Thursday, October 22, 2015

30 Before 30 - Part 4

{back to part one}
{back to part two}

{back to part three}

21) Eat caviar - 8/30/2015

i'm not quite sure how i expected caviar to taste, but it was definitely fishier than i anticipated. and i do like seafood, but it was just overpowering. a few teaspoons spread on a triscuit was about all i could handle. this ranked right up there with coconut oil in coffee as an experience i won't be repeating! 

22) Get blog up-to-date - 9/4/2015

well, it was nice while it lasted! every few months i go through a period of quasi-writer's block, where i just don't feel that inspired to write, or when i do try, the sentences come out all stiff and bland and and inarticulate. so instead of spending my free time blogging, i read other blogs voraciously, or peruse Facebook, or clean the house while listening to podcasts, or read library books on my Kindle, or watch Parenthood on Netflix. but i really do want to keep writing more consistently, to document the little details of our lives that i always think i'll remember but that realistically, i won't.  

23) Read Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh - 9/5/2015

i first heard about this book on the Fountains of Carrots podcast, which is one of my all-time favourite podcasts about motherhood, spirituality, and great books, produced by the Catholic bloggers Haley Stewart (of Carrots for Michaelmas) and Christy Isinger (of Fountains of Home). Waugh's writing is delightfully peppered with evocative words that i never knew existed, like jejune (naive, simplistic, superficial), baize (the green felt material that covers pool tables), nugatory (futile), caryatid (a stone carving of a draped female figure, used as a pillar), glaucous (blue-purple, covered in a powdery substance, such as Concord grapes), and escutcheon (a shield bearing a coat of arms). beyond the bonus vocabulary boost, the story is a powerful character study of a British army captain reflecting on his life, friendships, romance, and spiritual growth. highly recommend!

24) Join a Hike It, Baby hike - 9/7/2015

Hike it, Baby! is a national organization that was founded by a new mother who wanted to get back to the great outdoors and meet up with other like-minded parents after the birth of her first child. the Pittsburgh chapter schedules several hikes of varying difficulties each week -- hikes for adults and older children only, easier walks for adults with babies in carriers, unscheduled meanderings for toddlers, and even playdates at local parks. on Labor Day, Greta and i joined up with a hike at Raccoon Creek State Park, and we had an absolute blast. the group was so welcoming and even shared snacks with us when Greta started to have a tantrum in the Ergo during a spot on the trail where she couldn't safely walk by herself :/ the trail led for about a mile through varying terrain -- broad sunny paths as pictured above (photo credit to one of the dads on the hike!), and a steeper trail up a set of switchbacks in the shade -- and then we turned around and came back for a nice 75-minute walk. 

25) Take a Just Ducky tour - 9/10/2015

these amphibious vehicle tours have intrigued me since i was a child! we used to see them driving around Seattle and i always wanted to ride on one. like Phipps Conservatory, this is another Pittsburgh attraction that i thought would be fun to do when our extended family visits, but it just hadn't happened yet and so Greta and i checked it out by ourselves, on one particularly drizzly morning. the tour was lighthearted (read: lots of cheesy jokes) but truly informative, and Greta loved "quacking" at the pedestrians we passed. she even got to sit in the driver's seat and steer the boat when we were in the middle of the river, but she was a little shy or scared and just wanted to sit back down in our regular seat. lots of fun and i'd definitely do it again, with family in tow! 

26) Visit the Carnegie Science Center - 9/15/2015

we kicked off my 30th birthday by visiting the Carnegie Science Center in the morning! i was pleasantly surprised by how many activities and exhibits were appropriate for Greta. of course, much of the science center is geared toward school-age kids (and adults!) as well, so i imagine this was just the first of many visits. we explored the whole building from bottom to top, but spent the most time at the Exploration Station Jr., which features a water-play exhibit, giant teeth with giant toothbrushes, blocks, and a giant ball factory. there's even a vibrating table set up with Lincoln Logs so you can experiment with building different house structures to see what design would withstand an "earthquake". we finished out the visit with a little quiet time on their first floor Ponds & Rivers exhibit. 

