Mighty Life List
Sep 30 2009

Thank You, Intel

Today is the last day of Intel’s Sponsors of Tomorrow Campaign on Mighty Girl. I can hardly express how grateful I am to the Intel team, and how blessed I am to have all of you guys supporting me.

A quick recap of everything Intel has made possible in the last few months. Together, we:

1. Redesigned Mighty Girl, (with a little help from Helen Jane).

2. Took tap lessons from Mr. Kloss.

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3. Swam with bioluminescent plankton in Puerto Rico.

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4. Got a little closer to tasting 1,000 fruits.

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5. Had an exceptional time in Greece.

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6. Had dinner at the French Laundry.

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7. Hosted a giant food fight.

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8. Learned to roll in a kayak.

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9. Rejected paragliding as a hobby.

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10. Zip-lined through a canopy.

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Because the campaign let me make my life list a top priority, I even tackled a bunch of goals on my own. We took Hank camping, played with sparklers on the Fourth of July, and introduced him to ice cream cones. I did one of Miranda July’s projects. And I even got a few friends together to help me plan a retreat.

How Did this Happen?

A lot of you have asked me how I got Intel to sponsor my Mighty Life List, and the answer is I didn’t. These guys did.

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That’s Paige Thomas, Jason Ratner, and David Veneski. Paige and Jason work for Federated Media — the company that helped make blogging my job. David works for Intel, the company that made my dreams my job.

I talk to Paige nearly every day, and about a year ago I asked her to tell the sales team about my list. Ideas like this can easily come across as “some blogger wants free stuff,” but Jason understood. He told David, and showed me some of the ads around Sponsors of Tomorrow. I thought the main ideas were in line with my values: Celebrating smart people, and embracing the future.

David eventually agreed to have Intel sponsor my life list, which was bold of him, I think. Intel is a huge company with a lot at stake, and most companies of that size want full approval over any text that goes out. That clearly would never work for Mighty Girl, so David decided to trust me, which must have been scary at first.

When we first started the campaign, Matt Jessell at FM sent me this Brady Bunch collage to pin on my board:

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It cracked me up when I first got it, and it still does, but now it makes me a little sentimental too. This is the team behind the Sponsors of Tomorrow campaign — most of them have made their own life lists, some have become Twitter friends, and all of them played a part in changing the way I approach my life. I owe them my gratitude.

What Happens Next?

Y’all, I am going to sleep. I had no idea how much I was biting off, or how much emotion I’d feel through all of it.

It may sound cheesy, but these few months have been transformative, and change takes a lot of energy. Doing all this has helped me clarify what makes me happy, and reminded me to be more gentle with myself. I understand now that a list like this requires flexibility, and writing about all of it has shown me that I can be comically rigid. It honestly came as an epiphany that I could change my own list — add new things, delete the things that just didn’t seem appealing when I actually started tackling them.

I’ve also learned so much about all of you. That you want to travel, be role models, buy homes, start businesses. I love reading your lists, and I’m still thinking about a better way for us to work on them together.

While I sleep for a year or so, Paige will be building a succulent wall; Jason is figuring out how to found bed and breakfasts for snowboarders, cyclists and vinophiles; and David wants to write a book. I’ll let you know how they do.

In the meantime, thank you, everyone. For all of it.

Sep 30 2009

Go Zip-Lining? Check.

So last week, before the paragliding fiasco, I went zip-lining. Melissa and I were supposed to go in Puerto Rico, but then one of you mentioned in comments that there was a newish operation nearby in Santa Cruz. I decided I’d rather zipline through Redwoods, so we signed up with Mount Hermon.

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I called Evany to see if she wanted to come along.

- Do you want to go zip-lining with me?
- What?
- Wanna go zip-lining in Santa Cruz?
- Is this a life list thing?
- Yes.
- What does zip-lining entail?
- I do not know.
- Hmm. I don’t know if I can be away from Desi for the day, I’m nursing.
- Bring the baby. We’ll strap him to you.
- OK.

Then the folks at Mount Hermon were all, “You cannot strap a newborn baby to you while you’re zip-lining six stories above the ground.” And we were all over Twitter like, “MT. HERMON HATES BABIES!”

