How it Started

When I was 12, I found a blank ledger book. It was a treasure beyond treasure to me. I debated and debated about what to do with it - it had to be something special. Finally I decided to make a list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see in my life and then cross them off when I had accomplished them. At first they were simple things, but soon I was adding dramatic things, impossible things, but things still worth dreaming about. Oddly enough, putting them on the list somehow made them attainable. I have kept the book and updated the list my entire life. Here is the story behind some of the entries - successes and failures, embarrassing and proud moments, laughter and tears - the ridiculous to the sublime!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Have a Greenhouse - DID IT

The ultimate gardening tool is the greenhouse.  I love puttering around in mine in the late winter when it's cold outside, but inside is warm and humid.  It feels like I'm visiting a jungle oasis.  It smells like damp dirt and if I'm lucky, plants and seedlings are sprouting everywhere.  I grow lettuce in there almost year-round.  It is probably the most expensive lettuce ever eaten if you consider the cost of electricity to keep the place warm, but it is delicious.

This year I started heirloom tomatoes and tri-colored cherry tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, basil, cilantro, dwarf dahlias, miniature zinnias, sunflowers, and cantaloupe.  I try cantaloupe every year, but have never coaxed one to an edible state - not for lack of trying.

Miniature roses, begonia bulbs, and fuchsia baskets fill the rows of shelves along with containers filled with mixed plantings of colorful annuals. The large pots of basil are usually the last greenhouse resident to get moved outside, they love the heat and are not fond of cool evenings.

 Years ago I had a small business selling vegie seedlings at the local farmer's market.  My greenhouse was called The Fern Factory.  One day I got a letter from Publisher's Clearinghouse informing Ms. Fern Factory that she could be a winner.  "Yes, Fern, you could be our next millionaire."  It never happened for poor Fern!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hike a Glacier - DID IT

There are professional glaciers and there are tourist glaciers.  I'm going to pretend I was on a professional glacier worthy of National Geographic, but in truth Mendenhall is kind of a tourist glacier. It was a blast, nevertheless.

At the heliport in Juneau, we geared up with arctic pants and coats, helmets, heavy boots with spikes in the toes, thick gloves and an ice axe/pick. Oh yeah, I was lookin' cool!

We rode the "hee-low to base" (helicopter to the flat landing spot) and struggled to figure out how to walk in this strange environment. It was a bit like marching in Herman Munster boots.  The weather was sunny and gorgeous the day we were there.  The white frozen surface of the glacier was dotted with bright blue pools.  We learned how to side-step down the steep hills and dig the toe-picks into the hill on the way up. The ice axe became my best friend as it provided leverage, stability and a crutch.  We jumped over a wide, gaping crevasse... okay, maybe it was only 12 inches wide or so, but it was slippery and you couldn't see to the bottom of the crack!

I was trying to protect my new camera from too much banging around when hubby offered to carry it for me.  He put it around his neck and promptly lost his footing and went sliding toward Lake Tidy-Bowl like a turtle on his back.  In true amateur style, I reached out to grab him (he's 250#, I'm 110#). Fortunately, I missed or we would have both been headed for the drink.  He managed to stop himself after about a 15-foot slide and well before he went over the ledge and into the lake.  My camera has never forgiven us and the auto-focus motor still sticks sometimes.

At first I was disappointed that the excursion was only 4 hours long including the suit-up, safety training and helicopter ride, but 90-minutes on the ice was more than enough.  We were spent.  Thank goodness there was a well-stocked bar back on the cruise ship! There's nothing like a soak in the hot tub and a sour-apple martini to take the sting out of blisters, sore muscles, sunburn and frostbite.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jump Down an Airplane Slide - DID IT

Commercial passenger airplanes have self-inflating emergency slides at each door.  So if there is an emergency, the flight crew opens the "armed" doors, the slide inflates in seconds and the crew can quickly funnel people out of a burning aircraft to safety. Jumping down the slide can be intimidating - it's a long way down when viewed from inside the plane. For flight crews, the only way to be good at it is to practice jumping.  You would be surprised how many potential Flight Attendants wash out of the training program when faced with jumping and they can't.