27) Get a jogging stroller - 9/15/2015

thank you, thank you, thank you to my friends who all pitched in and bought me a jogging stroller (also: a bottle of blue champagne)! i had been driving myself crazy reading online reviews of various jogging strollers, and i couldn't be happier with the one they picked: the Eddie Bauer Endurance. it's lightweight and versatile, with bonus features like cup-holders in each of the included parent and child's trays, but still budget-friendly. aka i'm not a serious enough runner to justify buying a $500+ BOB. having this stroller means that Greta and i can now go hit the trails (our favourites include the [relatively flat] Montour Trail and the Panhandle Trail). the stroller's wheels glide so easily over uneven terrain that it practically pushes itself, so i can devote more of my energy to actually jogging (and i can replenish Greta's supply of fruit snacks and goldfish crackers without breaking my stride). most of the time i aim for a 3-mile run, but one glorious day in November, i hit a PR! 

28) Take a gardening class - 9/26/2015 

there are some things about which i'm totally, utterly clueless. as in, i don't have even the beginnings of an instinct or a gut feeling about how to proceed. and one of those things is gardening. i just don't really know how to go about planting a seed and then transferring it into a pot (i mean, it sounds easy enough, but yet i'm sure if i tried it, i'd end up with nothing but dead plants). or what kind of plants go in what types of soil or with what types of sunlight. and even though those specific questions could be answered with a Google search, i don't learn well without having a broad foundation and framework of information to build upon. (hence why it drove me crazy in school if a lecture didn't follow an outline -- i have to know how to categorize and organize the information in my head before i can remember it clearly!)

SO! i decided to take a class. at home, on my computer, through Universal, because then i could do it during Greta's naptime. and despite the plethora of free online courses that are available, i opted for this one (the price when i signed up was around $30), because it includes actual essays and tests that are graded by an actual instructor, so i would have to really, actually, genuinely, learn the material and not just skim over it and pretend that i understood it. (not that i've ever been guilty of that...)

as you can see by the date, i was about 11 days overdue on actually completing the course, and this also coincided with the start of fall weather. so i haven't, in fact, started a garden. but in the spring, i do plan to dip my toes in the water of container gardening. and i'm cautiously optimistic!

this concludes the items on my list that i was able to accomplish. stay tuned for an update on the final two! 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

30 Before 30 - Part 3

{back to part one}
{back to part two}

15) Try Big Daddy's Donuts - 8/18/2015

this little donut shop has intrigued me ever since we moved to Crafton four years ago. it sits right on the corner of one of the downtown streets, across from the library. most of the time i'd drive past it on my way to the grocery store in the afternoon, and it would already be closed. it's a small, family-owned business, so their hours vary every day depending on their supply. that made it even more of a triumph to finally make it there one morning around 11:30 AM when they still had plenty of pastries and donuts to offer. Greta and i picked out a half-dozen specialty donuts: chocolate peantbutter, the Crafton Angel (covered in powdered sugar), blueberry, sourdough, toasted coconut, and traditional glazed. they were all fluffy, light, and perfectly sweet. we'll have to go back for their breakfast sandwich, advertised as the best in town! 

16) Spend a morning in the Strip District - 8/22/2015

the Strip District is one of Pittsburgh's most vibrant neighborhoods, especially on the weekends. independent grocers, bakeries, coffee shops, art boutiques, restaurants and bars line the eponymous strip of land just east of downtown. on Saturday mornings, the farmers' market draws huge crowds for its fresh produce, flowers, kitschy Pittsburgh-themed attire, handmade jewelry, and souvenirs. each block is a new sensory explosion of color, music, and fragrance, and it's not for the claustrophobic or the faint of heart. being luckily neither of those, i've always wanted to plunge into the thick of it at the height of its weekend frenzy. but toting a toddler along does not sound enjoyable, so i saved this one for a weekend when Greta was staying at Nana and Pappy's house (Nick happened to be playing for several weddings that day). i just wandered up and down the streets, taking everything in, stocking up on gourmet cheese and caviar dip at Stamoolis Brothers, Irish cream syrup at Prestogeorge Coffee & Tea, eating a huge roast beef sandwich on delicious homemade bread at Cafe Raymond, and exploring Wholey's Fish Market, which is famous for its fresh seafood, diverse meat selections, and singing animatronic farm animals.  and it was just delightful. 

