30 things before 30

I’m trying thirty new things every day for a month before I turn 30 . . .

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Recap: 30 things

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In case you missed the 30 things before 30 project when it was running in real-time (October-November 2008), here is a recap of all the posts. Want to know what this project is all about? Start here.

0. Something new x 30.

1. Make a scarecrow

2. Eat an apple dumpling

3. Read a whole book in one day

4. Back up data on an external hard drive

5. Face my fears

6. Talk to a stranger on the Metro

7. Take time to appreciate the little things in life . . . like elephants

8. Roast a whole chicken

9. Eat a scotch egg, ride a slide . . . at the Renaissance Festival

10. Go hot air ballooning

11. Create a personal five year plan

12. Create a life soundtrack

13. Read poetry by Pablo Neruda

14. Make an authentic paella

15. Volunteer for a presidential campaign

16. Prevent wrinkles

17. When all else fails, sharpen knives

18. Journey to the top of the Washington Monument

19. Sip a surly smurf

00. Take a day off.

20. Narrowly escape encounter with neti pot

21. Go big or go home

22. Give minimalism a chance

23. Eat flan (and read bloopers in the loo)

24. Volunteer on the board of a non-profit

25. Make art kits for D.C. charter school students a reality

26. Send a care package to Iraq

27. Scare yourself on Halloween

28. (Attempt to) Pick apples on a warm autumn afternoon

29. Share a slice of the birthday pie

30. Reflect

Fin. Change

Written by danamuses

March 29, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Posted in turning 30

#30: Reflect

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I started this blog on a whim.  The premise was to try 30 new things in the 30 days before I turned 30.  In some ways, it was just an excuse to make myself practice the art of writing every day.  (As it turns out, that is harder to do than I thought it would be.)  In other ways, it was a reason to get excited about a milestone that I see many people get bummed out about.  Some of you may think it is really just a self-indulgent project that underscores my own egotism.

Clouds reflected in a pond (viewed from hot-air balloon level).

Clouds reflected in a pond, as viewed from hot-air balloon level.

Regardless of the true nature of the beast, I know that I’ve gotten a lot out of this experiment and a lot of it has to do with YOU.  I’ve heard from friends far and near who say they feel like we’re having an ongoing conversation in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise (due to distance, hectic schedules, and the like).  You’ve shared your stories of empathy, sometimes privately and sometimes for all to see.  I’ve witnessed the generosity of colleagues and loved ones giving to a deserving charity, banding together to come up with creative ideas, or simply sending me a kind word of encouragement.  I want to thank you for reading.  I appreciate the times you told me you like my writing (even if every one of them was a bald-faced lie).  It has made me so happy to hear that I made a few of you laugh or prompted you to participate in something that made you feel good about yourselves.  I also want to thank those of you who helped me to open myself up and to try new things, whether it was cooking authentically or flying high in a hot air balloon.  I feel truly blessed to have such wonderful people in my life and I hope that I can dedicate the next 30 years of my life to reciprocating your big-heartedness,  your thoughtfulness, and even your caustic humor (when appropriate, of course).

To cap off today’s new thing—reflecting on what I’ve learned from creating this blog—may I submit to you a list of “lessons learned” along the way.  (I’m working from the most specific to the most generally applicable, so you might want to skip to the bottom for the good stuff.)

Things I learned about myself:

  • Pablo Neruda is my. favorite. poet. ever.
  • Stick to the fried stuff on a stick and leave the scotch eggs to the Brits.
  • If at first you don’t like flan, try and try again.
  • I’m probably way too uncoordinated to use a neti pot for its intended purpose.
  • Don’t let your husband carve the jack-o-lantern without supervision.
  • My friends and family are mighty generous.