I was a flight crew instructor in the early 2000's.  As part of my training, I attended the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City. It was a rigorous week of emergency procedures Train-the-Trainers that included escaping from a dark, smoke-filled cabin and jumping down the slide.  It also included water survival and exposure to hypoxia (lack of oxygen).

I was amazed at how fast the training cabin filled with pretend smoke - I LITERALLY could not see my hand in front of my face in seconds.  We felt our way out of the plane to the door (those little floor lights really do work), and jumped, hoping the slide was there! Although it was a long way off the ground, it was a fast ride down, and for some, a hard landing.

Later in the week, we jumped in the pool wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, shoes and a bulky inflatable life vest.  We had to work as a team to inflate an emergency raft and help each other climb aboard.  Then we had to attach the foul-weather cover.  As soon as we were in the raft with the canopy roof almost up, our instructors turned off the lights and began spinning the raft and making waves in the pool that tossed us around in the dark. Wherever the cover wasn't sealed tight, they sprayed ice cold water into the raft. It was a long 15-minute ride that was none too amusing!  Later, while kept afloat with our life vest, we had to wrestle an "injured" person - also wearing a life vest - into a helicopter rescue basket that was winched to the ceiling, spinning all the way up - another ride that seemed like fun until you were in the basket!

The big day was the Decompression Chamber. We donned oxygen masks and began a series of experiments designed to acquaint us with the symptoms of oxygen deprivation.  Our vital signs and reactions were carefully monitored for safety. Comfortably seated in the tank, we removed our masks and began performing a series of tasks.  First there were math problems.  I carefully added, subtracted and divided and came up with 0 for every equation (zero was not the correct answer, but I was very proud of my math skills!)  At 60 seconds on the timer, I was asked to write my name.  I got Kathleen just fine, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember my last name - something my husband of 25+ years wasn't too happy about! I kept thinking, "I should know this."  At about the 75-second point my fingertips were tingling and tunnel-vision was setting in. It was time to put the mask back on and suck some O2.  We were handed a painter's color wheel that had only black, white and grey colors.  Watching the wheel as I breathed into my mask, it slowly changed to full color.  It was like magic!  Your brain cannot distinguish colors when deprived of oxygen. (Or, apparently, remember your married name!)

CAMI is an amazing facility.  It gave me some incredible insights and stories to share with my students.  And it was one of many trips I've taken down the emergency slide.  It's so much fun, I can't get enough of it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Go Skinny-Dipping - DID IT

This is one of those things I probably wouldn't have done if it wasn't on the list. My best friend in school lived on a quiet suburban lake. On summer evenings after the sun went down, the lake seemed extra warm and inviting. We would sneak out and go for a swim in the moonlight sans bathing suits.  Her mother disapproved and said that it was immoral for girls to be outdoors without clothing.  So we went to the Goodwill and bought HATS!  We foo-fooed our hats with elaborate decorations.  Hers was a fedora with a cluster of red cherries and a polka dot bow.  Mine was a wide-brimmed, Greta Garbo style picture-frame hat with a large fabric rose and a 15-inch long Ostrich plume (the Queen of England wishes she had a hat this cool!)  I'm sure it won't surprise anyone to know I still have the hat!

We thought we were so brave and daring.  Then one night a blinding spotlight caught us in its beam, pinning us in the water.  A neighbor kid had discovered our little adventure and I guess was hoping for a better look.  It got really cold stuck in the water for nearly an hour before he gave up and switched the light off.  We couldn't yell at him for fear of attracting the attention of all of the neighbors, so we were stuck making threatening gestures in the spotlight - not very effective when you are also trying to remain submerged up to your neck.  You know who you are, Tim K.!!!