17) Eat at Tartine - 8/22/2015

this little French restaurant opened in the West End a few years ago, just down the hill from our house. every time i drove past, its twinkling lights, blue wooden shutters, and flowerboxes made me smile. while the online reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, several people mentioned that they don't have high chairs, so i figured it would be best to check it out for the first time without Greta in tow. and it's even more charming on the inside! i had the smoked salmon crepe with potatoes lyonnaise, and probably one too many cups of their delicious coffee. the whole experience was quite European, including the fact that they accept cash only and that the service was friendly yet not overly familiar. there did happen to be a (very well-behaved!) toddler at the table next to mine, and she did fine sitting at a regular chair, without having a kids menu or crayons or a plastic cup. all in all, it made me think about Bringing up Bebe -- maybe the French are on to something. 

18) Visit St. Anthony's Chapel in Troy Hill - 8/22/2015

several years ago, Nick told me that i "had" to visit St. Anthony's. "it's full of bones!" he pointed out. and, well, he was right! the chapel holds over five thousand relics -- bone fragments, clothing items, or accessories belonging to saints. some of them are obvious to the untrained eye (skulls and femurs), while others require a closer inspection (scraps of fabric or small splinters of bone). each relic has a certificate of authenticity, so whatever you may think about the spiritual implications, a visit to the chapel is truly a step back into history. my Protestant upbringing certainly did not include any concept of relics, and i can see how some might feel uncomfortable with the idea that we honor these earthly remains "instead of just focusing on Jesus". the truth is that as humans, tangible objects give us encouragement and solace. in the same way that we save mementos from our loved ones who have died, the Church commemorates the departed saints. you can learn more about the traditions and Scriptural basis for relics here.  Catholic or not, a person of faith visiting the chapel cannot help but be moved by the overwhelming evidence of men, women, and children who lived for God, and in many cases died for their beliefs. i was moved to tears several times during my tour, and will definitely visit again. 

19) Try Ethiopian food - 8/22/2015

i haven't met many foods i didn't like (except for tomato soup, tomato juice, imitation crab, and bread pudding). and Ethiopian food has been on my list of things-to-try for years. Nick has just as adventurous a palate as i do, and having actually already eaten Ethiopian cuisine before, he was happy to come along with me to Tana in East Liberty. we ordered the combination meat sampler, including lamb, chicken, and beef in various sauces, and collard greens. i even tried an Ethiopian beer. all in all, the food was flavorful and i really enjoyed all of the different seasonings and sauces on the individual dishes. 

20) Skydive - 8/27/2015

i had an unbelievable tandem skydiving experience at Skydive Rick's, in Petersburg, Ohio. skydiving is their family business, operated out of a small building in rural Ohio about an hour's drive from Pittsburgh. the first forty minutes or so were spent signing paperwork including about five pages of safety waivers, getting outfitted in the jumpsuit, leather helmet, and goggles, and watching the training video. we ran through a mock-up of the actual jump a few times in the training room, focusing primarily on the initial body position for the free-fall portion of the jump, as well as when to pull the parachute cord, and how to land safely. then we went outside and ran through it all again in the plane on the ground. by the time the plane took off, i felt prepared and excited, wanting to soak up every detail so i'd always remember it! in addition to Rick (the pilot), Jimmy (my instructor), and Kevin (the photographer/videographer),  there were two other professional skydivers on the plane. i got to watch one jump at about 6000 feet, and he dropped out of sight almost immediately. slightly unnerving, but i truly didn't feel scared knowing that i'd be accompanied by a pro! 