Things I learned about specific life experiences:

  • You can never eat too many apple products in one day.
  • Farm animals aren’t as soft as they look.
  • Avoid Route 66 whenever possible.
  • When you have a cold, your senses of sweet and sour seem to keep going strong while your salty and bitter taste buds loose their steam.  Skip the chicken noodle soup and go right for the Twizzlers and pickles.
  • Staying home from work and taking a nap when you really need it really does help you heal faster.
  • Talking to strangers can sometimes be a wonderful thing.
  • If you feel like screaming your lungs out over a pathetically childish ride, do it.
  • Life soundtracks can be more interesting than the last party mix you put together.
  • You don’t need meat to make a mean paella (and certainly not a combo of chicken, and sausage, and seafood as the “touristy” American version of paella goes).  No, you need a great teacher and a little bit of elbow grease.
  • While cutting with a spoon may be more humane (and, in many instances, safer), using a Santoku is much more satisfying.
  • They say that it isn’t the destination that matters but the journey.  In some cases, this even applies to journeys on elevators.
  • Don’t be size-ist; tiny apples can be just a scrumptious as larger apples.
  • When a bartender tells you that one of the ingredients is “other stuff,” say no.

Things I learned about life in general:

  • It’s easy to “go big or go home” when you’re already home.
  • Hang on tight and enjoy the ride.
  • Don’t give up.
  • It is never a bad time to get in touch with your inner child and just do something silly and fun for the heck of it.
  • One new thing often leads to another.
  • Planning to make a plan takes longer than it does to just make the plan already!
  • Take a day off.
  • Knowledge doesn’t often make us feel less scared but it can make us feel more prepared.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • The big, momentous things stand out as the things that define our lives.  But it is actually all of the small things that define each individual day; they are truly the things that add up to a life worth living.
  • You gotta know when to get on your soapbox.  Like, now would be a good time.
  • If you open yourself up to something you think you won’t like, you just might be surprised.
  • Some habits die hard.  But it is good to be reminded every now and then that we have those pesky habits to begin with.
  • (In the words of Douglas MacArthur) “Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”
  • Hard work and a fabulous mentor can really get you places you want to go!
  • Don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you care.
  • Good things are even better when you share them.

Thanks again for tuning in!  I’d love to hear what you think about any of these lessons learned or about the blog experiment in general.  Now, what to do next . . . ?

Written by danamuses

November 3, 2008 at 10:53 pm

Posted in turning 30

#29: Share a slice of the birthday pie

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I’m sure there have been many special November 4ths throughout history.  Two that come to mind are 1928 and 1978.  These are the respective birth years of my husband’s grandfather and myself.  I’ve never known anyone who shared my birthday before.  It is especially touching to share my day—with a separation of a mere 50 years—with such a wonderful man.

Today our family celebrated an 80th and a 30th birthday ( a few days early – less than 48 hours early, really).  The brunch get-together was a multi-generational affair:

  • 1st generation: Pop-Pop
  • 2nd generation: His daughter and son-in-law (my husband’s mom and dad)
  • 3rd generation: My husband, his sister’s husband, me
  • 4th generation: Our niece and nephew (Pop-Pop’s great grandchildren)

There is always a feeling that something really special is happening when you have so many generations in one room together.  Probably because the time span for such a thing to take place is such a short one.

The dining room table was filled with a cornucopia of food: croissants, deviled eggs, chicken salad, potato salad, fruit, lasagna, mystery Jell-o salads . . . We even had two cakes and some of us had slices of both. It was enough to fill up the biggest-bellied adult!  But the winner of the fullest tummy award goes to my nephew, who is a whopping 3 years old.  Nice work, buddy!

30!

30!

80!

80!

3!

3!

Lesson learned: Good things are even better when you share them.

Written by danamuses

November 2, 2008 at 10:08 pm

Posted in turning 30

#28: (Attempt to) Pick apples on a warm autumn afternoon

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When I woke up this morning I knew it was going to be a “I have to be outside today” day just by the way the light was streaming through the blinds in our bedroom.  As I do every morning, I made my way downstairs in my jammies and bed-head hair and let the dog out for his morning “business.”  When I opened the door, I felt something strange—warmth radiating from the sun.  I know I exaggerate when I say “strange;” it has only been brisk for a week or so but I’ve already grown cranky from it.  So today’s balmy weather struck me right in the happy chord.  It was time to buck up and do what I’d been talking about doing for weeks—head to the South and pick apples.  (And by “South,” I mean waaay dooown in Northern Virginia, of course.)

