NOT THE BUCKET LIST – Rich Paschall

Things To Do, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have a “bucket list.” You know, things you must do before you “kick the bucket.” That is to say before you die. Such lists seem to be popular with middle-aged and older people. Younger people may not give this much thought, as they are more likely to believe there is plenty of time left to do things.

Domed stadium, natural grass, Miller Park

If you have a list, what do you have on it?  Do you want to visit all the MLB stadiums? NFL stadiums? NBA arenas? Do you want to climb mountains? Perhaps Mount Everest holds an allure. Perhaps you want to skydive or water ski.

Maybe you want to swim with the dolphins, or watch the humpbacked whales come out of the ocean? Perhaps you wish to travel. London? Paris? Rome? Far East? The Middle East? Do you want to go to the islands of the Caribbean or the South Pacific?

In London with a friend

It may not be too late to learn a language, take a wine tasing course or learn to paint (pictures, not houses).  Maybe you want to run a marathon. You could try for every state. Maybe you want to run with the bulls. I hope you are fast. Maybe you want to visit famous places close to home. You could travel to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the monuments of Washington, DC.

I guess if we thought about it enough, we could put down hundreds of ideas.  If you made a list, how would you prioritize them? Would you do the easiest to complete first, or start with the hardest? Time, health and financial resources could play into all of your decisions.

Grand Canyon

I don’t have a bucket list, nor do I feel the need to make one. I don’t wish to have a list of things I must accomplish. What if I didn’t finish them all? Was life a failure? What if I did finish them? Do I just wait around after that for the grim reaper?

Of course, there are things I would like to do. They are not bucket list items, just things I would like to accomplish if time and resources allow. I have eliminated the ambitious running around the country or around the world ideas. Anything that is too arduous is out.

Selestat, France

If you have any kind of chronic pain, you immediately cross items off the list as not worth the time and aggravation. If you have a plate and 8 screws in your spine, roller coasters and bungee jumping are not things you will consider if you still have your sanity. There are limitations to what the human body will put up with at certain stages of life.

This year I decided on something I should do that had crossed my mind before. There just was no more putting it off. The opportunity to get away was at hand and all I needed was the go-ahead from my destination hosts. When the arrangements were complete I was off to the destination that had moved to the top of my list of places to go. Uxbridge, MA!

Downtown Uxbridge

If you have been following SERENDIPITY for very long, then you have seen plenty of photos of Uxbridge from Marilyn and Garry Armstrong. Marilyn is our editor, photographer, publisher, sage and idea guru. I dropped in on SERENDIPITY in 2013 with a short story, and Marilyn has let me hang around ever since. I am here on Sundays and I sneak in an extra article from time to time on another day.

The interesting thing about the internet is you can contribute articles from anywhere. While Marilyn and Garry are outside the Boston area, I am in Chicago. You may be surprised to learn that prior to this year, we had never met. So Uxbridge became my destination of choice.

My hosts: Garry, Duke, Marilyn

We were going to tour the area and visit many of the spots I had seen before on the blog. The weather held other ideas for us. We were in the pattern of daily ran and spent much of the time indoors. As it turns out, that was just fine. We never ran out of things to talk about. After five and a half years of articles, comments and emails there were plenty of topics to discuss. It was just a couple of days before my trip in early June that I heard Marilyn’s voice for the first time. We were coordinating our arrangements by phone. In the days ahead, we had a lot of time to talk.

With a very small window of opportunity, we headed out to grab a few pictures. The rain held off for a few moments allowing us our touristy pictures. Then it was back inside to our regular greeters, the three dogs.

Cameras at the ready

Nighttime gave us the opportunity to view Westerns we had discussed back and forth in comments and emails. This included one of the Armstrongs’ favorites, Rustlers’ Rhapsody. It is an homage to the great B-movies of a bygone era. It’s a good cast and wacky entertainment. I will get the opportunity to see this send-up again and again as I was sent home with a copy.

It was the opportune moment to meet friends at the other side of the internet universe. I don’t know if I will ever make it back to Uxbridge, but it was on this year’s To Do List and it got done.

