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Part of my quest for learning this year is a desire to get some expertise with money. Most of my life I’ve observed money: watched it come in, and watched it go out. But I haven’t used it with any sort of creative vision to BUILD something, I never shaped it.

Now (somewhat late, I know, but whatever…) I’m hot to figure this all out. I’m making pretty good money, and I would like to retire some day. Recently I’ve read Suze Orman and David Bach and I’m accumulating a bit of knowledge and vocabulary. I’m trying hard to get rid of some of my old patterns of thinking about money, patterns that have held up my growth in this area. And one of my goals has been to find an independent financial advisor who can help me identify how to manage my money and business, and how to think about the way money grows.

This is a whole industry; you wouldn’t think it would be that hard to find a good person, but I’ve had a really tough time. Recommendations lead to people working for big investment firms who want to sell you their products. Or people new to the field who have no experience but are looking for referrals to start (I know you have to start somewhere, but I’d like someone with a history in this stuff). After one woman quoted me a minimum dollar tag for the year, I asked her what the deliverable was. In other words, I said, what exactly do I receive during the year? She couldn’t answer me. Yikes.

Today I called a woman in Maine who was recommended to me by my dear friend Mary. Mary lives in Cleveland now, and I guess that’s why I hadn’t asked her before about this. As soon as she heard me talk about my discouragement during a phone call the other day, she suggested I call Robin. I was game: first, I’m desperate. Second, Mary’s husband is a minister and if they think someone is good, I tend to believe them. It’s heartening to know your financial advisor is ethical.

When Robin answered the phone, I liked her immediately. I do much of my work on the phone, and I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing a lot just by listening to a voice. She has a good one. And everything she said, including the fact that she charges by the hour and her rate slides with a person’s income…well, that’s just plain smart. Incentive for her to get me to make more! I also liked that she identifies her work as financial educator and advisor. That lets me know she values teaching people how to manage their OWN money. Her work is about empowerment, and that’s what I’ve been trying to find. She’s sending a packet of forms to me and we’ll get started right away.

I’m so excited about the prospect of planning for the future that I’m buying a powerball ticket tomorrow. If I win, Robin’s rate will go up, but I suppose I could live with that…

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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

Today I had my first kung fu class, and it was really a kick in the ass. I’m going to love this hour and a half, three times a week: it was everything I hoped for in terms of a really stiff workout and lots of sweat, lots of core work and stretching. Some of the movement was very yoga-like, and felt familiar. There were plenty of new moves for me too; punching (the instructor asked me if I had ever hit anyone before, and I said “just my kids”- some people in the class laughed and some didn’t…) was really fun, and took more concentration than I would have thought. I’m pretty weak on kicking, so I know I’ll see good improvement on that over the next 3 months.

The class is for all levels, so the 25 students range from advanced to “first day” like me. It was good to be in a class with the higher level students, just that many more examples to model how to move. I also really enjoyed the mix of students, from a middle-school aged boy to older adults, good mix of men and women (nice because my yoga classes have always been predominently female energy), small and big people, people in perfect shape and people who, like me, are “works in progress.” But the best thing was the laughter! This is a friendly, happy group, lots of good-natured helping and teasing and camaraderie. There is definitely a tone of respect that is firmly in place, but the warmth of the instructors and students was unmistakable.

After the warmups, the class was broken into groups by ability with each group under a different instructor, so you get to work at your own level as well as in the larger group. Today we worked on five basic positions and the movements that flow one into the other. A lot of this work is about balance, and I did pretty well. One of my favorite details was the hand position that looks like a bird’s head, elbow slightly bent behind you, wrist crooked, and fingers touching, pointing to the ground. Very cool.

So I came home exhilerated and exhausted, took two ibuprofen as instructed by the instructor of the beginning group, and thought I would read for a bit in the hammock in the middle of my back yard. I settled in with a pillow and blankie (it was on the cool and breezy side this afternoon) and took a moment to just stare up at the clouds whisking by – the edges of them looked like swirling smoke. Needless to say, I never even opened the book, just my eyes, two hours later! Sweet luxury.

Tomorrow I return from my trip to Rome, but I’ve only told about my arrival a week ago. Hmm. Maybe in-between doesn’t need to be told in the tiny detail I had envisioned. I would sorely love (I love that expression) to give it all up before my return, and so, with 8.5 hours to go before departure, here I go, with no photos at all unitl later:

Sunday, after arrival: weary and jetlagged, and determined to stay awake until a decent sleeping hour, we set out on foot (as one usually goes) across Rome. An obelisk atop an elephant by the amazing Bernini (a fitting start), followed by the Pantheon, ancient architectural wonder just a block and a half down the street; street walkers in Gladiator costumes; the famous Trevi fountain; and a really interesting juxtaposition of the current and ancient at the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace). The museum is currently featuring a retro show of fashion designer Valentino’s amazing life’s work -as much sculpture as clothing- and the sacrificial altar dating from 13 b.c. that celebrated the peace brought to the Roman people by Roman emperor Augustus. Every year on September 23, his birthday, a huge ceremony was held to celebrate peace and prosperity.

I love that quote from Gertrude Stein. It’s so Gertrude Steinish.

I’ve had a harder time sitting down to write a post during this week in Rome than I imagined I might have. Things have been happening fast and furiously on so many different levels, and here in the ancient city they seem to twist and intertwine so that trying to verbalize the experience in any meaningful way falls short, flat, and winds up in the “draft” bin with a slim hope for salvation later (next week? next year?).