when we got up to about 10,000 feet elevation, far above the clouds, things started to happen fast. the plane door opened, Jimmy and i scooted to the doorway, i stuck my feet out onto the small platform to the rear of the door, crossed my arms over my chest, and immediately Jimmy started shouting "1 - 2 - " in my ear. on number "1" we both rocked forward, on number "2" we rocked back, and before i could even think "here we go!", Jimmy had pushed forward again so hard while yelling "ARCH!" that we were already out of the plane. every fiber of my being was thinking "ARCH! ARCH!" and i focused on pulling my head back, arms and shoulders gup, legs bent and quads contracted. we were tumbling head over heels so fast i couldn't tell what direction was up, but at the same time it didn't feel like we were falling -- there was none of that stomach-dropping, sickening sensation. within a few seconds we had settled into our freefall position and Jimmy deployed the small parachute. 

there is truly nothing like freefall from a plane. when i bungee-jumped off a bridge over ten years ago, i honestly thought i was going to die, because it felt like i was just plummeting to the ground without any hope of salvation. obviously the bungee cord did its job, but with skydiving, you don't feel that sensation at all because you already have so much momentum from the moving plane. and since we jumped out over a dense cloudbank, there weren't even any visual clues that we were swiftly approaching the ground despite the fact that most tandem skydivers fall at about 120 mph. 

the best way i can describe it is that it feels like you're floating with a gigantic fan blowing in your face. the wind is absolutely exhilarating. from the moment we left the plane, i had absolutely no fear or nervousness -- just pure elation. we dove right through a cloudbank, which felt just like normal fog -- slightly cool, but not as wet as i expected. 

in fact, i was so caught up in the joy of flying that i didn't notice Jimmy tapping my hand to signal that it was time to pull the main parachute cord. when i didn't immediately respond, he pulled it himself, just as he explained in the training. there was a jerk when the parachute deployed and then suddenly we were vertical, floating much more slowly, able to see the patchwork squares of the Ohio farmland, and, in the distance, the Pittsburgh skyline. Jimmy showed me how to pull down on the parachute lines to turn and spin. i had to hold back giggles the entire time -- it was by far the most fun i've ever had in my life. 

as we started to get closer to the ground, Jimmy reminded me of our landing procedure. on the count of three, i lifted my legs like an L-lever and we gently slid onto the grass. the whole experience was just breathtaking, and i am so glad that we spent the extra money for the photos and video! so worth it! 

the next day, i did have a little bit of neck soreness and a tension headache, likely from the jerking impact when the main parachute deployed, so i can't recommend this for anyone who has neck or back problems, or a heart condition that could be exacerbated by all the adrenaline. with that said, i think everyone should experience this at least once! i can't wait to do it again! 

part four to come! 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

30 Before 30 - Part 2

{back to part one}

8) Watch Silence of the Lambs - 7/26/2015

i'm a big fan of psychological thrillers and suspense movies. not so much gore/horror/slasher films, but the movies that give you the creeps or make you question all your assumptions about life. so by that token alone, The Silence of the Lambs has been on my list of classic movies to watch for years. the fact that the majority of the movie was filmed in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas just adds to its appeal! and it did not disappoint. in fact, as soon as i finished watching it, i wanted to go back to the beginning and watch it again. the most famous Pittsburgh landmarks in the movie are the Allegheny County Jail and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, but i was not prepared for the creepiness of seeing an apartment complex a quarter-mile from our house on the screen! this apartment complex was where Catherine Martin's abduction was filmed. so weird! 

9) Have a picnic overlooking the city - 7/30/2015

we ventured up to Grandview Park on Mount Washington for this scenic lunch. the park is built on a hill, but we managed to find a flat spot to set up the blanket and relax. the juxtaposition of leafy green trees, robins, and bees buzzing lazily overhead with the bustle and noise of the city below was unexpectedly soothing. one of my favourite things about Pittsburgh is that its many diverse neighborhoods offer such unique perspectives on the city ... and Mount Washington's may be the prettiest! 

