40 before 40: get lost in a sunflower maze

I have a touch of anxiety about the mazes that pop up in every other cornfield this time of year. In California, Scott and I visited one — billed as the world’s largest — and if it weren’t for some dumb luck a few hours (yes, hours) in, I am fairly sure we’d still be inside, wandering aimlessly, chewing on corn husks to stay alive.

In short, I learned that corn mazes are fun. When they end.

But a sunflower maze?! I could be stuck in one of those for years and be just fine.

It’s no shock to anyone who knows us that the last few months have been a wee bit stressful. It’s been hard to find downtime. But when I learned about a sunflower maze at a local farm, I knew I wanted to carve out some time to visit. Then the day came, and I was tired and cranky and not really in the mood to do anything other than stay home and read a book. But I knew I’d regret missing the sunflower maze, and in the end, I convinced myself to go under the pretense that it was a good “40 Before 40” trip.

Let me pause for a moment for some unsolicited editorial commentary: As I’ve gone on this journey, I’ve realized that forcing myself to seize a moment is one of the best, most magical parts of the “40 Before 40” project. So often, life and responsibility stand in the way of my ability to do something for myself. But knowing I have a deadline for a project that’s all about myself motivates me in a way I never could have imagined when I started.

So, so many people (I mean dozens of you, ranging in ages from 25 to 70) have told me that my project has inspired them to think about doing one of their own — to find a bunch of new things they have never tried and start trying them. To all of those people, I challenge you to stop thinking and just commit — whether it’s “50 Before 50” or “7 before 70” or “17 Before 2017.” Pick any goal you want and start working towards it. I promise you – there are no downsides. Even if you try something new and never want to do it again (I refer you to this one), you probably* won’t regret it.

(I say “probably” because I admit, if you broke a bone or publicly humiliated yourself, you might regret it — though there are ways to manage that possibility. For example, begin by trying a new flavor of ice cream or learning to knit — not everything I have done has been as dramatic as a 45-foot plunge into an airbag.)

OK, back to the sunflowers.

There is no way to be sad around sunflowers. I dare you. They are bright and cheerful and bold and strong and everything that is positivity and happiness.


Look at this flower and feel angry. You can’t!

The maze was much less of a traditional maze with a start and an end. It was more like a grass path that meandered through a field of flowers. Whatever. It worked for me.


The sky was an amazing blue — a perfect late September afternoon. A few wispy clouds floated by, but otherwise, it was tranquil and stunning.

DSC_0063 (1)

This time of year also coincides with the annual migration of the monarch butterflies. Butterflies plus sunflowers? COME ON.

DSC_0104 DSC_0110 (1)

All in all, I’m glad I worked up the energy to make this afternoon a reality. After wandering through the maze, I found a sunny spot and put down my camera. I sat. I took it all in.

I breathed.

I cherished.


This is my happy place.

40 before 40: swing from trees

IMG_4667 (1)

For my birthday this year, I had one request: to spend a day swinging from trees at a local aerial adventure obstacle course. It was everything I hoped it would be and more — 3+ hours of laughter, joy, and a little pain. There is no way you can NOT be in the moment at something like this, and with everything going on right now, it was exactly what we needed.

I must add that since this was my 39th birthday treat and all, it gave me a small amount of pleasure to see people half our ages chicken out. There were a couple of big guys’ guys who didn’t have the strength to go on, too. We finished all but the most difficult of the seven courses, and that’s only because we ran out of time. (That said, it does actually hurt a little to type this, my hands are so sore from the gripping.)

The course started low and easy and gradually worked up to some pretty difficult obstacles.



This one was especially hard, requiring you to balance on two swinging logs and then step to the next swinging log. Repeat. Many times.

IMG_4706 (2)


IMG_4730 (1)

Loved breaks like this one. Crawling through a wooden tube? Easy peasy.

Here’s a compilation of the video I took. Don’t you want to do this too?!

40 before 40: grow a pumpkin

I am sitting here with a blank screen that awaits the words that will form the story of my latest 40 before 40 adventure. It’s early on Saturday morning (early for me anyway… 7:30am) and the windows in my office are wide open. There is no breeze, just incredibly humid, sticky air that amplifies the screams of the cicadas —  a dull roar that is only interrupted by the occasional screech from a blue jay that has found the feeder on our porch. As I was making my cup of coffee a few minutes ago, I watched a mother deer and her still speckled fawn graze in our yard.