My sister has a vacation spot on a secluded lake in Oregon.  Guests there are known to take a suitless swim after dark (and after a couple jugs of  homemade Yucka - stay tuned for more on the magic of Yucka in a later post!), but they no longer refer to it as "skinny dipping."  These days they call it "chunky dunking" - for obvious reasons!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Find Nana's Village in Italy - DID IT

My Nana's (grandmother) family immigrated to the United States from a small village in eastern Italy when she was seven years old.  She traveled across the width of Italy to the port city of Naples presumably in a animal powered cart as only well-to-do people owned automobiles in 1911.  She rode steerage class across the Atlantic through Ellis Island where her beautiful Italian name Maria Giuseppina Iorio, was Americanized into Josephine Yorio.
We traced her likely path from Naples, around the Appennine Mountains and into the hill country.  Thank goodness for GPS, or we would never have found her remote village balanced on the top of an unnamed hill. The village had 1100 inhabitants when she left, today its population is just over 600. These rural hill villages are dying as so many young people leave for the excitement and jobs of the bigger cities. In spite of that, it was a charming tidy village. The church where my great-grandparents, Angelantonia Mastrogiacomo and Dominco Iorio, were married and where my grandmother and her sister were baptized, was closed due to damage from the 2009 L'Aquilla earthquake 100 miles away.

We wandered through the quiet streets hoping to locate City Hall where we might find some information on her family. Along the way I photographed this narrow alley with several doorways opening onto it.  I couldn't imagine how anyone could live in such a confined space.

 The wonderful people at the Municipal records office were very helpful. They found my grandmother's birth records which noted her home address. The gentleman, Tomaso, in the office guided us straight back to the location I had photographed an hour earlier.
 My grandmother's house was on that very alley.  Of all the streets and alleys in the village, why was I so drawn to that one before I even knew it was my grandmother's house?  I will always wonder about that.

I stood in the doorway of 3 Vica Arnaldo, and finally understood why Nana occasionally referred to me as "The Tall One," although at 5'-3" I would hardly be considered tall unless I was standing next to her. The house had two small rooms, one on top of the other.  One door downstairs and one window upstairs were the only sources of light and ventilation. No wonder taking their chances on the unknown in America seemed like a better option - it couldn't be any worse.

The home had obviously been abandoned and locked up many years ago. A small hole in the door allowed us to poke a camera inside and blindly photograph the interior. It wasn't just that my grandmother lived there, it was that she and her younger sister were born in that room. 

My dad actually said it best.  After seeing the dozens of photos we brought back, he said, "It sure helps to explain their lives over here."

Stay tuned for the story of finding my grandfather's village nearly destroyed by the L'Aquilla earthquake.  See more photos on my Facebook page.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Eat a Flaming Dessert - DID IT

What is it about lighting your dessert on fire that makes it so intriguing? My first experience with a flaming dessert was onboard our first cruise.  It was one of those old-style cruiseliners where dinners were ridiculously formal.  Someone at our table ordered Cherries Jubilee. It was a production worthy of Luci and Ethyl.

First a tall, skinny solemn-faced gentleman wearing a tall skinny toque (chef's hat) goosestepped to our table.  He looked down his long, skinny nose and gave a barely perceptible nod to us all.  With his hat included, he looked to be about seven feet tall and maybe weighed about 120 pounds! Our waiter (seriously - greased back hair and a Boston Blacky pencil-thin mustache) in his white tuxedo followed immediately behind pushing a gleaming, stainless-steel cart. The chef stood and watched as the waiter assembled the plates and pans in a carefully choreographed production. I expected him to pull a rabbit out of his sleeve or something.

The chef whisked some ingredients together then nodded to the waiter who produced a long, long, skinny match, turned the dial on the gas hotplate, struck the match a couple of times before it lit, then applied it to the burner.  At which point we heard a muffled "Poof" and the entire cart was on fire, including the front of the waiter's white, quickly singeing, tuxedo.  He turned off the gas, but to no avail.  Apparently, there was a leak in the gas line and, judging by the flame pattern, gas had spilled all over the cart. The two of them pasted on strained, phony smiles and made a hasty but dignified retreat, pushing the flaming cart out of the dining room.  The waiter kept patting at the flames on his jacket with a dinner napkin as they walked - not ran, from the room. They maintained their dignity the entire way out, but you could see a touch of panic in the waiter's eyes.  The dining room had grown very quiet as everyone stopped eating and watched the spectacle.

