40 before 40: Death jump in the ‘Dacks

For Scott’s birthday this year, I organized a week-long trip for us to the Adirondacks. Despite living just a few hours south of this amazing park, we’d only been there once before, for a long weekend with my family. It was enough of a taste of the wilderness to get us hooked (and Scott caught an enormous small-mouth bass, which was all he really needed). We talked about going back many times, but I knew unless we actually committed to it and organized it, it would always be one of those things “we should do someday.”

We planned to split the week in two, staying five days in Lake Placid and then traveling to the Lake George area for three nights. And as our week away got closer and closer, we began talking about the many places we wanted to go. Our plan was to spend 99% of the time in vast wilderness areas where not another soul could be found. It would be glorious.

But that other 1% of the time?  With 40 before 40 ever on my mind (it’s 12 months away now!), I looked for something I could add to the list.

One of the challenging things about being someone who is addicted to adventures is that I’ve racked up a lot in my life already. I’ve gone parasailing and windsurfing and skydiving and hot air ballooning and zip-lining. All of those would be fun to share with Scott and can be found all over the Adirondacks… but they wouldn’t qualify for the 40 before 40 list.

And then I stumbled on this: Screenshot 2015-06-30 19.13.35I mean, come on. That has idiot written all over it. I obviously needed to do it.

So basically, you jump off a 40′ platform into a giant pillow of air. Yes. Yes. Yes! I asked Scott if he wanted to do it with me. I sent him the website link. I talked about it for weeks. (This is an important detail for later in the story.) To be fair, he never said it sounded like fun. But he also never said “no.”

The airbag is open on spring weekends at Whiteface Mountain, which is near Lake Placid. Our trip had us in that area for one full weekend day, which also happened to be our very first full day. So this is how we would start our vacation.

We arrived. We couldn’t see the air bag as we made our way into the resort and to the ticket window. It was $10 for one jump, or $25 for three. I convinced Scott we should do it three times, under the assumption that we would be so freaked out by the first jump that we wouldn’t actually “experience” it, so jumps two and three would be the “fun” ones. He reluctantly agreed. Tickets in hand, we went outside and finally saw the thing in real life.

And oh my… it was big.

A man stood at the top of the platform. Multiple times, he peered over the edge, made a motion to jump, hesitated at the last second and then asked the operator to lower the platform a few feet. His wife, from the safety of the ground, viciously berated him for being a wuss. (I mean, this woman was BRUTAL for someone who wasn’t doing the jump herself… I know I mock Scott a lot, but I promise you it’s a two way street and we’re both laughing  — this woman took it to an uncomfortable level.) During her onslaught of horrible insults, we learned that the man spent 7 years as a paratrooper. I mention this because this guy is clearly badass, and he was having trouble. Scott and I looked at each other and grimaced. What had we gotten ourselves into?

The paratrooper finally jumped after about 5 minutes of hesitation. By that time, he had asked to have the platform lowered to a point that it was almost touching the top of the air bag.  He and his nasty wife slinked by us, and we could tell he was traumatized by the entire experience.

Then it was our turn.

This was my thing, so it only seemed fair that I go first.

I’m going to let the photos that Scott took tell the rest of this story:

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Yay! This will be fun! I’m choosing to be excited, not nervous!

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It’s just me and the 19-year-old lift operator. Everything is cool. We’re chatting about life. The view is awesome!

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Oh. Um. Wow. This is getting high.

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Holy $&%^*($# #()%#*%(#@)_%#. What the %&$#* are we doing this for?

 

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Is a caption really needed? My body language says it all.

At this point, the following conversation took place:

Lift operator: This is about as high as we go. Take a look and let me know if you want me to lower it.

I thought long and hard.

Me: No. If we lower it, I won’t hear the end of it from my husband. Also, I don’t want to give HIM the excuse to lower it when it’s his turn.

Lift operator: Ok then. Go for it!

(He later told us that almost no one jumps from the top height on their first attempt — he estimated maybe 5 people out of 100 do it. So we’re either amazing or stupid.)

