Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bucket List or Life List? Must Everything be Politically Correct?

     In our soft, overly sensitive, not-so-brave new world there are many who have difficulty accepting some basic realities. In an effort to keep everyone happy and positive we have created a long list of words and phrases to describe just about everything, from our ethnic origins to our mental and emotional limitations to (you guessed it) the things we want to do before we die.

     It was recently pointed out to me that my "Bucket List" was politically incorrect. Apparently it should be called my "Life List," affirming the vitality of living, rather than emphasizing the end of life. I suppose I am to understand from this comment that it's just too difficult to accept life as a temporary state of being, that in order to remain positive about living, we must deny the inevitability of death.

    I say hogwash. We are born, we live and then we die. What we make of our time in between is our purpose for existence, and our individual choice. Why must we continue to pussyfoot around the obvious?

    Whether we live a good life or a miserable one, a life filled with loving friends, rewarding work and enriching interests, or one spent in mindless oblivion or whiny, disgruntled complaint, is entirely up to the individual. Yes, there are obstacles, challenges, set-back, and difficulties, but they are relative to each of us and are placed in our path to be overcome - to help us grow, learn, and strengthen. Sometimes we will be defeated, and sometimes we will thrive. That is a fact of life.  So is the reality that we do not live forever. Immortality is a fantasy, just like the vampires that are such a craze these days. The body has a life span, for some it is longer than for others, but eventually our bodies will wear out, break, crumple and finally just stop. No gentle words will change that fact.

   So yes, I have a "Bucket List" of things I want to do before I kick the bucket, before I die and while I'm still able. You can call it a "Life List" or a "Wish List" or anything that makes you feel better about the facts. But keep in mind that if you put off the things you truly want to do, you may very well end up too old or too sick or on your death bed before you experience the many joys life has to offer.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Turning Dreams Into Realities Just Requires a Little Determination

     It's amazing how long the excitement lasts after doing something you've always wanted to do. A week ago I was climbing into the cockpit of an elegantly sleek glider, preparing for my first experience soaring through the sky in an engineless aircraft. What a trill it was, and I'm still replaying my mental images on a daily basis. In between, I'm researching my next big adventure.  I have two possibilities on my radar for the fall, and both would be equally thrilling, although more investigation is needed. Still, it feels a this point like more a matter of which will come together first.

One of the tall ships of the Liberty Fleet
     This coming October tenth begins the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race from Baltimore Harbor to Portsmouth, Virginia. Ideally I'd like be a guest aboard The Liberty Clipper and part of the Parade of Sail as over fifty tall ships gather in the harbor. The next morning, I could be on deck as the fleet stands out into the Chesapeake Bay and the starting line. Depending on the winds, this 127 mile race finishes south of Portsmouth fifteen to twenty hours later. Imagine the excitement of racing midst a fleet of tall ships. I have it in mind to convince my brother to join me for this excursion. He is the true family sailing enthusiast, and saw these fine ships come into harbor this spring from the deck of touring yacht. It would be a wonderful opportunity for us to share, since we spent much of our youth boating on the Chesapeake Bay. There are so few opportunities in our later years to polish the bond between siblings. Whether I participate in this schooner race or simply watch the parade of tall ships from on shore this fall, being a passenger on board one of these beautiful sailing vessels is definitely on my list of future possibilities.

Ashford Castle, Ireland
        If I find myself landlocked this fall, I have no shortage of items on my list of adventures. One of those is a lesson in falconry. This four thousand year old hunting sport has always intrigued me. What I have found is that is also a highly regulated endeavor, and if one wishes to take up the art seriously, they must first apprentice for four years before becoming a licensed handler, and eventually acquiring a bird of their own. Because the welfare of a live, traditionally wild creature is at the heart of the sport, it makes perfect sense that community is closed to only the most devout enthusiasts.

A resort guest enjoys a falconry lesson
     None the less, there are still opportunities for observing and participating, if only in menial ways. The fantasy opportunity would be a dream vacation to Ashford Castle in Ireland where guests not only savor the essence of a fifteenth century castle nestled into the rolling countryside of Ireland, they can also take in a falconry class. Since a trip to this four star resort in not in my budget this year, I find that I could also take a lesson a little closer to home, and still indulge in a luxury mini-vacation. The Greenbrier in West Virginia also offers elegant accommodations as well as daily falconry classes. Even closer to home, I have found the North Carolina Falconers Guild, and the names of a few individuals who may be able to guide me to more local resources. The research continues.