Oh, but I kid. Evany’s husband Marco came along for baby support, so Evany could feed Desi and still live life on her own terms. Boo-yah.

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She fed the baby, and then Max and Jon (our instructors) strapped us into our harnesses. That may be the kinkiest sentence I’ve ever typed.

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I was impressed by Evany’s willingness to do something so daring right after going through labor. New moms tend to be mortality aware, and Desi was very concerned for our well being.

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Speaking of mortality, let’s revisit the six-stories-up concept. Once again, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I pictured some roadside operation with a little cable strung between two trees, and people zooping back and forth ten feet off the ground. Zoop. Zoop! Sort of like the training course, but slightly higher.

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I realize my ignorance has become a running theme with these sportier adventures, and my reasoning is thus: If I were to research these things beforehand, I would not go. I’d simply spend a few weeks obsessing over what could go wrong, and I’d eventually decide adventures were for stupid people. Then I’d snuggle up with a down comforter to read back issues of The New Yorker until I grew old and withered — which sounds rather pleasant, actually.

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At any rate, that’s how I found myself on a platform contemplating the surprising chasm below. Surprise!

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Actually, it doesn’t look as threatening in the photo, but that’s only because you can’t see the giant teeth lining the edges. In real life, it looks more like this:

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Intellectually I knew I was safe. They let ten-year-olds zip-line, because it’s difficult to seriously damage yourself. At every point, you’re double-hooked to cables so strong that they’d shear an old-growth redwood in half before they snapped. I was safe, but my spine begged to differ. My spine thought we should go find a nice glass of warm milk and see what was on the History Channel.

I peeked over the edge of the platform.

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If I hadn’t signed a contract with Intel saying I wanted to do this (for fun! for kicks!), if Evany had not been equally terrified but holding her ground, it’s possible I would have walked away.

Instead, my medulla was throbbing like a dental drill. I tried to fight the vertigo with Zenlike thoughts. I am well. I am healthy. I am whole. I am plummeting to my death.

Evany went first, and I couldn’t watch. When Max told me the line was clear, I closed my eyes, let out a low whine, and stepped off the edge.

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I could feel the wind on my face and hear the cord humming, so I peeked to see my feet dangling above the abyss. Bad idea. I closed my eyes.

About half way across I started to relax. I felt strangely light, like I was flying. It was exceptional. I opened my eyes again and my keening turned into laughter.

Then the next platform was heading at me like a bullet, so I grabbed the cable with my hand and stopped a few feet shy. I had to do what they call a self rescue, which involves dangling with your back to a chasm while you pull yourself hand over hand to the next platform. It’s a treat.

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There were six or seven lines on the course, plus an air bridge, and after that first zip, both Evany and I relaxed considerably. I felt the most vertigo and distress on the platforms, perhaps because my brain kept trying to balance so I wouldn’t “fall.”

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Every time I left the platform, I had to disregard my terror. I felt my heart in my mouth, swallowed it, and stepped off the edge. Once I was moving, my body understood the physics involved, and I could fly. Evany said, “Next time, we should bring capes.”

The day made me braver, and more secure in my ability to tell the difference between actual risk and perceived risk. I have never been so afraid of something — with the possible exception of labor — and done it anyway. If you’re anywhere near a zip-line, I hope you’ll try it. It will change your subconscious.

Here’s to fewer falling nightmares, and more flying dreams.

I’m profoundly grateful to the team at Intel for sponsoring my Mighty Life List. They paid for this zip-lining tour, and now all of them have to go.

Sep 29 2009

Dinner at the French Laundry? Check.

Let’s take a momentary break from my sympathetic nervous system to discuss the finest meal I’ve ever had.

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Bryan started calling for a reservation three months in advance, and we ultimately secured a table for four on a Tuesday night at 9 p.m. I asked Bryan if that would mean we were getting the B team in the kitchen. His response, “The French Laundry doesn’t have a B team.”