About 15 minutes later, our waiter returned with a bandaid on his chin and a pristine white tux jacket about two sizes too big. He addressed the woman who ordered the cherries, "Madam, due to an unfortunate circumstance beyond our control, we will not be serving the Jubilee this evening.  May I interest you in a Pineapple Upside Down Cake? (pronounced Pin - appleh).  I got the giggles at that point, I just couldn't help it.

I finally got my flaming dessert a few years later in New Orleans where a frazzled, perspiring waiter whipped up Bananas Foster in a crowded and noisy Brennan Brothers restaurant on Bourbon Street. No pomp and circumstance here - the room temperature rose as orange flames leapt toward the ceiling.  A huge bowl of ice cream and bananas soaked in rum was set in front of me still fully ablaze. I scooped out a spoonful still on fire!  The waiter rolled his eyes and said, "Not yet."  What fun.

Here's a photo of my attempt to make a flaming Bananas Foster at home.  I couldn't get a really big flame on it, but it was delicious all the same!  Anyway, why would I want to burn all of the alcohol out of the rum?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sew a Wedding Dress - DID IT

Twice!  First I sewed my daughter's dress. I had sewn theater costumes, and I had sewn her prom, homecoming, and beauty pageant gowns so she had a margin of faith in my abilities. The dress she wanted had a long train that was a single strip of fabric from her shoulder to the hem - I merged three different patterns to get the final design. We had to move all of the furniture out of the living room so I could lay out the fabric on the floor to cut it. It had 20 covered buttons up the back, an off-the-shoulder bodice covered in lace and tulle, and it had what my daughter referred to as the "butt bow" in the back.  The project was not without a panic moment when the bodice didn't fit and I had to do a redesign or cut out a completely new dress. I solved the problem by adding a"V-shaped" insert to the back and making a Y of the covered buttons to hide the fact the insert was added later.  It looked gorgeous and no one ever knew it wasn't designed that way. She was so beautiful in it, it still makes me cry to look at pictures.  Her two little girls love the photos and truly believe their momma is a princess.

My second wedding dress was for my daughter-in-law to be.  I'd never sewed anything for her before, so I have to give her a lot of credit for her confidence in her future mother-in-law.  That took guts! I was really honored that she asked me. The dress was one-of-a-kind. It had a lace-up, bustier bodice trimmed with gold lame' and a gold lame' split skirt over the satin skirt.  When it was done, the lame' wouldn't lay flat, so my sister and I spent a week sewing tiny beads and sequins in a border down the front and around the hem to give it enough weight to float just right.

I come from a long line of wedding dress seamstresses and I'm including a couple of photos of our family heirloom gowns.  The cream satin dress to the right was made by my grandmother for my mother and was also worn by my aunt, my sister and myself (that's me getting married at age 12 - okay, I was a bit older than that, but looking at the photo, I understand why everyone thought I was 12.)   Family legend is that the lace on the edge of the veil was from my great-grandmother's petticoat, but that has never been confirmed. I'm pretty sure it's true because my grandmother was kind of embarrassed to talk about it. She was the Reuse-Recycling Queen before it became popular. The dress is carefully packed away waiting for one of our girls to wear it.  

The navy blue one I'm modeling here was my great-grandmother's wedding dress worn in 1901. It was considered a traveling suit. The skirt is complete with horsehair lining, and the bodice is hand beaded with sequins and seed beads - she made it herself.  It's a bit too big for me, we had to pin it up! The hat has an ostrich feather wrapped around the brim. The dress is in remarkable condition and could be worn today.
Here she is wearing it for her wedding portrait.  She was a short, stout, no-nonsense woman! (Kinda looks like Great-Grandpa was related to Tom Seleck, doesn't it?!)