A lot went through my mind in the few seconds I peered over the edge. First of all, it looks a LOT higher when you’re standing on that platform than it does from the ground, or in photos. I thought about the paratrooper and how we watched him get so far inside his own head that he froze. I considered how far I was outside of my comfort zone, and felt a twinge of pride because that’s one of the goals of 40 before 40.  I thought about how I should probably make a conscious decision to shut my brain off, not think about it, not consider the consequences, and just put one foot in front of the other and leap.

So I did.

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I’m not dead!

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No caption required!

I caught Scott’s first jump on video.

And here’s his midair shot:

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We did our next two jumps, and despite what I thought when we purchased our tickets, it did not get easier. In fact, the lift operator felt like he needed to give us a bigger thrill for the last jump, so he raised the platform to its maximum height. Which really wasn’t that much more than the original height… but it sure felt like it.

It took at least an hour for us to recover from the adrenaline rush, and to be able to fully process what we’d done. I’m not sure I can fully articulate it here — but I guess what I took away most was a new understanding for what it means to take a leap of faith.

Now, remember when I said that I had been talking about this activity for weeks before our trip, and had sent Scott the website? Well, he admitted to me in the car ride back to Lake Placid that he hadn’t actually looked at it, having assumed that when I said we would be “jumping into an air pillow,” I actually meant “we’ll be going to an adult-sized bouncy house.”

While I laughed hysterically at the misunderstanding, I have to give the man a lot of credit for going through with this insanity! If I thought I was going to a McDonald’s playground and instead found myself up on a 45′ platform, expected to jump into the unknown, I’m not sure I would have gone through with it. But as Scott said, “You wanted to do this, and it seemed important. So, when I finally saw what it was, I knew I had to do it.”

And that, friends, is how I know he’s my perfect match.

An anniversary of several important moments

Six years ago today, on an unseasonably frigid day on the California coast, Scott and I married. And one year ago today, on an unseasonably muggy night at a horrible dinner in downtown Ithaca (the company wasn’t horrible; the food was), we talked about the church house for the very first time — we hadn’t seen it in person yet, we were just aware that the price had dropped to our range.

When we talked about what we wanted to do today to celebrate, it seemed fitting to stay home and enjoy our fun abode. And Scott got me the absolutely most perfect anniversary card. On the front is this quote:

Anything, everything, little or big, becomes an adventure when the right person shares it.

That pretty much says it all.

Our house continues to surprise us every day, and there are more good surprises than bad ones. The yard is exploding with color, and I thought I’d share a few photos. I can’t identify most of these plants: some were here when we bought the place and some have been planted by me as I find deals around town (I’m good at purchasing plants, but not so good about remembering what they are). All are perennials, that much I know. With a yard this big and a house this old, I’m not interested in spending time replanting flowers every year.

I know rhododendron and the two types of lilies. If anyone (I’m looking at specifically at you, master gardener Terry) can enlighten me on the others, I’d love to know what they are!

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40 before 40: Learn far, far too much about a pepper

I’ve never met a pepper that didn’t belong in my belly. Sweet, hot, sour, pickled… I love them all.

The one thing I’ve never been good at is growing peppers — actually, I’m not good at growing anything other than gay pumpkin flowers. So when the Cornell Plantations announced that this is the year of the pepper, and their kick-off included a class about cultivating backyard peppers, I knew I needed to go.

My friend Claudia is also a fan of the capsicum (that’s Latin for pepper, you’re welcome), so we signed up for the class together. We arrived to find ourselves among a group of about 15 pepper connoisseurs (pepperheads?), and the room was filled with enough of the pungent scent of capsaicin (the “hot” in hot peppers) that one woman had a brief asthma attack. This was going to be awesome.

And then this guy walked in as our teacher.

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He was also wearing rubber gloves. Did I mention I love hot peppers? My dad has some of the second hottest peppers in the world, the chocolate 7 pot (called that because one pepper is enough for seven pots of chili) that’s dried, and we sprinkle the dust (just the DUST) onto pizza, and it’s enough to light the room on fire. So wonderful.)

