myself.

Anticipating this possibility, I had poked around online to find something to do that I could put on the 40 before 40 list. Google “things to do in San Diego” and you will discover that there is no shortage of exciting adventures to be had — it’s actually pretty incredible. Eventually, I stumbled upon a mention of ocean kayaking, and the possibility of kayaking through the “Seven Caves of La Jolla.” I had no idea what that entailed, so naturally, I signed myself up.

My first adventure  yesterday afternoon was finding a place to put my car in La Jolla.  In fact, finding a parking space in La Jolla at all should be on my bucket list. That is one crazy, curvy, no public parking lot town. At one point, out of desperation, I asked Siri for help. She told me the closest garage was 18 miles away.

Siri… always there for you in your time of need.

I had left myself an extra hour, and thank goodness I did, because by the time I finally found a spot, walked more than a mile back to beach, and signed 14 different waivers, my tour was ready to depart.156023_10152393996749051_3577013155698412847_n

When I signed up for the tour, I had the choice of a one- or two-person kayak. Obviously, as a loner on this excursion, I picked the one-person kayak. I assumed — WRONGLY, it turned out — that there would be other singles. By that, I mean: even if Scott had been there, I think we both would have wanted our own boats. Two person kayaking requires a lot more patience and coordination and synchronicity than either one of us possess.

But alas, I was the sole individual kayaker. There was one family of three (the 4-year-old son sat between mom and dad), and 8 couples, four of whom were on their honeymoons.

Have you ever felt like a third wheel? Well, this was like being the 19th paddle.

As we kayaked over the first set of crashing waves, a fear suddenly washed over me — two people paddling produces two times the power as one person paddling (I did math!). I wondered if I was about to be left in the dust… er, in the wake, as the case may be.

I was silly to worry. It turns out, like almost every tour in America, the vast majority of participants have no idea what the heck is happening. I was clearly the only person with kayak experience, evident by the fact that the nine other boats kept crashing into one another, despite the fact that we had the entire Pacific Ocean in which to spread out. I quickly understood why we were required to wear helmets — it was not because of the rocks, but because inexperienced kayakers routinely bash each other in the skulls.

We kayaked about a mile and half to the 7 Caves of La Jolla, a journey that took an excruciating amount of time because every time I started to get into a paddling groove, the guide would stop to wait for the others. I don’t want to paint myself as some obnoxious know-it-all who was held back by ineptitude, but well… I did have to practice a lot of patience, and remind myself to stay in the moment and just enjoy the warm sun, cool ocean waters, and amazing scenery.

We finally made it to the caves, which are pretty cool. They’ve been carved in 75-million-year-old sandstone by ocean waves, and most can’t be seen from land.  Only one is accessible to walkers — and that’s because a crazy man dug a hole through the floor of his house to gain access, and now it’s a tourist attraction. That crazy guy’s name? Frank Baum. The author of the Wizard of Oz.

The highlight of the trip is kayaking through the 7th cave, the “Clam’s Cave.” There are all kinds of amazing photos on-line – here are a few kinda crappy ones that I took:



Now, obviously, that second photo was taken when I was inside the cave — which might sound creepy or romantic, depending on your point of view. Well, what a photo can’t show is how incredibly LOUD it was — there were sea lions perched on every possible surface, all screaming at us to leave their home (or so I imagined). That many mammals living together in an enclosed area also makes for a rather hideous smell.

After exploring the caves a bit, we headed (slowly) back to shore.


There is something magical about being out in the ocean… just you, a kayak and a paddle. It’s exhilarating, and a totally different type of experience than lake kayaking, which I also love. It’s perhaps a good thing that we don’t live closer to a beach, because we might be the proud owners of new ocean kayaks before the weekend is over.

She fell for it… hook, line and sinker…

A couple of months ago, a group of friends started discussing the idea of a pre-wedding gathering (I don’t know what to call it – it wasn’t a shower, and it wasn’t a bachelorette party) for my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Liz.  I was charged with getting her out of her house and off her land, so that others could set up in secret and surprise her.

That’s how it all began. Little did I know this job would require me to be Pinocchio, a NASCAR support team, and an Oscar-winning actress.

Let me explain.

I needed to find an excuse to take Liz away from her house for about 2 hours, and I needed to find something that she couldn’t say no to.  With less than 2 weeks left to the wedding, there’s quite a bit going on, and if I suggested a kayak or hike, I was afraid she might decide it would be better to stay home and work. I also had to come up with something legitimate — this wasn’t like lying to her about going to dinner, and then driving her to a surprise party. I needed to keep her occupied for the entire time. I needed to have a reason to pick her up and drop her off at her house — the fear was if we met somewhere, she might decide to run errands or something afterwards. I also needed to think about the possibility of bad weather, another reason why an outdoor activity didn’t sound like a good idea.

I was in a car with my brother and parents a few weeks ago, on our way to another wedding, and I posed this conundrum to them. I don’t know who initially came up with the idea, but someone suggested that it might be funny to have her set up for a surprise party while other people were setting up HER surprise party. And thus, the evil plot was born.

Last weekend, I posted this on facebook:


The lovely thing is that Scott actually DID catch that 7.1 pound bass, but unfortunately, it was a one-man celebration.  There was no charity bass fishing tournament. But I assumed that Liz would never know that.

The “likes” and comments started rolling in, and with every single one, I felt a wave of guilt wash over me. I don’t like lying, especially when it’s about my husband. The good thing was that he was totally in on the joke, and thought it sounded funny.

Last Wednesday, I hatched the next phase of Operation: Take Liz From the Farm. I sent an email to her, my brother and a group of friends, inviting them to a surprise BBQ on Monday in honor of Scott.  I followed that up with an email to only her, asking her if she would help me decorate on Sunday evening. She’s always bugging me about asking for help more often, so I knew she wouldn’t say no. And she didn’t.