But as Gertrude suggests, I believe I should simply dig in and start somewhere, anywhere. The beginning might be nice. The internet is a packet-oriented place, so I’ll do these in little packets, short bits, single threads. I’ll think of it as serving up snacks instead of intimidating meals. A sandwich ziplock is so much easier to fill than a gallon freezer bag…And then I can leave the delicate process of intertwining to later, maybe in my dreams.

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out the window en route: mountains poke through the clouds

So, to begin, I arrived on Sunday morning and Robert and Grace greeted me. The flight was fine. Two babies screamed in concert nearly the entire way, but I had my iPod, and besides, that sound doesn’t really bother me when I know I’m not the responsible party. My seat partner was a wonderful 78 year old woman named Grace, coincidentally, who is from Providence RI too. Her story is interesting and lovely. Nine years ago a friend convinced her to sign up for a discounted tour to Italy. She’d never been, and thought it would be nice to see the country of her grandparents. She left the tour with her friend for a day to go to the small village in Sicily where they had lived, and inquired about the family at the local police department. The officer got on the phone, and dialed a number, speaking to a man named Paolo. Grace said “That’s my cousin! Tell him that our grandfather fell out of a cherry tree and broke his neck. He’ll know it’s the right family…” In 5 minutes, a car pulled up and the entire family was there to take them back to the family home. Paolo told her they were heartbroken to lose contact with the American family after the grandfather died. And now she goes to stay for an entire month every year, and they just love each other, all these people in their 70’s. Of course I love reading it from all different angles- a story like this is sure to have its twists and turns. But this is the way she told it to me. After nursing her husband and then her son through cancer, she became a hospice worker, so that was another source of common experience. Quite a vibrant woman, and wonderful to share the ride with.

Grace and Robert and I took a cab back to the apartment, and the ride into the city was wonderful. My immediate impression was that there was more space than I thought there would be – the wide avenues were unexpected. And the trees were very Dr. Seussish. Photos of them later…

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clearly she’s happy to see me!

The apartment is on a tiny side street, cobblestoned like the rest of the city in basalt squares. On the front of the building is a strange sort of altar thing with a beautiful image of the blessed virgin and child, candles, flowers, and it does feel like a blessing upon the place.

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sampietrini, the cobblestones made of basalt, the commonest type of solidified lava. the material came from caves on the appian way, in the city’s southeast outskirts, where lava had arrived from craters in the nearby castelli area about 280,000 years earlier. ancient roads used much larger stones, but these small versions were used in the 16th century to pave st. peter’s square. the name means “small st. peter’s”, and the smaller stones were favored for use throughout the rest of the city.

I made it! After a fairly simple journey here, I arrived at 8:15 on Sunday morning. Robert and Grace were at the airport to meet me, and I had my first glimpse of Rome as a sort of blur from the back seat of the taxi. I expected small, winding, cobblestoned streets, and was surprised at the width of some of the big avenues, with their huge expanse of roadway, tall trees, and sunny atmosphere. The weather is fabulous, hot sun, fairly strong breeze keeping temps down, and clear as a bell. We got to the house, which is fabulous. It was wonderful to see my girl again, and her dad. I’ll let the photos do some talking tonight as I’m so sleepy right now, and later in the week I’ll fill in with specific stories.

Today is cleaning and chaos and closure as I get ready for my departure tomorrow. I’ll arrive on Sunday morning to hug my Grace and her dad who is still my close friend. Her adventure this week will be to start school, mine will be to discover Rome and the surrounding areas. On Friday, Grace and I will hop on the train after school and head to Umbria, to a small town called Orvieto. I have a one night reservation at a nice hotel in the heart of the old city, and we’ll have some mom and daughter time together which will be really nice, I think. I may write more entries during my travels, or I may not. I’m just going to do whatever the heck I feel like doing, so there! Ciao, cari lettori!

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orvieto, 60 miles north of rome

OMG. That was hilarious, sweaty, and fun. It’s hard to believe that playing two chords alternately for the duration of a song could make one perspire profusely, but when the teacher is leading with a bunch of other musical stuff and singing at the same time (Horse with No Name) in your living room and it’s 80 some degrees with no AC, the pressure is on to keep up and the sweat begins to flow. Then I had to lead with some improvisational notes while he played chords in the background, and dang, at moments (maybe 2) it sounded pretty good! I have to thank my Henry for getting me ready with a month of lessons over the summer. And for certain family members who might mock my sense of rhythm, Mr. Jimmy mentioned that it was a strong point and applauded my strumming efforts. This week’s practice song: House of The Rising Sun. Now off to Qigong class with Master Wu.

In a previous post, I listed things that I want to do during this year of empty nestedness. In eighth position was this item:

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

I talked about this with my middle son, Henry. Henry is on his way off to college this year: University of Pittsburgh, physics and theater double major. He’s a quirky kind of guy, and an excellent guitar player.

Henry suggested that I NOT start back into my Hanon piano exercises, that maybe my fingers would fall into their native memory of previous learning and performance patterns, blocking me from staying loose and working the improv mojo. I thought his comment had a lot of merit. And then he said something really interesting. “In fact, I think it would be better for you to switch instruments altogether, and then go back to the piano. If you want, I’ll give you guitar lessons.”

Hmm. This was an intriguing twist. I decided to do it. So for the past month, I’ve been getting a lesson every week from Henry, and I am completely amazed that I can actually pull a few things out of that guitar.

Today when Jimmy Brunelle (Henry’s current guitar teacher) called the house, I asked him how he would feel about taking me as a student when Henry leaves for college. He said sure, and now I’m committed. I asked Jack (my oldest son, a classical musician in his second year of college) and Henry if they wanted to start a family band. Surprisingly, they both declined, but I think there could be a future there. In fact, it’s starting to look like a year full of new tricks to me.