Unfortunately, I could stop this blog post here because I have hit the highlights.

For everything that’s wonderful about the Cornell Plantations, it still has Cornell in the name — and in my experience, that generally has meant that the presenters forget their audience. Despite the fact that room was filled with giant baskets of tortilla chips — obviously symbolizing the fact that salsa was to be made — we sat in chairs for 90 minutes and watched a powerpoint presentation that was so dense in content, it was almost comical.

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This was actually one of the most useful slides because it offered practical advice — which is why I have a photo of it. Most of the others featured an exhaustive history of the pepper that will only be useful if I ever make it to Final Jeopardy and Capsicum hunzikerianum is the subject (that’s a thing; I didn’t make it up.).

On the positive side, each pepperhead did get a pack of pepper transplants to take home — so with any luck, and I do need luck, I may have my own peppers by summer’s end. I’m not holding out much hope… but you never know. The church house is pretty magical, so maybe its gardens are too.

40 before 40: Learn to throw a pot

No girl (and probably most guys who are strong enough to admit it) grew up in the 1980s, saw the movie Ghost, and hasn’t spent at least a few hours daydreaming about learning the art of pottery. Many surrendered that dream when they discovered pottery teachers often don’t look like Patrick Swayze.

But not I! I have long been fascinated by the pottery wheel and what I imagined to be a very zen-like process of manipulating wet clay.

Last summer, Scott (who may not be mistaken for Patrick Swayze, but who is — in fact — a dream maker) gave me a gift certificate for pottery classes. Fast forward to this spring, and the pottery school announced it was closing — so I quickly made my reservation for a four-week class. Turns out I was the only person in the class… so it was some pretty intense instruction.

Pottery wheels are now motorized — at least these were — so that helps regulate speed and also means people like me with knees of a 140-year-old can catch a break.  My first two classes, I threw a couple of mugs, a vase and some bowls.

Before:

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After:

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Super after:

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One of the bowls:

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And after (perfect size to hold my awesome shells that Scott picked up fishing in Fort Lauderdale):

IMG_3943It’s probably not a bad thing (for me) that the pottery studio closes this week. Like indoor skydiving, I got hooked pretty fast.  Then again, rumor has it that a new pottery school is opening this fall within 100 yards of my office… my poor bank account…

Happy spring from the church house!

Spring took its sweet time this year — it felt like winter was never going to end. But now that it’s here, it’s HERE.

May 10:

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May 17 (one week later!):

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I don’t even understand where that hosta came from in the period of one week.

And today:

 

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You can barely SEE the frog fountain!

We have our first rhododendron, too. And some lilacs. And lots of growth on the evergreen.

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Yay for warmer weather! And mowing!

 

40 before 40: Colorado adventures put me halfway to my goal!

In college, I spent a few semesters as the editor of the travel section of our daily student newspaper. It was the perfect “job” for someone like me, someone who loves exploring new places and learning about local history and enjoying random adventures.

It was the summer before my junior year when I decided that my travel section needed more action. Revolutionary War reenactments, cranberry bogs and potato chip factories are fun to write about, but my page lacked adrenaline. I had friends who were getting their skydiving certifications, and one of them had a car, so I asked if I could tag along on one of their trips.

I actually had no intention of going skydiving myself — I planned to watch my friends jump and interview them about the experience. But then we arrived at the airstrip. It was $200 for a first time jump. That’s so much money, especially for a college student. But…you only live once, right? I spent that summer teaching swimming lessons during the day and scooping ice cream at night — I worked six, usually seven, days a week. I had some savings. Yes, that money was earmarked for the next semester’s books and to help cover costs for my semester abroad in Sydney, but… you only live once, right?

A few minutes later, I was in the airplane hanger getting fit for a jumpsuit and parachute.

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In this photo, I’m hoping the little elf man with zero body fat can be trusted to tighten our harnesses tight enough.