Our friend Kelly offered to host the fake BBQ, since Liz would be between our homes, so it would make sense for me to pick her up.  I figured if I was going to lie, I might as well go big — so I also invented a couple of “tournament buddies” for Scott and said they were coming, too. I went to the party store and bought everything I could find with fish on it, and I also made “Scott” a celebration cake:

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Fast forward to last night. The plan was for me to pick up Liz at 5pm, then head to Kelly’s to decorate for the fake surprise party, and then tell her that I had dinner plans at a friend’s house so we needed to leave by 7pm at the latest.

Everything was going so well until about 3pm, when it started raining like I haven’t seen it rain before. Sheets of water fell from the sky — enough to completely block our view of our forest and yard at times. There were flash flood warnings galore — we live in the hills, so that’s not a problem for us, but it did mean that our gathering for Liz would need to be moved inside. Oh well, we live in Ithaca. Sometimes it rains, right? I figured that was our little hiccup for the evening.

At 4:40, I went outside in the pouring rain to load the cake and my decorating supplies. That’s when I saw it: a big, ol’ flat tire. Scott was working, so taking his car obviously wasn’t an option.

In retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t panic. Instead, I just went into problem-solving mode, and jacked my car up. This is where the NASCAR support team comes in — I changed the tire in record time, with an umbrella pinned between my chin and shoulder in order to keep at least some of the rain off my back. It was a pointless maneuver: my cotton dress was completely and totally soaked by the time I got done.  I raced to the gas station down the street to add air to the spare because it looked a little deflated, and then drove like a mad woman towards Liz. I was only 13 minutes late, which has to be some kind of miracle.

We drove to Kelly’s and I tried to calm my nerves and pretend that nothing unusual was happening. I can’t tell you what we talked about on the drive over, because I had so much running through my mind. I do know Liz kept asking questions about the tournament, and I just made things up as I went along.

We got to Kelly’s and started decorating. And Kelly made us amazing watermelon cocktails, which helped calm me down.

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This is my favorite photo. Look at Kelly’s husband in the background, trying desperately to not take part in any aspect of this lie, which I don’t think he ever really understood.

The awesome part of this whole plan is now Kelly’s house is decorated with streamers and balloons and every cheesy fish decoration ever made.  Oh, and plenty of photos of Scott with fish! Luckily she has cats, so I have no doubt they’ll be tearing down the decorations in no time.

Decorating done, I hopped back in my car with Liz and drove her home so that I could get to my friend’s “birthday dinner.” I had assumed she would know something was going on when I pulled into her driveway and she saw it lined with cars, and I would have to tell her what was happening. But she didn’t recognize any of the cars and assumed that they belonged to students of Steve. “Ugh,” she said as I pulled up to her house. “I wish all these people would go away.”

I hadn’t really thought through what might happen if Liz still didn’t know what was going on when she got out of the car.  She cheerfully told me she’d see me the next day and shut my door, and I sat there in stunned silence for a moment. Liz looked back with a face that said, “Why are you still here?”  So I had no choice: I backed up out of her driveway and drove away!

I obviously didn’t see this part, but Liz went inside her house, and discovered her friends, a full table of food, and tons of candles.  (Sheets had been hung in a giant circle around the living room, and when Steve saw it on his way out, he said, “Wow. That looks womb-y.” He’s so clever… and for the rest of the night we called it the womb.)

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Inside the womb.

Remember the cake?  Well, a quick modification made it appropriate for the occasion.  I popped off Scott’s head and replaced it with one of Liz. The bass fish was replaced with Steve’s head.

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For the rest of the night, we laughed and cried and celebrated Liz. We had each written a letter or speech for her, and we went around the room and read them to her. I read the poem that Steve read at our wedding. As I was starting, I mentioned that I never thought this day would come because I never thought my baby brother would find a companion good enough for him (or rather, one that I thought was good enough for him).  But they’re perfect for one another, and really bring out the best in each other.  As I said that, I looked at Liz, and she was sobbing — which set me off, and I barely made it through the rest of my piece. In fact, I’m crying again just typing this. I’m now seriously worried about my mental state at the wedding. Someone better have tissues ready.

In the end, Liz (of course!) forgave me for all of the lies, although I fear she may never trust me again! But it really was a beautiful night, and I’m happy I got to be a part of it — and even more happy that such an amazing woman will be in my family in just a few days. Not everyone is lucky enough to love the person their sibling marries, but I’m glad that in this case, I do love Liz — she’s a great friend and she makes Steve incredibly happy. That’s all anyone can ever ask for.

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I’m also really happy I can go back to telling the truth again. Lying is exhausting!

40 before 40: kayak around Honeoye Lake and go to a trampoline park

I didn’t intend to kayak the 12 mile perimeter of Honeoye Lake a couple of weekends ago. It just kind of happened. And then, on mile 10.something — my arms screaming for a break, the sun setting behind the horizon — I thought to myself, “this is freaking going on my 40 before 40 list!”

What made the journey extra special was the unexpected swan that greeted me at the southern end of the lake:


Last weekend, Scott and I went to Rochester to celebrate my birthday, and I finally got to try something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: trampoline at a giant indoor trampoline center.

The last time I was on a trampoline was probably about 30 years ago, and some things have changed. Like, for example, trampolining is for children. This was a fact that we were reminded of constantly since we were literally the only people over the age of 16 in the entire place… I’m including the employees in that statement.

I also had apparently forgotten how much energy it takes to jump up and down over and over again. We paid for an hour of jumping, and after 20 minutes, my hair was soaked with sweat and my glutes were killing me. How was this so easy as a child?

Regardless, and needless to say, we had a blast.


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