I fired up the computer and whipped up some research.   Well, actually, I spent a good hour plus plotting a google map with apple orchards, restaurants, and the best route for cruising down Skyline Drive.  As noon approached, I woke up my grumpy husband (he hates being woken up “early” on weekends).  I nudged and nagged until he rolled out of bed.

We left shortly after 1PM for our big adventure.  It was warm enough to enjoy the drive with the windows all the way down, even when cruising at faster speeds on the highway.  I played navigator as my printouts flapped in the wind.  My husband said:

You’d better watch, those things are going to fly out the window.”

I scoffed.  Things don’t actually fly out the window in real life!  My life is funny and silly and embarrassing but not quite to that level of slapstick comedy, right?  A few minutes later I needed to recheck the directions to find out what exit number to look for on Route 66.  I flipped through the pages (2 pages of maps, 1 of written directions).  I found the sheet with my handwritten notes of directions and scanned it.  I followed my annotations down the page with my finger.  And then, without warning, a gust of wind blew up . . . and whisked my page of directions right out of the car.  It flew out the window.  I was dumbfounded.  I still can’t really believe that it actually happened; I mean, stuff like that doesn’t actually happen, does it?  Well, apparently it does.  At least to me.

Luckily my dismay didn’t last long.  I jotted down what I could remember of the directions on the remaining two sheets I held in my hand and I sheepishly rolled my window up half-mast.

A not-so-short drive later (made all the longer by a longstanding lack of musical capability in our aging auto), we pulled in to the first orchard on the map.  Gliding along a pleasantly sloping road, we cruised past a few cows here, a few sheep there.  The air was fresh (aside from the scent of cow) and I breathed in the crisp, country atmosphere.  Adjacent to the gravel parking area sat several large wooden crates filled high with shiny red and green apples.  My mouth watered as I approached a man who looked like he could help.  He explained to us some of the qualities of the different apple varieties—Granny Smith, Stayman, York—each more delicious-looking than the next.  He seemed quite content to carry on about the ready-picked apples but that wasn’t what we were there for.  I interjected (politely, of course):

That’s great but, um, . . . where are the pick-your-own apples located?”

He chuckled—chuckled, I tell you!—before gesturing at yonder hills and explaining:

Well, the orchards are up there.  The trees have been picked darn clean.  If you’re able find anything, it’s free.”

While he wasn’t cruel in his delivery, I could still feel my heart sink with the news.  He gave me a knowing and sympathetic look.  As if to ease my suffering, he pulled a map of the farm out of his back pocket and pointed out where we were free to drive and “hunt” for apples.  I nearly tackled him with glee.

Onward, ho!” I thought.  (Even I am not cheesy enough to have said that out loud in front of a stranger.)

And so we went, over the hills and not-so-far away.  We drove for a few minutes up and down the hilly dirt path until we came to what looked like a suitable clearing.  We hadn’t seen any other cars near the orchards and so my optimist side thought “wow, we might really strike gold here if no one else has bothered to ask about pick-your-own opportunities” while my practical side thought “dangnabit, I can’t believe I’m the only one who didn’t get the memo that the only apples left in this orchard are the shriveled up rotting things lying beneath the lonely trees.”  The reality turned out to be sort of both.  There were a few lost souls wandering around the rows of bare apple trees, calling to one another:

Oooh!  I think I see one!  Oh, no wait . . . Nope. It’s black on one side and has a worm sticking out of the other.”

At first we thought we’d have to settle for a few marble-sized specimens we stumbled upon.  And then I spotted it: dangling just within arms reach, a bright and shiny mirage in the midst of an apple-free desert.

Mine!

Mine!

My apple is so mini...

My apple looked somehow bigger while still attached to the tree from whence it came.