This was almost 20 years ago, and yet I remember it vividly. Michele (the friend with the car), two instructors, a pilot and I took off in a plane so small we had to spoon one another. We climbed to 11,500 feet, then crawled to the plane door, hung onto the wing for a second and let go. The actual fall lasted 44 seconds, though it felt like a lifetime. Finally, I got the signal to pull the ripcord, and the chute shot open. The nylon straps from the harness cut so fast and hard into my skin that I was nursing bruises on my thighs for weeks afterwards.

And then something I hadn’t anticipated: awkwardness. When you’re falling, the rushing wind means it’s incredibly loud. But then you pull the chute and grind to a halt and it’s silent and there is a complete stranger strapped to your back. The instructor and I made idle small talk. I commented on the beautiful day; he pointed out some New England landmarks. About 3 minutes before we hit ground, he talked me through what was going to happen when we landed and mentioned that some beginners break legs or fall flat and break a nose. It’s not like I could back out at that point, so I did what he said to bring our speed down and we landed softly and without incident. Back at home that night, I called my parents and my mom picked up the phone. “Great news!” I said. “I jumped out of a plane today and didn’t die.” She often reminds me of that conversation, and I never know if it’s because it was upsetting or because she appreciated me not telling her about it ahead of time. If I had to guess, I would say it’s a little of both.

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A photo of me, not breaking my nose.

So this time when I went skydiving, I decided to take my parents with me.

Ok, it was a little different. Ever on a mission to add to my 40 before 40 list, we found ourselves last Sunday at an indoor skydiving facility in Denver. It’s basically a giant vertical wind tunnel. But while there is less risk, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the adrenaline is dialed down. In fact, after arriving, signing 900 liability forms and taking a seat in the viewing area to watch other customers, I had an overwhelming feeling of “what the hell am I doing here? This may have been a mistake.”

My group was called back to a classroom about 30 minutes before our flight time. Our instruction was a 15 minute sales pitch directed at getting us to return. Then, fully “trained,” we were escorted to a holding area and given helmets, goggles and a flight suit, helpfully colored to differentiate the thin people from the meatier ones.

We each got two one-minute opportunities to fly, and as the only person in our group without a friend or family member who was also partaking in the fun, I was last to get into the wind chamber. I watched my fellow classmates struggle, their bodies whipping around like a single wet noodle in a giant boiling pot of water. Several of them had to be rescued by the instructor after limbs began flapping uncontrollably against the walls.

Right before my turn, I looked down at my chest to see if I could see my heart pumping through my suit. My mom later commented that she’s seen me in some pretty high-pressure situations over the years, but this was the first time she’d ever seen me truly nervous.

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I stood at the door and leaned into the wind tunnel and it quickly swept me up into the air. And quite to my surprise, once I surrendered to the experience and relaxed, it was not the slightest bit scary. For whatever reason, I seemed better able to control my body than my classmates, so for almost the entire time, I was flying on my own without assistance. During the second flight, I had progressed enough that the instructor had me take a running start into the chamber, flew me up to the top of the wind chamber a few times, and challenged me to walk across the floor at the end (leading to several belly-aching laughs as we watched the video later).

Speaking of video, my ever-supportive parents captured the whole endeavor, so it could be forever documented for the blog (special note to my husband, brother and sister-in-law: watch to the very end):

To summarize: if you ever have the chance to try this out, I highly recommend it.  Even the wet noodles seemed to have a great time, and it’s definitely an unforgettable experience. I am actually grateful I don’t live closer to one of these facilities, because I am pretty sure all the money that should go into our house would be going towards flying.

Flying was one of three 40 before 40 items I was able to accumulate in the past few days.  I also dragged my parents along for two other new experiences: a cat cafe and the Wild Animal Sanctuary.

