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.

The moment I realized I no longer have the upper hand

For the last three weeks, we have been waging war against a mysterious and horrendous smell in our refrigerator. The thing is, there is almost nothing in our refrigerator BECAUSE we have been waging war against the mysterious and horrendous smell.  We have consumed or thrown out everything, except for a few condiments and some soda.  The smell gets worse every day.  Now the fridge door doesn’t even have to be open for the smell to leak out.

This was our conversation last night:

Scott: We have got to do something about the fridge.

Me: I know. It smells like a baby diaper exploded in there.

Scott: I don’t think a baby diaper exploded in the fridge.

Me: I do. It smells just like a baby diaper exploded.

Scott: I highly doubt we’re ever going to find an exploding baby diaper in that fridge.

Me: Do you wanna bet?

Scott: That we’ll find an exploding baby diaper inside our fridge?

Me: Yes. I bet you $10 that we’ll find out a baby diaper exploded in our fridge.

Scott: Fine. I’ll bet you we won’t.

We shake on it.

<Long pause>

Scott: You’re going to go buy a diaper tomorrow and fill it with poo and put it in our fridge so that you can win that bet, aren’t you?

Me: No! I would never spend money on a diaper. I would ask a coworker if I could have her baby’s poopy diaper.

Scott: You would do that, too.

Me: Well, I planned on it until SOMEONE ruined the surprise.

That’s when I realized: I’ve got to step up my game. Five years into marriage and I can no longer shock my spouse. What a sad, sad day.


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.


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


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:


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