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This weekend I’ve stayed underground instead of flying overhead. Yesterday’s grey damp weather was the perfect setting for my scheduled cleaning of the basement, and that’s where I spent most of the day.

When people move, they often leave behind a mess. Especially if they’re teenagers. This year, all three of my kids moved out to their own lives, and most of their leave-behind mess has been in my basement. It’s been a year of working on the house as well, and tools took up residence all over the house, just never on the toolbench where they belong, it seems. Lately I’ve practically had to put on hiking boots just to get to the ironing board…

So, armed with the shop vac, hefty bags, cleaner, and paper towels I headed down the stairs. The house was built in 1921, and the basement is cement, mostly unfinished. Vacuuming up the streaming cobwebs was sort of fun, and I actually like organizing my hardware and tools. Found a few things I’d forgotten I had, including a new showerhead still in the box. I just bought a new one at Home Depot and installed it. Too bad I didn’t clean first.

I found a box of refrigerator magnets that I had put away in a tupperware container a few years ago when we got a new Maytag. I didn’t want the old magnets to scratch the new surface. Finding them was like taking a trip back in time, because most of them were purchased during family trips or occasions to be marked in some way. I put a few back up on the fridge (which got scratched in a few places anyway) and saved the rest to share with the rest of the fam if they want them. That was fun.

I’ve always liked basements. I like the sound of them: the sounds from the rest of the house, music and voices, are all muffled, and you can hear the hum of the big machines that make the house run. It’s like being in the womb. It’s the engine room. I like the exposed hardware – pipes and pumps and wires and such – and I like the musty smell. I like feeling the connection between the house and the earth it’s nestled into. When I was a kid I was in my basement a lot, in my dad’s dark room developing photos with him, or hanging out while he tapped morse code on his ham radio. Those are really good memories for me.

A basement is the first chakra of the house: foundation, security, the in and out points for the power and plumbing and heat, and laundry, always the laundry. I like how it’s warm there in the winter with the furnace minding its business day and night and the dryer doing its part, and how it’s several degrees cooler down there in the summer. I respect the spiders and the occasional potato bug even while I encourage them to find a different place to play. So my chore yesterday felt good and connected me to my house in a variety of positive ways. I love my basement.

When I got in the plane, my heart was racing, just like it does when you get strapped into a rollercoaster. That “uh oh, there’s no going back” feeling. The moment of commitment… But the ride up to 10,000 feet took some time, and I chatted with the guy who went up with me, looked out the window at the diminishing harbor, and generally calmed down.

The two guys we were strapped to for the tandem jumps said very little; they were busy tightening straps and checking harnesses. The Cessna 182 doesn’t have any seats other than for the pilot, so I sat on the floor, sort of wedged in front of the jumper guy I was getting attached to. Very simple instructions were given: when he opened the door and put his foot on the step, I put my foot out. Then the other. Then he would say 1,2,3, arch, and I was supposed to pitch out of the plane into the sky and arch my back with arms across my chest. When he taps my shoulders I’m supposed to extend my arms. You’ll see in the video that I thought he wanted me to refold, but he didn’t, so I put them back out.

Suddenly, the pilot made a little gesture with his hand, and Jerry (my jumper guy, from the Netherlands – average 20 jumps per day spring summer and fall) threw the door open. The rush of air in that little plane was breathtaking, and loud. We turned, and I was amazed to see what seemed like the whole side of the plane open up. One foot, then the other. I remember thinking I’m doing it! This is it!!!

Then out! It was so easy! And you just fall and roll – for a minute my head was straight down in a typical dive position and then we just came up into the flat. It was very loud because at 120 miles per hour, your ears are getting some real noise. They popped a bit. All this is so fast- I felt incredibly happy and it was like in my dreams!!! There wasn’t any fear at all, there’s nothing near you to bang into or hurt, everything is just free and easy and you are part of the big sky and the whole planet is hanging out below you. By this point, you’ve made the leap of faith that you will land, so there’s no worry in your mind about whether the parachute will open, or will I crash. You just are completely in the moment of being 2 miles up in the air, dropping effortlessly 5,000 feet.

Then, up goes the parachute! And we climb, or it feels like it (haven’t figured that out yet). And sound comes back and I hear myself screaming and laughing. That was weird! And Jerry starts pointing out stuff in the landscape below, including the bright flag that marks our landing spot at the airport, just a dot at this moment. The parachute is a long rectangle that arches over our heads. It has cavities in it that hold air, and it’s very much like hanging onto a kite. The control is quite precise – on the 8 minute ride back to the field, Jerry whirls us around several times in wonderful sweeping curves so I can see the entire region. Ships on the water like little bugs. The harbor filled with activity. Islands rimmed with beaches and waves, all the bridges I know so well, and Newport itself with all the winding streets and huge mansions and the Cliff Walk all getting larger below me.