     What I find exciting in the mean time is the fact that with a little effort, and a genuine desire to break from the ordinary, I can indeed add excitement to my life. I'm learning that dreams are a necessary ingredient for prosperous living, as is expended effort. I thrive when I have something to work towards, when I know my hard work and diligence will be rewarded with fulfillment, that financial limitation don't have to restrict the richness of my life. Dreams are obtainable... but like anything worth doing, effort, imagination and creativity are required to make them reality. Personally, I find the more exertion and determination on my part the sweeter the just dessert.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Up, Up and Away! One Check Off The Bucket List, One Giant Leap Towards Living For The Fun of It.

     For the last twelve years it seems my life has been dictated by responsibilities, littered with obstacles, sidetracked by obligations, and restricted by financial limitations. It has been exhausting, demanding, and anything but fun. What I've realized is that I don't have to continue down that same path. By making a few adjustments to my methods and my mental attitude, I can still master my obligations and responsibilities while rewarding my diligence in more meaningful ways.

     In the past, the perks I've allowed myself have been simple things like that $2.50 cup of specialty coffee in the morning, new fashionista shoes from a discounter, or a pot luck supper with friends. Nice little perks, but with very little long term satisfaction. Now I've discovered that by saving up those piddling perk dollars until they can buy a more substantial prize, means much more pleasure in the long run. Let face facts, I'm at a point in my life where the thrills and chills will mean a lot more today than they will in ten years. What's more, it's that excitement that's been missing for me. With that in mind, I've started my Bucket List - all the things I've always wanted to do but have postponed for one responsible reason or another. With some careful planning, a few clever saving strategies, and some determination to make life more fulfilling, I am on my way to the BEST of my life.

     After a little research on the web, and a mere hundred dollars from my Bucket List bank account, I am now able to check number three - take a glider ride - off my list. Thanks to the Piedmont Soaring Society I spent this past Sunday afternoon fulfilling a lifetime dream soaring through the sky like a bird.
     When I arrived at Bahnson Field near Winston Salem, North Carolina, I thought for a moment I must be at the wrong place. I drove through the discrete open gate and down a long single track dirt road next to a perfectly groomed grass field, not car, truck or aircraft in sight. Finally, round the last the bend I spotted what looked like a picnic shelter, a small tin building and one red van. Once out of my car I could see other building just over the rise, and in moments I was cheerfully greeted by the charming British accent of Piedmont Soaring Society president Bob Hills. 
     Bob and I chatted a few minutes about the club, my soaring fascination, and my mother's flying adventures in the 1930's. It wasn't long before more cars arrived and things began to move around at the distant hangers. 
     Soon a tow car pulled a compact yellow glider to the far side of the field. Turns out this vintage single passenger craft was used in the original make of The Thomas Crown Affair. Very cool indeed. Maybe that's the movie that inspired my
interest in soaring.

Glider from the 1968 movie The Thomas 
Crown Affair with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunnaway.

     The next glider to be towed onto the field was a sleek white two-seater, with a fifty-eight foot wingspan. It looked every bit as graceful and elegant as what I had imagined. Surprisingly this plane was built in the 1970's. Bob walked me over to introduce me to my ride for the afternoon. It was a bit of a surprise to learn that the passenger, me, would be sitting in the front cockpit. At first glance I wondered if I'd even be able to get my legs tucked inside. While we waited for the tow plane and pilot to arrive Bob also gave me a quick, very informative instructional on the dials and lever controls that could be manned from either seat. I found myself hoping that new knowledge wouldn't be necessary. 
    It wasn't long before we were hooked up to a vintage crop duster piloted by Gary Garavaglia, a thirty-eight year soaring enthusiast, instructor and pilot. I felt we were in good hands despite my apprehension of being towed up to thirty-nine hundred feet before being released to our own devices, without an engine. Yikes!

     Lift off was amazing, fast but surprisingly smooth. It seemed that in no time we were high about the airfield with spectacular views in all directions. It was a cloudless day, and I learned that gliding is best when there are more cumulus clouds in the sky creating warm upward thermal currents. None the less, for a first timer I felt 
more than satisfied with our altitude and what turned out to be a good long flight of nearly an hour. 

     At one point, we circled under a small puff of a cloud, rising gently in it's thermal to hold our altitude. That was the only point in the flight when my stomach reminded me circular motion should never go on for long. Fortunately Bob was sensitive to the possibilities, and leveled us out before things got messy. 

    As we slowly lowered our way out of the sky back towards the airstrip, my brief moment of relaxation was interrupted by realization that Bob  
must land our craft before I could truly be at ease. Yikes again. The ground was approaching fast, and I was in the front. To my amazement, the landing was so smooth I never would have guessed we were on a grass air strip if I didn't already know, especially considering a glider has only one wheel in front and one in back. It's like a giant roller blade with wings, and I have to say my pilot had complete control. I've had bumpier landings coming into PTI in a commercial airliner. 

    Safely on the ground, I must admit to a touch of regret that there weren't more clouds in the sky to keep us aloft a bit longer, and that there wasn't enough time for another go round. 