I make a careful distinction between things I want to do and a “bucket list.” I have no crazy ideas or personal challenges, just a desire to visit friends when I can. It does not matter where they are in the world. If I can make the trip, then it becomes the next adventure.

Check out this adventure’s photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog: A Visit To Uxbridge

ADVENTURES DU JOUR – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Adventure

Life is a pure adventure. How can it not be?

First awakened by barking dogs (they think we’ve slept more than enough and we should get up and play with them or at the least, give them something to eat!) … and then the doctor’s office (recorded) called to remind Garry (me, because Garry doesn’t “do” phones) he has an appointment — next Friday by which time I’ll have completely forgotten the call.

Snow

And just when I had one leg in my pants, a call from the oil company that they’d be at the house in less than 5 minutes so I should get the dogs in the house. I hopped down the hall and told Garry (who hates being interrupted while peeing) that we have to get the dogs inside because the oil truck is on the way.

Final December Friday – the landing Chickadee

A call from my son who wants to know if I have any small potatoes, good for soup (will real but microwaveable potatoes do? I have them).

Wondering if I can make a lamb curry without raisins. Writing letters to old photographers to see if anyone has a second-hand (but sturdy, with a ball head) tripod that will hold a medium heavy camera with a long, 2-pound lens because I think all my pain and agony is related to trying to support that camera and lens for hours every day.

Yes, life is an adventure.

It starts with murderous thoughts of barking dogs, even more murderous thoughts of early morning recorded messages which are a week too early to be useful while wondering how I’m going to pay for the oil. I think maybe they do know something I don’t know. They like to deliver before snows. Driveways in the snow get slippery. Sliding oil trucks are huge and heavy and make a godawful mess of what we humorously call “the backyard.”

Oil prices have been dropping. Maybe it won’t be so bad. I have not looked at the bill. I’m afraid.

A quick read of today’s “news” of what our Great Leader is doing. Oh yuck.

The birds have been hitting the feeder like a plague of locusts. I’m hoping that doesn’t mean they know something I don’t know, like the big rainstorm on its way won’t be rain but something much whiter.  I hope at least snow remains white even though it’s racist. Medium tan or brown snow would be icky and the photographs wouldn’t look as classy.

So that’s it. Adventures du jour. Shortly, we are off to see The Kid.  I have to remember to bring the potatoes.

REPELLING THE BRIDGE – Marilyn Armstrong

SURVIVING JONES INLET IN A VERY SMALL SAILBOAT

Gwaihir, my 16-foot Soling was a doughty sloop. Built of fiberglass, aluminum and a bit of teak for deck, rails, and hatch, she lived in my basement through the off-season. I lovingly painted her hull and lavished layers of varnish on her brightwork.

I co-owned the little boat with a moody guy who lived on a shallow canal on the south shore. A Soling is easily launched from a trailer, but it was convenient to keep her in the water. If the tide was with us we could sail. Sometimes, even with the centerboard up, with a draft of just 16 inches, there wasn’t enough water at low tide to go anywhere without getting stuck. So we waited for the tide to turn.

My husband had grown up on the water, had his own sailboat from childhood. He was completely unafraid of the ocean. Bad weather, good weather, it didn’t matter. He loved sailing.

A drawbridge spanned Sloop Channel under which you had to sail to get to the Atlantic Ocean. Our little boat was just a bit too tall to go under the bridge if it were closed, but to get the bridge opened, you had to make an appointment and you had better be on time. If you were in a sailboat and hadn’t lowered your mast, you could not sail under the bridge. You had to lower your mainsail and use your outboard motor. Our little boat’s mast was just 27 feet, but it was a foot and a half too high.

There are strong tides in Sloop Channel. It can be hard to navigate, especially under sail. Moreover, a 16-foot centerboard sailboat is not ocean-worthy. Maybe if the ocean is flat, it might be “doable,” but it would never be a good idea. Each time my husband insisted we sail out to the ocean, I spent the voyage with my heart pounding hoping we didn’t become a statistic, a cautionary tale of poor judgment on the sea.