I feel so lucky to have landed here, in a church house, on a gorgeous plot of land surrounded by a state forest that so many call home.

It’s easy to take this all for granted. It’s so quiet and beautiful so much of the time. But then something like a baby pumpkin comes along, and I fall in love with our home all over again.

You see, for a decade, I’ve had a dream. That dream is to grow a pumpkin so massive that it takes an army of friends to transport it to the state fair so I can collect my grand prize ribbon.

This dream began in 2006, in California, where our apartment porch held several pots of pumpkin plants that we would cultivate through the year. Unfortunately, a team of raccoons ensured the little seedlings never made it beyond the top of the soil. (There is one story that we love to tell that involves Scott chasing a mama and her three babies away with a Swiffer at 3am.)

When we moved to the Finger Lakes four years later, our apartment had actual land. We built raised gardens and purchased expensive pumpkin starts and high-end fertilizers.  For five years, we cultivated the heck out of that little pumpkin patch.

And yet, we grew nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We grew gorgeous pumpkin vines with incredible pumpkin flowers. But even despite my efforts to inseminate the flowers with a Q-tip, we could get no actual vegetables to grow. Including the locust I used to build the beds, I probably spent $300 on that garden. For nothing.

This year, in mid-May, I was standing in line at Home Depot when I saw a packet of pumpkin seeds on a rack. I chucked them in my basket, and then when I got home, I chucked them in the one garden bed I’d had time to prepare.

I forgot about the pumpkin seeds. The garden bed was soon overgrown with weeds. We have waaaaaaaay too much going on with the house to think about tending a garden.

And then July happened. Our life flipped upside down. My parents stayed with us for a couple weeks. We were running back and forth to the hospital daily. It was everything we could do to keep the front lawn mowed. I didn’t even visit the section of the yard with the garden.

Then, about a week ago, I was  beating back some weeds that were starting to encroach on the compost bin. I looked over at the garden. The pumpkin vines were so large that they had collapsed a portion of our fence. I looked more carefully and under a pile of plastic fencing, I saw a teeny tiny pumpkin baby.


There were loud screechy noises coming from my face before I even realized what was happening.

Listen, I get it. It’s mid-August.  My chances of this becoming a state-fair award-winning pumpkin by Labor Day are perhaps a bit slim. But I don’t care. I have already won.

The church house has taught us a lot, and this is only its most recent lesson : let go. Let nature do its thing.  Even if a woodland creature comes along tomorrow and chomps it off its stem, this is progress. This is more than I’ve ever done before.

Magic is out there, and dreams can come true. As long as you modify those dreams sometimes.

Here’s the pumpkin as of two nights ago:

DSC_0195 (2)

And as I was snapping that photo, I noticed this:


Thank you, church house. Thank you.

40 before 40: Boatin’ Women Swimmin’

I don’t quite understand normal life anymore. I thought I had a handle on it, but then there was my sister-in-law’s cancer diagnosis and the world began to feel unstable. And then some other really awful stuff happened to other people that I love: three other cancer diagnoses, a horrific car accident, an almost-fatal bike accident, and a miscarriage.

Regardless of what comes next, there’s going to be a “new normal” for a lot of us. But for me, I don’t really know what that means or how to live it — nothing has normalized in the “new normal.” I just know the “old normal” is no longer valid.

I don’t care if that paragraph made no sense to you. Life hasn’t made a lot of sense to me lately.

My “old normal” life included a happiness project of my own creation: the 40 before 40 list. A couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t imagine going back to it. But now, in the beginning of my “new normal,” I realize that I need to stay true to myself first. And 40 before 40 taps into so much of what I think makes me me.

I’m not quite emotionally ready to jump back into this project with some sort of crazy stunt, like the 45-foot freefall in the Adirondacks. But I did find a way to sort of ease back into it while helping out a very worthwhile organization in this area: Hospicare.

Every summer for 12 years, Hospicare has run an event called “Women Swimmin’.” It’s the premiere summer event in Ithaca… at least if you are a woman, enjoy swimming, or know someone whose life has been impacted by death.