I'll definitely be visiting Bob, Gary and all the delightful folks I met at the Piedmont Soaring Society again, maybe to take a few soaring lessons of my own!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tick, Tock.

     Why is it that time passes so slowly when we are young, and want nothing more than to be older than we are? The young are always asking the question, "When will I be old enough?" Old enough to go to school. Old enough to date. Old enough to drive. Old enough to leave home. Time never passes quickly enough. Then, suddenly, time begins to speed up. Before we realize it, life is a blur of things past, and the future is today instead of tomorrow. With time whizzing past and no way to slow it down, I can't help pondering the best way to cope.

     When I started this blog, I was sixty two years old and filled with the remorse of aging. Facing all the major changes that happen in ones golden years - retirement, the effects of gravity, health issues, loss of  parents, loss of self-esteem, loss of identity, to name a few - I determine to evaluate, challenge and overcome the obstacles of aging. I took classes and reached out to friend both old and new, I tried new exercise regiments, experimented with my diet, organized my finances and legal documents, found new ways to generate extra income, and spent hours of reflective time evaluating my strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. All of it I documented and shared in my blog.

     Now, having just celebrated my sixty third birthday, I find I have a completely new attitude about aging. Besides realizing I probably need to change the name of my blog, I also realize there is no stopping time. At sixty two one still believes there is a Pause button. At sixty three, the reality rudely smacks you between the eyes. If you don't make the most of life now while you are still relatively fit in mind and body, you may miss the opportunity. Ten more good years is the fact. No more wasting precious time staring into space contemplating the "if onlys". The future is now, and it's past time to get on with it. It's time to write out that Bucket List, visualize those dreams, and put maybes into action.

     I've started my list, and I intend to make this the year that I start checking things off. Ten more good years. Ten items on my list. Ten things to look forward to, save up for, research, investigate, and challenge my spirit and my sense of satisfaction. This year, I hope to start sharing new adventures in my blog. Who knows where the journey will take us!

  1. Try riding a zip line. When I was a kid, my dad and brother built a zip line in our back yard. The cable ran from a tree behind our garden shed to another tree in the center of the yard. We climbed to the roof of the shed, grabbed the handles, and plunged into free-fall at the speed of lightening. The real trick was to drop to the ground before slamming into that last tree. Every kid in the neighborhood, as well as a few adults, tried their luck. Many also hit the tree. Still everyone had great fun, along with a few minor injuries. If we did that today most likely there would be a law suit. Times have indeed changed. But so have zip lines. I intend to explore the possibilities. 
  2. Try falconry. I have always been fascinated by birds of pray. In junior high school, I did an intensive report on the small but fierce sparrow hawk. I loved stories of mid-evil knights and kings who used hawks to hunt rabbits and squirrels. I was intrigued by the idea of training a bird,  so independent by nature, to return to perch on the arm of a human. I have learned that both North Carolina and Virginia have falconry organizations. I'm looking into attending one of their meets this fall.
  3. Visit rural France, and tour Provence. When my family lived in Europe, we spent a great deal of time camping and visiting as many countries as possible during the three years of our stay. One of my favorites was France. I savored the food, the diverse landscape, the glamor and art of Paris, the charm of country villages. I have been following a blog called My French Country Home. It is filled with pictures of architecture, food, flowers and antique shopping and life in the rural countryside. I'm hooked. The writer of the blog rents out a guest house, and I hope to one day visit her charming oasis.
  4. Take a glider ride. Why does the idea of soaring through the sky in a plane with no engine intrigue me so? I've always love the idea of piloting a small plane, and I have been a passenger in a few. My mother was one of the few female pilots during the 1930's, although she nixed the idea of me taking lessons. My husband was an army pilot during the Viet Nam war, and continued his career as a commercial pilot. So it seems only natural I'd catch the aviation bug, but the real reason I'd like to try a glider is for the silence. Except for the sound of air passing over the fuselage, it has to be the closest I'll ever get to feeling like a bird, riding the air currents with the wind beneath my wings. 
  5. Take more road trips. Years ago a family vacation meant packing up the car and heading down the highway. The journey WAS the vacation. Along the way we stopped at obscure roadside attractions, never missed a Stuckey's where we bought pralines, pecan logs and funny postcards, slept in motor lodges with swimming pools and a cafe, or visited relatives with cousins we loved. In the car we played I Spy or counted licence plates from different states. We cheered whenever we crossed a state line, and we studied road maps to see where we were and where we were going. I'd like to drive to Florida to visit some of my long lost cousins, and I'd like to drive across country because I haven't done it since I was a kid and it seems a more interesting way to visit my son and his family near Seattle than another boring airline flight.
   These are the first five items on my Bucket List. I'll be adding more. If you have any ideas about how to made any of these things reality, by all means share.