Did I mention that my son,  a toddler, was with us? Did that deter my husband, his father? It did not. His father had sailed the family boat through the eye of Hurricane Carol with him and his sister aboard. He was not about to be deterred. By anything.

This day, we planned to drop the main and use the outboard to power us under the drawbridge. We hadn’t made an appointment, so the bridge wasn’t going up. Too bad. That was my favorite moment when they stopped traffic in two directions so our little sailboat could pass beneath.

This day was beautiful with a brisk following breeze. The tide with us. We skimmed smartly over the water towards the bridge.

“Uh, Jeff? Shouldn’t we drop the mainsail? The bridge is coming up awfully fast … really … look … it’s right there.”

By the time the words were out of my mouth, Jeffrey bellowed the immortal words every sailor wants to hear: “PREPARE TO REPEL BRIDGE!”

The bridge was on us. I was at the front fending off the bridge with a fiberglass boat hook, while our captain tried to start the outboard and simultaneously drop the mast before it snapped.

Sunrise Rockport

Fortunately, he dropped the main first and started the engine next. We got a little banged up, hitting the cement pylons as we bounced under the bridge. No problem. We still had a mast.

Eventually, the engine came to life and we had power, sort of.

I had successfully repelled the bridge. On this day, the ocean held no terror. I had fended off a bridge. I had no more adrenaline with which to be afraid. It was just another sunny day on the Atlantic Ocean.

FUN AND EASY WEEKEND TRIPS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I just heard about a fun and easy new way to take a 3-day weekend trip. I don’t travel very often for one simple reason – I hate the planning process. Too many choices! So much research! Too many logistics and details!

A company called “Pack Up & Go”  (https://www.phillymagicgardens.org) has solved this problem for everyone. Not only do they do all the planning for you, but they add an exciting element of surprise to the enterprise.

My son, David, and his fiancé, Katie, recently used this service and had a wonderful experience. Here’s how this service works. You give the basic parameters for the trip, like budget and how far you are willing to travel. Also where you have been recently so they don’t send you there again. Then you decide if you primarily want action, relaxation or culture on your weekend.

The main part of the Pack Up & Go questionnaire narrows down your interests and preferences, for food, entertainment and activities. For example, do you prefer fine dining or hole in the wall restaurants? Vineyards or breweries, or neither? Do you like to go to museums and galleries, historical sites, parks and nature, all of the above? Do you like to shop? Flea market or thrift shop?

You also have to list your favorite forms of entertainment, like live music, dancing and clubs, theater, movies, comedy clubs, etc.

David and Katie decided to embrace the surprise element of the service, so they didn’t open their package of trip information until the day of the trip. In case you choose to be surprised on the day of your trip, the service gives you packing tips in advance to prepare you for the weather where you’re going and for any activities that need clothing or equipment, like swimming, hiking or tennis.

David and Katie live in northern Connecticut. When they finally opened their travel package they discovered that they were being sent on a four-hour drive to Philadelphia. The hotel they were sent to was fabulous and they loved the surrounding area. They were also pleased to find that their package didn’t just include suggestions about things to do or places to eat, which was what they expected. It turns out that all the decisions are made for you so you just have to relax and follow your itinerary. The package contained dinner reservations and tickets for one show each night!

The first night they were sent to a theater production of “Noises Off”, a slapstick comedy which they loved. David said it was laugh out loud funny. The next night they went to a comedy club with top-notch performers. And David is an aficionado of Comedy Central, so he knows good comedy. These were too excellent choices for David and Katie.

The restaurant choices were just as spot on. One of the restaurants they were sent to is owned by an Iron Chef from the Food Network, Jose Garce. Iron Chef is one of David and Katie’s favorite shows, so they knew about Garce and were thrilled to be going to his restaurant. It was a fantastic meal and they might never have found the restaurant on their own.

For the afternoons, the package included suggestions for lunches and for activities in the area. David and Katie ended up going to an amazing, unusual and unique ‘museum’. It is an indoor and outdoor space encompassing several rooms and courtyards. They are all covered, from ceiling to floor, in mosaic art, sculptures and other design elements, like bicycle wheels and colored bottles. As you walk through the spaces, you are literally surrounded by the art.