So yeah, pretty much all of us.

The event itself is a 1.2 mile community swim, for women only, in Cayuga Lake. It attracts about 400 swimmers each year and when registration opens in the springtime — I’m not exaggerating — the swim spots fill in minutes. Like: registration opens at 6am, and it’s closed by 6:12am. I’ve tried to register a few times over the years, and have never gotten a spot.

But there’s another way to support the event — and that’s by volunteering as a kayaker to accompany one or two swimmers through the water.

Almost 200 boaters are needed to help, and we were all instructed to be in the water by about 6:15am yesterday morning. That made for a brutally early wake up time, but a gorgeous drive.unnamed

The sun was starting to peek up over the hills as I carried my boat down from the parking lot to the water (which was the hardest part of the day — despite the promises of volunteer sherpas, there was no one available to help me, so I carried my 14-foot, 50-pound kayak about 250 yards alone. I used taking this photo as an excuse to rest on the trek.)
unnamed (1)

You look at these photos, and it’s hard to believe there were 200 boaters, 400 swimmers, and at least 500 spectators. It was so peaceful!  Granted, this was about an hour before the swim began, and caffeine hadn’t quite made it through most of our systems yet. So while people were generally nice to one another, they were also pretty quiet.

unnamed (2)

Floating in the marina, waiting for my pod to be called.

Once the swim began, groups of 6-8 swimmers jumped off a dock and then were assigned kayakers. The event is strictly a community swim — not a race —  so a lot of swimmers did the doggie paddle and chatted and laughed with their friends. My only role was to make sure my assigned swimmers made it back to land safely — which was difficult for the first hour when the sun was directly in front of us and made it nearly impossible to tell the swimmers apart from one another.

unnamed (3)

In the first wave, I was responsible for two swimmers marked by orange caps. You can see why this was a little stressful.

Later in the morning, it became a lot easier to spot people.

unnamed (4)

One of the great parts of the event: there’s a fundraising minimum for participants — so the swimmers are clearly invested in the mission of Hospicare. Some had lost loved ones this year. Others work there. Many of the swimmers stopped along the course, treaded water and remembered out-loud a loved one who had passed away. As I paddled along, I got to hear a lot of inspiring — albeit heart-breaking – stories about the role Hospicare plays in this community.

At the end of the swim, participants (and boaters!) got to enjoy a huge breakfast, lots of laughter and fun, and local music. It was a great time, and I have a feeling this is just the first year of many that I will be a part of it.

unnamed (5)

My friend Wendy and I volunteered together. We took this photo at the mandatory boater meeting the night before because we were so excited by our free hats. We were assigned to different pods, and I also somehow was assigned to be both a pod leader and a “super boater,” which meant I was responsible for two waves of swimmers. In the world of volunteering, does that mean I won or lost?!

When a nightmare is not a nightmare

I’ll always be able to recall the very moment I turned 39. I was at a stoplight in downtown Ithaca, following a hideous and frantic three and a half hour drive from Vermont (a drive that really should take 4 hours, but I got lucky with almost no traffic… or traffic cops). I glanced at the dashboard clock.


A few minutes later, I parked my car at Cayuga Medical Center and ran into the Emergency Room, where a triage nurse pointed me in the right direction. I took an elevator to the third floor, got lost, and then finally stumbled into the correct wing.

My sister-in-law had just come out of emergency surgery and was sleeping in her room. Scott, my brother Steve, and two friends were pacing the hallway. I hugged Scott and then Steve — something I’d desperately needed since I picked up a phone call while dressing for my great aunt’s 80th birthday party and got the news.

I walked into Elizabeth’s room and gave her soft hug, careful not to hit any of the wires or tubes connected to her body. I kissed her on the cheek. She rolled her face towards me, opened her eyes a bit and whispered, “Happy Birthday. I ruined it. I am so sorry.”

I’ve thought about that moment thousands of times in the past 2 weeks, and still, my eyes fill with tears. My birthday didn’t matter. All I wanted was to make all of this go away for her. And yet, that’s the kind of person she is — minutes after coming out of surgery, still incredibly drugged on anesthesia and morphine, she put me and my feelings ahead of her own.