We practice the landing a couple of times – because I’m hanging lower than Jerry, I have to raise my legs into “toboggan” position so that he bears the brunt of the landing. Basically, he just comes in at the right angle so that he starts running on the field, then he sinks down to his knees and I slide gently onto the grass like I’m on a sled. So easy!!!!

I really loved the entire experience, but the free-fall was THE BEST and I can’t wait to do it again next year. I planned for years in my mind to do this jump over a coastline, in the autumn, and everything I wished for happened, only better. Lucky me.

FYI, I didn’t select the music on the video. Hilarious choice!!

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incoming with Jerry from Denmark, skydiving pro and my best friend for ten minutes on 10.20.2007

I did it on Saturday: a 40-second free fall at 120 mph, exit altitude of 10,000 feet (2 miles) from a Cessna above the Newport coastline. Parachute deployed at 5000 feet above the ground followed by approximately 7 minute parachute ride down to the ground.

Now I’ll be doing it every October until I’m too old to get my legs up for landing. I’ll post a full review of my experience with a video of my descent later this week. For now, let me say that it was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life and I can’t stop smiling.

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the celebration margarita

I have a lot going on this week in terms of professional work and deadlines, personal business issues, and social activity, and yet what is foremost in my mind for the last 48 hours has been something that no one can see or guess. I burned the roof of my mouth on a hot piece of pecan pie on Tuesday morning, and it hurts like hell. It’s one of those things that just is constantly there, challenging you not to notice it. It’s like a personal little battle, me and my mouth. When 6 minutes go by without a wince, I feel victorious. My tongue is an unconscious saboteur, just can’t seem to stay away from the injured site, and we’ve had to have several talks about the importance of laying low.

It’s good to have these trials, I think. They remind me that I can never know what’s occupying another person’s mind, and that if I did, I’d probably discover that it has nothing to do with me. That look of discomfort, that shortness of reply, that evasive look, are probably just due to an urge to pee, or a headache, or the lack of skin on the roof of a mouth.

At any rate, I feel some significant healing today which has instilled confidence that the skirmish is coming to an end. Bright skies ahead, and maybe chips and salsa before the week is out!

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the offender looked like this

Last night I got a phone call at 5:30 from friend and lover J. Turns out an old friend had 2 tickets to the Red Sox, did I want to go? Never having been to Fenway, I said yes, and off we went to the ballgame. A neighborhood friend zoomed to my house to lend me her pink “B” cap, as I have no fan-dom affiliation myself, and at her prompting I put my camera in my purse, with which I took this photo of the field:

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taken with no play on the field, what was I thinking?

In a sort of charmed way that I’m getting used to, we picked up a relative who happens to be a nearby resident, and he drove us to the gate and then took our car back to his house for free parking. We got in just as the game started and I received a wonderful tour of the park, a sausage with peppers and onions, and a cold beer. We viewed the game from different vantage points over the next 5 hours, and I felt like I got the best of the Red Sox, the fans, and the park: Sweet Caroline, back-to-back home runs, great folks in the stands around us, all the famous players (if I’ve heard of them before, that means they’re really famous), guys yelling “pussy!” at the pitcher, and the agony of defeat with extra innings at the end of a tied game. And I saw John Kerry leaving the stands with a cap on.

It was exhilarating, fun, and a complete joy. I feel like I don’t need to go back for another 10 years, but I would anyway just because it was such a blast.

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Way back in July, I wrote a list of “things I want to do” in the coming year. This week, I’m thinking it would be good to pull that up and see how I’m doing with it. Here goes:

1. September: hire a full housecleaning crew to purge the house top to bottom. no matter the cost, i will be closer to godliness.

Let’s just say I’m no closer to God. My car needed some major service and wiped out my cleaning budget. But the house does stay remarkably still and clean with just the cat and me, so I’m not that bothered by letting #1 go. no fault failure, appropriate priorities, house is clean: B+

2. Trip #1: Travel to Italy to see Grace settled in, tour St. Stephen’s, and meet the school faculty. On the way home, visit London, meeting my honey at Heathrow for his birthday and staying with my friends Bruce and Andrew.