This magical place is called “Philadelphia’s Magic Garden”.  https://www.phillymagicgardens.org.  It took the artist fourteen years to complete it! I wish I had seen it in person, but David’s photos are phenomenal (so are the ones on the website). The You Tube videos on the website are also worth watching. They allow you to immerse yourself in the rooms and get the experience of what it feels like to be there in person.

We were all amazed at how appropriate and high quality the Pack Up & Go picks were. The package was really tailored to David and Katie and to their interests. I was very impressed.

I’ve never written a blog singing the praises of a particular product or company. But this seems like something that many readers could use and enjoy. So check out the website and treat yourself to a work free, stress free weekend away from home! Go for it!

MEANDERING THROUGH LIFE

I love posts about whether to take the traveled or less traveled path.

As if we get that choice. All paths are untraveled until we walk them.

Choices? When I was 18, I had a choice to go to Cape May and spend the summer with my previous boyfriend (good sex, bad everything else) or marry my first husband (meh sex, but great conversation and social life) including a real opportunity to never have to spend another night under my parents’ roof.

1990 in Ireland

I went with the husband. It was what they now call “a jail-break marriage” and it worked surprisingly well. I wasn’t the only one who needed the jail break. He needed to break out of his prison too. We urgently needed to make a life. We might not have been the most passionate of lovers, but we were very fond of each other. We had tons of shared interests and many mutual friends. We liked the same books and loved history, cats, and dogs. We even had the same taste in furniture and houses. We got along well and what we lacked in fervor, we made  up for in affection and caring.

Somewhere in Ireland

We meandered along for 13 years and if he had not been an alcoholic and so terribly depressed all the time, we might still be together — and he might still be alive. I don’t know if the alcohol and the depression were linked, but probably were. Back then, these connections had not been made.They hadn’t invented Prozac and going into rehab wasn’t a “thing.” So we meandered along, had a son and a life. Garry was his best friend which is how Garry became Owen’s godfather and eventually, his stepfather. It isn’t as complicated as it sounds if you realize that we were all really good friends.

Most of my life has been one or another kind of meandering. Over the years, maybe a handful of distinct choices got made and I am happy with how they worked out, though are often times when I wonder how the other option might have gone.

In some other world, I made other choices. I’d love to chat with the other me and find out how it went. But — never was there an option to choose the “less traveled” or “more traveled” path. That’s a poem, not reality. When we need to choose, all paths are equally untraveled.

For most of us, there also comes a time when we get to say: “Okay world, I’m up for something different” and we have an adventure. Every life deserves adventures. I hope you are having yours  now — or delighted with the memories of those you had.

SKIING MISADVENTURES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Skiing with my ex husband, Larry, was not all fun and games. We had some hairy experiences on the slopes with him. And when I say ‘we’, I mean me and my two young children, David and Sarah. Larry tended to want to go out in questionable weather and take chances on advanced slopes. He often persuaded us all to go along with him.

There were three skiing ‘adventures’ that stick out in my mind. The first was in Park City, Utah. Our kids were about seven and twelve. Larry convinced us to do one more run as the weather was turning ugly. We were three-quarters of the way up the mountain on the open ski lift when the whiteout started.

A whiteout is snow that blows so hard and thick, that there’s almost no visibility. The ski lift stopped. Fortunately for us, it started again and got us to the chalet on the mountaintop. Others were not as lucky. The lifts stopped again and stranded people for hours out in the cold and the snow, dangling high above the slopes.

We, along with many others, were also stranded. But we were stranded inside the ski lodge with heat and hot cocoa. We were there for about two hours, until they could get a ski instructor up to rescue us. He would lead us all down the mountain to safety.

We had to line up and follow the instructor, single file, very slowly, down the mountain. You could barely see the person in front of you. We put our daughter in the middle of our group because she was wearing a shocking pink snowsuit that was like a beacon in the dark! She thought this was great fun! We made it down and lived to tell the tale.

