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! 

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