Plucking the fruit from its home, I squealed with delight.  No sooner had I documented my booty with a photo when I succumbed to temptation.  A regular Eve in the Garden of Eden, I defied my better judgment and dug in.  I thought the first bite would be sour and that I would learn quickly what a mistake it is to give in to one’s gut-derived whims.  But I was pleasantly surprised when my miniature apple tasted just like . . . a full sized apple!  I was amazed.

That one bite was enough to sustain me through another hour of hunting and munching on mini-fruits.  In the meantime, my husband was busy foraging ever-larger apples from ever-higher tree limbs.  I was lucky to be hunting for apples with an eagle-eyed, monkey-limbed, mule-determined partner.  We made our way to a section of Granny Smith trees and that’s where he hit upon the mother lode: a medium-sized apple, hidden among the leaves.  I turns out that this variety sports trees with fuller foliage and the pickers who came before had passed over the fine specimen, hidden within a leafy camouflage.  He had come upon the apple not through visual inspection, but by sticking his hands full-force into the bushy limb and feeling around sight-unseen.  I watched in horror, thinking of all the inchworms and baby birds I’d squish with my fingers should I try such a tactic.  But the approach worked wonders for him (fearless, I tell you).  Of course we ate that apple too before waltzing back to the car with a bounty of fruit overflowing from our pockets and wide grins on our faces.

Harvest bounty

Harvest bounty

We pulled out of the orchard filled with a bloated sense of accomplishment and a malnourished sense of disappointment. We had defied the odds and left with enough apples to sustain a small child for at least a couple of hours. The efforts left us ravenous and we headed to one of the pit stops recommended on a chow hound Web site: the Apple House.  I’d rather not go into too much detail about our experience but let me tell you this: avoid the bison burger, the pulled pork sandwich, the house-made chips, and the much-touted donuts.  The milkshakes are worth a stop but if you’re looking for an actual meal, I’d look elsewhere.

Our spirits unshaken by the alarmingly poor food, we carried onwards towards our second destination: the lovely Skyline Drive within Shenandoah National Park.  Now, this is my kind of hiking!  My kind of hiking in that it isn’t really hiking at all, it’s driving.  We covered 30+ miles in about an hour, stopping to enjoy the dozens of scenic overlooks and snapping photos like they were going out of style.  The many-colored leaves created a stunning palette for our viewing pleasure.  I gleefully threw my arms up through the sunroof and out the passenger-side window, attempting to capture the sheer joy of slicing through the mountainous terrain in a sports car.  (Luckily, the camera didn’t go the way of my printed directions.)  Despite the technicolor trees, however, my favorite photo is a mostly-gray-scale piece depicting the layers upon layers of mountains jutting up and out into the distance.

As we lost the sun to the evening, we headed back north towards home with visions of a wonderful autumn day dancing in our heads.  And then we hit traffic on 66.  At 6PM on a Saturday.  For no apparent reason.  Just like we had at 2PM that same day for no apparent reason (and in the opposite direction).

Lessons learned: Don’t be size-ist; tiny apples can be just a scrumptious as larger apples.  Don’t give up.  And avoid Route 66 whenever possible.

Another "chicane"

Can you feel the rush of careening through the woods in a racy red automobile? Take that, nature cyclists!

Skyline on Skyline Drive

Skyline from Skyline Drive

Written by danamuses

November 1, 2008 at 10:42 pm

Posted in turning 30

#27: Scare yourself on Halloween

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Halloween used to be my favorite holiday.  But over the years my once-elaborate costumes, planned weeks or months before All Hallows Eve, have increasingly turned into slapdash efforts.  Last year I even stooped so low as to wear a purchased costume—and a chintzy one at that.  My husband, the dutiful sweetheart that he is, ran out to the costume store when he heard the dismay in my voice about the prospect of going out undressed for the occasion (I was out of town on a business trip at the time).  He called me from the chaotic shop:

A nun and a priest?

NO!

Superman and Superwoman?

You must be joking.

Ketchup and mustard . . . ?

Umm . . . alright.