I did go to Italy and see my daughter and meet the school. All that was great, but the time shifted and sort of blew up the second part of the plans to visit London. J and I went to the Cape for his birthday instead and visited other friends in Provincetown, so I didn’t miss Big Ben at all, and we’ll just reschedule 50% success, 50% change in plans but still executed: A

3. Birthday present to myself (August 1): Buy a motorcycle. I have the permit, now it’s time to get a bike.

OK, I’m a little sensitive about this one. I really want to get a bike, but the truth is I’m scared. Everyone tells me their horror stories of friends on bikes and I’m just spooked. I wouldn’t be riding it in the winter anyway, so I’m going to readdress this in the spring. chicken factor (or is it common sense?): F

4. Go to the Providence Zen Center for morning meditations.

Haven’t done this yet, but I have gone to the Vedanta Center of Providencefor a talk on Truth and Love and a weekend meditation retreat featuring talks on The Great Illusion of Time. The best part was that at lunch I took a seat at the table with the Swami and got to ask questions and discuss the answers. No sense sitting at the back of the classroom, right?…same stuff: A

5. Sign up for a 5-7 day silent retreat at one of the many good retreat centers in New England. Probably in January.

My friend Tim is doing one of these in November at the place I’m thinking of going, so I’m going to see what he has to say about it before I sign up. still on deck: no score

6. In the fall, go skydiving over the autumn landscape.

Next Saturday, 10.20, I will be floating/plummeting above Newport during the marathon. Can’t wait. My mom and dad got very quiet on the phone when I mentioned this today. Weather permitting. commitment and reservation made: C

7. Learn Italian, and if possible try to bring my French back.

I’m listening to Italian CDs in my car, and have been actively trying to speak French to myself and the cat around the house. It’s the lazy approach, no doubt, but maybe something will sink in. halfassed, but in progress: D+

8. Use my new piano to learn how to improvise. Finally. If an old dog can learn new tricks (and I believe they can).

My son Henry had the very smart idea that breaking free of my decades-long method of playing would happen more easily if I switch instruments completely, so he started giving me guitar lessons this summer. When he went off to college, I took the vacant slot with his guitar teacher, so I’m doing that instead of piano right now…better than the original thought, requires effort and courage, plus time and $$$ commitment: A+

9. Finish the multitude of house projects, most requiring carpentry, wiring, or painting skills within my capability.

Definitely a weak link in the chain of intentions here. Between great weather and fun people, I have not been hanging out at home much to do chores. Oh well. The winter is long up here. dead in the water: F

10. Create a financial plan and start dumping money into investments.

Hitting this with a vengeance, and excited about getting my stuff in order. sheer enthusiasm: B+

11. Related to #10: see how low I can get my utilities with no one in the house but me.

Real low. 🙂 no heat til november: A

12. Get back to my painting projects.

Another alone-and-indoors type of activity. not happenin’ yet: F

13. Trip #2: cruise with gal pals in the spring. Poss carribean.

I have to say I just don’t think I’m the cruise type of person, even though I know a lot of people who said the same thing, and then loved it. Gals, you will have to drag me, but I know I’d have a great time with you!! tbd: no score

14. Trip #3: Italy in February with Grace’s 2 best neighborhood friends.

One friend may not be able to go now, but the other friend and her mother are going. No hard plans yet, but we should get tickets by Thanksgiving. on deck: no score

15. Trip #4: House exchange somewhere in the world. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having a trip planned for every single month. Maybe I’ll work on that…

I did some exploratory work and that was fun. No firm plans yet until I finish the financial stuff. smart delay: B

16. Before Christmas, have a big party at my own house.

Still want to do this, although I’m considering a trip to Virginia instead to see my parents and family before the holiday starts. We’ll see how everyone is feeling after Thanksgiving. tbd: no score

17. Go skiing for the second time of my life.

Later this winter- tbd: no score
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My gpa is 82.4 – low B. Not too bad, plenty of room for boost. Never a dull moment!

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I’ve been reflecting on the flow of things in my life: the way tasks are getting done, the stream of communications, the clustering of objects in my environment…and my assessment is that I’m like the beach at low tide, riddled with tidal pools that are keeping me soaked. Puddles of “things that need to be mailed” and “items to be returned” and “tools to be cleaned and put away.” A waterhole of reading that’s stacked up in the usual places (bedroom, bathroom, next to the stove). A pond of financial sorting and filing that is becoming stagnant. A veritable lake of house projects that should have started last month but are creeping into next month instead.

Frankly, I’ve just been enjoying my many distractions, and seeing what is damming up is actually a good lesson about my character, habits, avoidance points, and interests. I’ve decided today is the day to open the sluice gate and get things moving, and it might be an all-nighter. Tomorrow I’ll let you know if I’m moving downstream.

aimee mann > bachelor #2 Great CD.

There’s a lot that happens in a life. It’s easy to think it’s what happens on the scheduled calendars we keep on our computers, notebooks, phones, and heads. That’s fine, most of the time. Then maybe you have a 24 hour period when time sort of dissolves, and all hell breaks loose, and heaven too, and it’s simultaneous and clear and awesome and you’re along for the ride at the same time you realize you’re still in the driver’s seat.

So that’s the way my day has been. Sorry I can’t share particulars, but let’s just say that it’s been a full day. I recently heard Bill Clinton say “We’re only here for a short time – it doesn’t take long to live a life.” Right on, Bill. Every moment, full or wasted. I’d say today was full up. And that’s good, at the end of the day.