Cat cafés have been popping up all over the world in recent years, largely because it’s a brilliant idea, combining hot caffeinated beverages, books, comfy chairs and cats into one single experience. The Denver Cat Company is just 10 miles from my parents’ home and offers customers the added benefit of being able to adopt a favorite feline immediately.2015-04-19 13.21.10

Even my mom, who doesn’t particularly love the idea of indoor pets (she honorably believes animals deserve to live outdoors) tolerated the cat cafe, especially after she realized that there were only 6 furry friends, not 35 as she had feared. (She also later admitted that she feared all 35 of these imaginary cats would be hissing at her the entire time. Why she thought that would be something ANYONE would want to experience, ever, is beyond me).

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And finally, we spent some time at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, which is just an hour outside Denver and home to hundreds of exotic carnivores, like lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). All of them have been rescued from horrible situations, like illegal circuses or — in most cases — the backyards of idiots who decide it would be fun to have a pet wolf until it grows up and tries to eat their children.

Zoos generally make me really sad, but I am glad a place like this exists to give these beautiful animals some semblance of a normal life. Since none of them have the skills to survive on their own in the wild, a sanctuary like this one is their best option.

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They might be strong enough to tear you apart, but underneath it all, they’re still little kitty cats at heart.

With these last three experiences, I’m halfway to my goal of 40 new things before I’m 40. 15 months to go!

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Special thanks to mom and dad for their willingness to accompany me for these three days of adventure!

40 before 40: Come on down!

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For as long as I have known my friend Emily, she’s been a devoted fan of the Price is Right. Granted, it is a fantastically entertaining game show — one that actually made sick days as a child something to look forward to (in the late-80s, it was on at 11am on weekdays – WHY DO I REMEMBER THAT?!)

But Emily? Emily is obsessed. She’s been talking about The Price is Right — and her desire to play Plinko (the “idiot proof game” as she calls it) — for at least the past 25 years.

Emily also has a bucket list. Like, the normal kind, where people write down things they want to do before they do them.

Attending Saturday Night Live was also on that bucket list, and we crossed that off a couple of years ago, thanks to one of Scott’s good friends who is a head writer for the show.

We made plans to fly all the way to LA to attend a taping of the Price is Right last June, but then Emily got some troubling health news and we bagged the trip. I thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be. But I should not have underestimated my BFF’s obsession.

In January, Emily called me to me that the Price is Right Live (a traveling show based on the game show) was coming to Binghamton. “It might be awful, but we are going,” she declared. “I already bought us tickets.”

Last Wednesday was the big night, and I received approximately 326 emails from Emily in the hours leading up to it. She also made us t-shirts to wear, and I got a pink wig — because if you’re going to play the Price is Right, you might as well go all in.

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our t-shirt back

We arrived early to put our names in to be potential contestants — along with 3,000 other people.  We found our nosebleed seats just as the announcement was made that the host would be Mark Wahlberg (Marky Mark, for those of you who enjoy 1990s hip hop).

And that’s when I realized this whole thing was a much bigger deal than I had imagined. I frantically text messaged another friend who I know is obsessed with Marky Mark.

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After much fanfare and hype and at least 9 more announcements about Marky Mark, the show finally started… and onto stage walked our host, Mark Wahlberg.

Only…

It wasn’t THAT Mark Wahlberg. It was a different Mark Wahlberg. A not-so-famous Mark Wahlberg.

And that’s when I realized this whole thing was EXACTLY what I had imagined.

The next two hours were some of the goofiest I’ve experienced in my life. As audience members were called onto stage, they had to guess the prices of things like a 48 oz jar of Folgers coffee or a gallon jug of RoundUp.  Prizes included $100 bills or a pair of shoes or a white electric guitar that looked like it would have been wildly popular in 1984. The final showcase showdown did include a car, but contestants had to get within $100 of the actual price to win it, and neither one did. So they got $100 and a t-shirt. The entire experience was surreal.

Emily and I did not walk away winners. Or maybe we did, in a way — I think I would have been resentful if I’d won Folgers coffee and then had to haul it home and do something with it. But winning wasn’t really the point — enjoying the experience and time together was. And for that reason, we agreed we can cross it off her bucket list.

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our tshirt front

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