And so goes the story of how I went as “MustARRd” to last year’s Halloween party (the pirate-y “arrr” accent deriving from the eye patch I threw on as a last-ditch effort to customize the outfit and spice things up a bit).

And this year?  This year we gave up completely.  I bought a 7 lb. bag of candy for trick-or-treaters, which went slowly at first; it went more quickly when my husband started giving children 4 treats each as the hour approached 8.  I tried desperately to think of one of those pun costumes that’s easy to pull together at the last minute.  But not even my desperation could make me resort to a “Freudian slip” disguise.  And so we headed out to a bar for a friend’s birthday night out . . . in jeans, t-shirts, and jackets.  Scary, I know.

Lesson learned: Next year, commence costume-making (not just costume-scheming) in August.

don't let your husband carve the jack-o-lantern without supervision.

Another lesson learned: don't let your husband carve the jack-o-lantern without supervision. I mean, nails!?! Really?!?

Written by danamuses

October 31, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Posted in turning 30

#26: Send a care package to Iraq

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Books?  Lard?  Knitting supplies?  Spam?  Honey?  The history of care packages includes items tasty and strange.  A 1962 CARE package in the collections of the National Museum of American History contained “macaroni, cornmeal, Carnation instant chocolate flavored drink mix, and nonfat dried milk.”  This particular parcel was distributed by CARE (Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe) but “care package” has come to mean, more generally, a package sent for relief or comfort.  I received several such packages during my stint as an undergrad.  My mom’s chewy, chocolate-y brownies (individually wrapped!) made me a hit in the dorms and powered us through many  all-night-paper-writing sessions.

Choosing items to include in a care package for my husband’s brother, a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps, was easy.  Spam?  Nope.  Lard?  Nah.   My brother-in-law has been serving in Iraq since late summer; he was deployed just a few weeks after his wedding.  His new, ever-thoughtful wife made life simple for his friends and family by emailing us a “most wanted” list of supplies along with step-by-step directions on how to make sure the package arrives in the right place.

A warm July wedding in Florida.  My brother-in-law is the handsome guy in full dress.

My brother-in-law, the uniformed groom, is pictured here with his new bride and his immediate family (plus hangers-on/"in-laws" like myself).

Today’s package includes all the comforts of home: cough drops, nuts, lip balm, ibuprofen, granola bars, magazines, Yahtzee.  Okay that last one wasn’t on the list—but who doesn’t love Yahtzee?!?  That’s just un-American.  (Actually, Hasbro claims the game was invented by Canadians.  But I digress.)  The content list is pretty mundane.  But we’re hoping it’s the card we slipped in that will mean the most.  It includes our thoughts and wishes for him: that he’s safe, that he knows we love him and miss him, that he comes home well (and soon!).

Care package booty.

Care package booty.

The conflict in Iraq is a contentious issue for many and a difficult situation for all involved.  For me, this care package is about family and the importance of showing support and concern to those we love with our words and our actions.  If you’re interested in connecting to the men and women overseas—who are far away from their hometowns, their loved ones, their favorite dice games (I couldn’t help it)—you should, regardless of your views on the war.  There are several organizations (e.g., Operation USO Care Package and Treats for Troops Foster-A-Soldier Program) that make sending a care package easy.

Lesson learned: It’s not the thought that counts, it’s the Yahtzee.  Or, rather: Don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you care.

Written by danamuses

October 30, 2008 at 11:34 pm

Posted in turning 30

#25: Make art kits for D.C. charter school students a reality

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I need your help to fulfill a birthday wish.  Before I can tell you what I want, however, I have to give you a little background.

If you’ve ever met my husband, you know that he is an artist at heart.  He recently began a position as an electrician at a major art museum and I’m thrilled to see how happy he is in the new job.  He is excited to go to work in the morning (imagine that!?), to go to a place where he is surrounded by artworks that provoke him to think in new ways or see things in a new light.  One of the best things about his new job, in my humble opinion, is that it has made him reconnect with the artist within himself.  He’s been sketching up a storm and scheming new art projects at a level and frequency that I haven’t seen from him in years.  He’s a wonderfully creative man and I feel that my life—and the world, in general—is fuller because of the crazy and beautiful things he dreams up.

