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

40 before 40: Shakti Naam

I’ve been on the fence about writing about Shakti Naam as a “40 before 40″ topic, mostly because I’m concerned that people are going to think I joined a cult. But it technically meets all the criteria for inclusion: that is, it’s something I’ve never tried before. And since I keep going back to the class week after week, I think it’s time to embrace it. So whatever. Judge me if you wish.

Shakti Naam is a form of yoga that’s not really yoga at all. It’s not practiced much here in the States, and no one I know has ever heard of it before. There are no poses, at least not in the way that most yoga practices have them. There are a series of exercises and some chants and a lot of singing. We prance around the room and punch out our problems over our heads. We hold our breath and pretend we’re chipmunks. We walk in circles and move our arms like choo-choo trains. I am not making up any of this.

If you google it, you’ll see that Shakti Naam has roots in Kabbalah. So, you know, there’s that. But get away from the woo-woo associated with Kabbalah, and this practice just feels good.  At the end of the 75 minute class, I am sore and happy and energized and calm, and that’s why I keep going back.

Namaste, my friends.

40 before 40: befriend a hedgehog!

DSC_0057 This has been an adventure-filled week in the church house!

For starters, we added four legs to our family (temporarily) in the form of Zoey, a two-year-old hedgehog that belongs to my personal trainer. Lucy (Zoey’s mom) was headed south for her spring break and needed a home for her hedgy, and I happily volunteered.

If this were a scratch-and-sniff blog, I would probably be a millionaire for inventing the coolest technology. You’d also understand that I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this little ball of adorableness is possibly the most vile-smelling mammal to roam planet earth. Seriously. Think of the worst thing you have ever inhaled. Now triple it, add a dead fish, let it rot for 3 hours in the hot sun, and then we might be approaching this little creature’s funk.

So we have that going on. We also have frozen poo water in the wall of our downstairs bathroom!

Alright! Who’s planning a trip to come visit us!?

… Hello? Hello!?

It all started about a week ago — actually, the same night we took in Zoey. Scott called me to the downstairs bathroom and asked if the area under his sink looked wet. He poked at the drywall and his finger went straight through it. “I don’t know, I guess it might be a little damp,” I conceded.

I am pretty confident that we are capable of handling almost anything this house throws at us. That said, there are two things that make me supremely nervous. The first is electrical work — I’d just rather not mess with something that could kill me. The second is anything related to plumbing.

I do have a bit of PTSD. In the condo I owned in my previous life, an attempt to install a garbage disposal resulted in the hatching of dormant flea eggs that were apparently just waiting to be activated by a drop of water. Within 2 weeks, the entire place (also my body) was infested. It was horrific. A couple years later, the seal for the bathtub drain failed and water poured onto my neighbor’s ceiling. Scott and I were in Utah, driving to California for our big move, when that phone call came. A year after that, the little 50-cent plastic tube that connects the ice maker to the water line burst — my tenants weren’t home, so water filled the kitchen and living room, causing more than $10,000 in damage. I was in Savannah at a wedding when that phone call came.

So yeah. I’m not a fan of plumbing.

We opened up a hole in the bathroom wall — a task that itself seemed more difficult than it should be, given that the drywall knife kept hitting something solid. A few minutes later, we were able to determine the cause — an entire wall filled with soaking wet, frozen pink insulation (oh, the irony). The frozen insulation was smashed in pockets, surrounded by… concrete. IMG_3552 That’s right — at some point, someone had poured concrete into the wall, encasing the insulation, the plumbing, all the electrical wires… everything. We spent the entirety of the next three days under the sink, using a hammer and a chisel to carefully chip away at the rock solid surface. A smelly rock solid surface — because the leak was actually in the pipe that connected our sink drain to the main sewer line.

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When we took breaks, we stuffed the wall with towels to keep the hideous smell from filling our entire home. Inevitably the towels would become soaked and then they would freeze into the wall as well. Winter is so fun!

To help explain to you how bad the situation was, I will tell you a story.

Early on, I had the idea to use my hairdryer to melt some of the ice in the insulation, hoping that it would make it easier for us to wedge the chisel into cracks in the concrete. I fetched the dryer, proud of myself for thinking so creatively. I may have even demanded that Scott tell me how smart I am.

We plugged in the hairdryer and I smugly pointed it towards the wall, ready to amaze the world with my brilliance. I flipped the dryer to high. It kicked into action, sending hot air blasting into the wall. For 8 seconds. Then its motor squealed, ground to a halt and erupted in a thick grey smoke.

I continued to point the dryer at the wall. My brain couldn’t quite wrap itself around what had just happened: the hair dryer had looked at the task in front of it and literally committed suicide.

We sat in silence for another few seconds. Scott quietly whispered, “I don’t think this is going to work.” We looked at each other and burst into hysterical laughter.

So we did what we do almost every weekend — sometimes two or three times in a weekend. We went to Home Depot and bought a new tool. This time it was a heat gun.

(I do need to stop here and offer thanks to our dads yet again… Scott’s dad for supplying us with nearly every other tool we needed to get the job done, and my dad for providing support and advice via videos I took with my phone and sent to him. We could not own a 200-year-home without those two men in our lives!)IMG_3554 Eventually, we chipped our way through the concrete to the leak. A $3 tub of epoxy putty sealed it back up — it’s not necessarily the long-term fix, but it’ll work until we can get the rest of that stupid concrete out. And more importantly, it stopped that wretched smell from continuing to leak into our house.

And even better news for noses across Danby? Zoey goes home this weekend. DSC_0067 2

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