10) Visit the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium (8/2/2015)

we had so much fun at the zoo and aquarium with Auntie Kris, Auntie Karla, Raychel, Nik, and fifteen-month-old Naveigha! the girls especially loved the elephants and giraffes. we got a special treat when the polar bear started dancing his way out of his cave, shimmied back in, and then back out again. too funny! i didn't find out until later that there's a glass tunnel under the polar bear and shark exhibits, so we missed out on that chance to see these impressive animals up close. we did have fun at the Kids Kingdom play area, and Greta loved going down the big slide!

11) Complete a 5K (8/8/2015)

this was the item on my list i was most hesitant about being able to complete, and i am so proud that i did it! i've always struggled with cardio and much prefer strength-training or isometric exercises like Pilates. and even that had fallen by the wayside after having Greta, then spraining my ankle, then yada yada yada excuse excuse excuse. bottom line is that i was totally out of shape. so i started the Couch to 5K program in May with the podcast from the first few weeks were fine, but i just couldn't imagine myself running an entire three miles. i decided to stick with the program, and found it extremely easy to follow, since it only requires 30 minutes three days per week. sometimes i'd take Greta in the stroller, although using her Chicco Liteway stroller meant that we were limited to paved roads and smooth sidewalks (the latter being pretty hard to find around here!). lo and behold, on July 28, i hit the 3.2 mile (5K) mark for the first time. ten days later, i ran the Yinzer 5K at North Park with a time of 35 minutes and 30 seconds - just under a 12 minute mile. i did have to walk a little during the second half as the course went uphill, but overall i was thrilled just to make it to the finish line! it was such a beautiful day, made even better by the fact that Nick and Greta were cheering for me at the finish line, and that Julie was in town that weekend and ran it too! my absolute favourite part of the whole thing was that the other runners and walkers were so encouraging and uplifting. the course took us out around the lake and back along the same road, so as the fastest group of runners got to the halfway point and headed back to the finish line, they were shouting "you can do it!" and "keep going!" to the slower groups. and i teared up, every. single. time. i mean, at one point i was gulping back sobs and hoping that it just looked like i was out of breath. the whole event was the perfect culmination of nine weeks of hard work, past the hurdles of my own self-doubt and penchant for stopping things halfway through. i can't wait to run another race!

12) Ride the Gateway Clipper - 8/8/2015

these beautiful boats offer sightseeing trips, dinner cruises, and formal events. i didn't quite make it to any of those, but the clipper ships also provide ferry service between Station Square and the North Shore, where Pittsburgh's professional sports teams play. after the adrenaline rush of running that 5K, Julie and i joined some of her coworkers in taking the clipper across the three rivers to PNC Park. we cheered on the Pirates as they beat the LA Dodgers! Greta kept pointing to the river and saying "pool!", and while she loved pointing to the boats on the water, i don't think she quite figured out that we were on a boat ourselves. so fun, and it definitely beats trying to find parking near the stadiums!

13) Watch The Heathers - 8/15/2015

okay, here is where i started to cross off some items on my list that simply weren't feasible and replace them with backup options. i  wanted to do and see a whole string of things in New York, and those are now added to next year's list! so while this movie didn't hold quite the same appeal as Silence of the Lambs, it did come highly endorsed by Kira, and i just had to watch it. verdict: hysterically funny in a dark, twisted, expletive-filled way. 

14) Make pickles - 8/16/2015

i was almost as nervous about making pickles as i was about committing to run a 5K. i know pickles are supposed to be the most basic, simple thing to can, but leave it to me to screw it up. so i figured that my best option would be to make refrigerator pickles -- no actual canning involved! i made 2 jars of Refrigerator Sweet Pickles from The Pretty Bee, and 2 jars of dill Refrigerator Pickles from Our Best Bites. still slightly nervous about this endeavor, i let all four jars sit for a week and a half so they'd be good and pickled before i opened the jar. and ... voila! real, delicious pickles, crunchy and flavorful. the theme of this entire project was becoming abundantly clear: why did i wait so long to try this?

{part three here!}