Why didn't I think of that?!?

This artist husband is currently sitting on the couch next to me, knitting a scarf (yes, he can knit too . . .), while I am browsing a website I recently heard about, DonorsChoose.org. If you haven’t heard of it, let me just tell you that what they’re doing is so simple, and yet so effective, you’ll wonder why you haven’t thought of the idea already.  Their mission is to address the “scarcity and inequitable distribution of learning materials and experiences in our public schools.”  As of this week in 2008, donors like you and I have funded $146,255 worth of resources for D.C. students in need and nearly $25M has been given to schools across all 50 states.  It isn’t the amount of money that is amazing to me, but the way they’re going about raising it.

The DonorsChoose.org website provides a way for individual teachers to submit project proposals.  They request materials or experiences their students need in order to learn.  These ideas become classroom realities when concerned individuals (me!  you!)  choose projects to fund.  What gets me really excited, and what really makes this organization unique, is how they’re using the Web to connect people.  Individuals—public school teachers, their students, and people like you and I—are touching one another’s lives in ways that might never happen otherwise.

Now, what does my husband have to do with DonorsChoose.org?  Well, when I learned about the site, and was inspired to find a project to sponsor, I noticed that I could sort teacher proposals by subject: music, literacy, sports, history, science . . . and art. I came across a project requested by “Ms. M,” a high school science teacher at a charter school in D.C.  Her project reminded me about how critical art education can be to students, about how enriching it can be to have art in one’s life.  She works in a school with students from some of the poorest parts of the city.  They are often the first in their family to attend college.

In the proposal, Ms. M writes:

While my school has passionate teachers, dedicated administration, and some very talented students, we lack a few basics. For example, instead of hiring dedicated art, music, and dance teachers, regular classroom teachers volunteer to teach those classes.”

This science teacher has volunteered to teach art to high school students craving a creative outlet (even though some of them start out with an “I hate art” attitude).  And what is the budget for supplies that this enthusiastic educator has been given?  $2.50 per student.  Now, many of you reading this blog are either artists yourselves or have loved ones involved in art-making.  You know what you can get for $2.50.  And you know it isn’t a lot.

Ms. M describes what the students really need and the supplies that are currently outside of her budget:

I would love for each of my students to have their own art kit, complete with sketchpad, pencils, colored pencils, sharpener, and eraser. I believe my students would take more pride and ownership in their work if they had the proper supplies. I also love the idea of my students having a sketch pad full of work at the end of the quarter to display. Teaching this art class has been such a rewarding experience for me and my students. This would make such a difference to my class.”

Budding artists need supplies and we can help!

Budding artists need supplies and we can help!

Anyone who has ever been inspired by a piece of art in a museum, a public park, or even someone’s home knows that art exercises our imaginations and urges us to think outside of the box.  And anyone who has ever had the opportunity to make a work of art will tell you about the value of personal expression and how it helps us to make new connections to others, to ourselves, and to the communities we live in.  Researchers have found that making works of art enhances intellectual, personal, and social development—especially for students who are economically disadvantaged and are at risk in school.  Strong relationships have been found between arts learning and cognitive skills used to master other subjects like reading, writing, and math.

In case you aren’t sold yet on why this teacher’s project needs to be funded by you, how about if I put it this way: My birthday wish it that you will help me to make a difference to this teacher and these students who need our help.  In honor of my 30th birthday—which is fast approaching—I am pledging to give $3 for every $1 you donate to this project.

I know times are tight, the holidays are coming up, and you’ve got 101 other great causes you are committed to.  But I’m only asking you to give $1.  Or maybe $10.  Together, we can raise the full $305 it will take to provide art kits to every student in the class.  Please donate now if art has ever made your life better.  Or you can just donate because I’m asking you nicely.  Either way, please donate now.  Hurry—November 4 is just around the corner!

This post is part of the DonorsChoose.org Blogger Challenge.

Written by danamuses

October 29, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Posted in turning 30