From that moment on, and for the next 12 days, things are fuzzy. Time stopped and the days and the nights ran together. I know I moved into my brother’s place for at least four nights, but I only remember waking up there one morning — the first — and that’s because I tried to do farm chores so he could sleep and nearly got taken out by 50 hangry (hungry + angry) ducks and the two overly protective geese. The other mornings are a blur of coffee and long cries. I know that a friend and I split up the long list of people to call when we finally got the diagnosis of cancer, but I can’t tell you what day that was or who I talked to.

It felt like we took a giant inhale that first day and could not start to let it out until 6 days later, when we finally got to bring Elizabeth home.

That chapter was a hard one, but even worse is that it’s not the end of the story. A port went in last week, chemo starts this week, and there are countless more pokes and scans and meds to come. This journey will be a long one.

But it’s not a nightmare. Other people call it that, and I just can’t.

I can’t call it a nightmare when I got to strengthen the bond I share with Elizabeth. It was already a bond that transcended the term “sister-in-law,” and now we definitely don’t need the extra qualifying words. She’s my sister.

I can’t call it a nightmare when I got to be there for Steve. I mean really be there, in the ways that are fundamental to my understanding of what it means to be a sister.

I can’t call it a nightmare when my faith in humanity was renewed. From gourmet food that appeared for our family, to genuine and heartfelt messages of support, to donors who gave to the GoFundMe campaign — so many people gave so much, and then asked if they could do more. It humbles me, and I have questioned whether I am as good of a person as the people who embrace us.

I can’t call it a nightmare when I got to experience my family at its best. We’re already incredibly tight-knit. But now, I feel a sense of closeness to Scott, my parents, and Steve and Elizabeth that I’m not sure I knew was possible.


Elizabeth arranged to have an ice cream cake delivered to the hospital, celebrating my birthday and my parents’ anniversary.

I can’t call it a nightmare when I experienced such support from my community. Steve and Elizabeth’s friends and loved ones cared for us in ways that stunned us at times, but there were also people who reached out to care for me. Many of them barely know Steve or Elizabeth, or have never even met them. I received heartfelt emails, funny photos, and gifts that lifted my spirits. My work colleagues made it so I didn’t even have to think about my professional life for 10 days. My closest friends were there to listen, support and make me laugh — or kidnap me for an hour of raspberry picking.

I can’t call it a nightmare when so many moments like this ripped me from reality and reminded me of all the beauty there is in the world:


I can’t call it a nightmare when there were so many belly-aching laughs. That’s one thing that my family does right — we can poke fun of ourselves, each other and the weirdness of life. Case in point: on discharge day, we weren’t sure we would be able to find a bed that Elizabeth would be able to use at home. A few hours later, we had four beds — including two hospital beds! — all of which had been assembled and set up and then disassembled and removed (well, except for one, obviously).


The hospital bed delivery guys preparing to duke it out.

Not calling it a nightmare doesn’t diminish the tragedy of the situation, or how scary it all is. It doesn’t erase the fact that Elizabeth and Steve’s lives have changed forever in ways big and small. But there is so much good, so much love, so much support surrounding them and our family. And for that, I’m grateful.

Thank you.

We rock!

It’s rained a lot this summer, which is why I chuckled at this weekend’s forecast:


We’ve been dealing with a lot of driveway flooding and mud, and this week had three tons of rock delivered to help with the problem.



Spreading three tons of rock is a lot of work. But we got it done, just as the skies opened up and dropped more than an inch of new rain in an hour.


The one good thing about the moisture is that the froggies in our pond are happy.



And we have new mysterious flowers popping up. (These smell INCREDIBLY strongly of mint.)


Happy weekend!




40 before 40: Spend a week in the ‘Dacks

As I mentioned before, my previous exposure to the Adirondacks included driving through it a few times and a long weekend spent on a lake in the very southern part of the park. I’m a little amazed by how much we crammed into the 8 days we were there, especially since it felt so relaxing. In all, we kayaked/fished 9 bodies of water and completed about 30 miles of hikes.

I’m trying to be better about getting photos printed into albums when we get back from trips (digital images are great, but I don’t always want to sit in front of a computer to relive a moment) so thought I’d share some of our pics:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 108 other followers