Another time, the four of us were skiing in Italy. They are less safety-conscious on the slopes over there. There are no lights and no one sweeps the runs after closing to round-up strays, like they do in America. So we were skiing without a safety net there. Larry had taken us over to a second mountain, a distance away from the one where our car was parked. It started to get dark. We had to make it back to our mountain get to our car before dark. We had to cross-country ski, as quickly as possible, across one icy mountain to get to the other. It was like trying to ice skate on skis. We were exhausted and terrified. But we all kept our cool. Except Larry, who totally freaked out.

By the time we got to our mountain, the gondolas were already closed for the day. We had to ski down in the falling dusk. It was very, very close. We made it to our car just as night fell. This was the kind of situation where you know it’ll make a great story if you can just survive it!

The third story takes us to the top of a Black Diamond/Most Difficult ski run. With both kids. Larry insisted we could all handle it even though Sarah was just learning to ski. She was good, but she was still a beginner. Larry didn’t know that the slope had not been ‘groomed’, which took it to the Double Black/Super Difficult level.

Once we started down, we realized our mistake but were committed. There was no way back up, only down. The run consisted of numerous large moguls, which are big man-made bumps. They were mostly chopped up ice, which made them harder to maneuver over. David made it down with no trouble. He ended up anxiously waiting for us at the bottom for the next hour.

Larry, Sarah and I were struggling, to say the least. There were a handful of other hapless skiers struggling down with us. We were all falling constantly. But when Sarah fell, she would lose her skis and poles, which would slide farther down the mountain. A few good Samaritans helped us nurse Sarah through this ordeal. I stayed with Sarah while Larry and some others retrieved her equipment. They then had to walk back UP the mountain to Sarah to give it to her. I had to get her back in her skis and then rinse and repeat. It was a laborious process.

The post script to these stories is that neither of my children want to ski ever again. I have skied with my second husband, Tom. He is cautious and non adventurous like me. But we can’t convince the kids to come with us. No wonder!

THE BIZARRE TRIP TO EUROPE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I was in high school, my parents didn’t travel. A good friend, nick named ‘Cookie’, was going to Europe for three weeks over the summer with her family. She invited me to join them. I was 15 and thrilled.

The first week we were going to stay on our own in Surrey, England, outside of London, with friends of Cookie’s family. Then we would travel with parents to London, Paris, Geneva, Zurich and Vienna.

Me and the family in Surrey, England

As soon as we arrived in Surrey, Cookie pulled the rug out from under me. She told me she was jealous of me and hated me. She said she planned to make the trip as miserable for me as possible. This was like a kick in the gut to me. Where did this come from? And what was I supposed to do now, alone in a foreign country with a declared ‘enemy’?

Cookie tried to ingratiate herself with the family and exclude me. It didn’t work. The two kids, a son around 18 and a daughter around 21, liked me better and complained to me about Cookie. But I still felt the hostility and the tension. It was very uncomfortable and scary.

When we were traveling alone with her parents, Cookie tried to turn them against me. She tried to sabotage me at every turn. Again, it didn’t work. Her parents just got annoyed with her. She kept on trying though.

Me on the trip in Paris

I couldn’t even write home about my situation because I always shared a room with Cookie and she hovered over me. My letters home are all chatty and upbeat except for a few hurriedly sneaked sentences at the end of each letter. The postscripts were short cries of anguish and pleas for help.

I had never been exposed to this degree of negativity, competitiveness, and outright hostility. It was an unpleasant and weird and particularly difficult for a 15-year old. I must have been more mature than I realized to have survived but even enjoyed some of the trip. We saw beautiful places and did  cool things. I just tried to ignore Cookie as much as possible.

To add insult to injury, we came home on the ocean liner, Queen Mary. There were no activities for kids and it was mind-numbingly boring. On top of that, and having to deal with Cookie 24/7, the food was became inedible. They ruined eggs for breakfast! We lived off candy from the vending machines.

Photo I took in Geneva, Switzerland

I’m grateful this trip didn’t turn me against traveling. In fact, it whetted my appetite. If I enjoyed traveling under these circumstances, imagine what it would be like with a friend as my traveling companion!