Our dear friends Kayla and Josh Cagan were our plus-two, but Josh called in a bit of a panic two days before. He had a bad case of the flu. The French Laundry being a bit particular about reservations, we were doubly concerned. I wasn’t sure how we’d even begin asking other people. “Hello. Are you free tomorrow night? In that case, I have a personal financial question for you.”

Fortunately, one 48-hour nap and a clean shave later, Josh rallied and the Cagans flew up from Los Angeles to join us. You’d never know from this photo that Josh is sweating espresso:

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The day of, Bryan spent a few hours studying wine in hopes of convincing the sommelier that we took him seriously. We got all dressed up, arrived about fifteen minutes early, and stood around laughing too readily.

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All of us felt oddly nervous and self-aware until the sommelier came out and asked us if we’d like to have some Champagne in the garden. Yes, we certainly would. We walked outside to find Pink taking a smoke break with her husband.

(Aside: How crazy loveable is Pink? She was having this passionate, animated conversation with her husband — who I recognized from an ancient episode of Punk’d — and it made me feel all glowy for her. Hooray for the strong, fun girls. I didn’t shove my camera at her head, so if you’re curious, she looked like this:

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But there was no carousel horse for her to straddle. So maybe more like this?

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Only wearing a cute strapless maxi dress. Anyway, I digress.)

The meal was, appropriately, the meal of a lifetime. Our menu:

Amuse Bouche

Ahi Tuna Waffle Cone with Crème Fraîche

Remember what I said about Santorini? This smelled like Greece to me.

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Oysters and Pearls

“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

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Moulard Duck “Foie Gras Au Torchon”

Summer Grapes, Hazelnuts and Frisée

The guys figured out that this was essentially the world’s most amazing peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was served with warm brioche, which was replaced every few minutes to ensure that the temperature would be right for softening the Foie Gras. It was the epicurean equivalent of having someone hand you a dryer-toasty towel right as you step out of the bath.

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Very, very old salt from various regions of the world

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Sautéed Fillet of Sablefish

Sunchokes, Navel Orange, Pine Nuts, Arugula, and Niçoise

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Maine Lobster Tail “Pochee Au Beurre Doux”

Heirloom Beets, English Cucumber, Pumpernickel Purée, and Horseradish Crème Fraîche

The champagne grapes on the plate are not grapes. I believe they were bits of cucumber cut with the world’s tiniest melon baller. Also, they were frozen, which made me gasp.

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Salmon Creek Farms Pork Belly

Ibérico Ham, Candy Stripe Figs, Corn Beignet, and Sauce Pimentón

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Marcho Farms “Coeur de Veau”

Caramelized Apple Dumpling, Watercress, and Pickled Walnut Condiment

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My bread was stacking up, as I was getting dangerously full. All the baked goods are made at sister Bistro/Bakery Bouchon.

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Snake River Farms “Calotte de Boeuf Grillée”

Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms, Broccolini, Tokyo Turnips, and Black Garlic Jus

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Andante Dairy “Cavatina”

Sour Cherry “Chiboust,” Fennel Bulb, Nasturtium, and Mustard Seed Shortbread

The top layer of this gave no resistance against the fork, almost like a meringue. I rubbed it all over my face.

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Honeydew Melon Sorbet

Compressed Watermelon and Basil “Nuage”

I love how the seeds on the plate read like caviar.

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“Gâteau Saint Nizier au Manjari”

Mango-Chili Relish, Mast Brothers Chocolate Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam, and Coconut Milk Sorbet

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Lemon Verbena “Vacherin”

Tellicherry Pepper Panna Cotta, Lemon Verbena Sherbet, and Chilled Silverado Trail Strawberry Consommé

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Mignardises

I’ve decided I want one of these bowls. Gorgeous:

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Can you tell I was a little tipsy by this point? Yeah:

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They even sent us home with little packages of shortbread, which I rationed over four days of afternoon tea.

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It’s so rare to come across new flavors and sensations as an adult, experiencing so many in one evening has made me more aware of how much cruddy tasting stuff I eat without thinking about it. Eating like this is one of the most personal ways you can experience art, and I’ve decided to look into more restaurants I’d like to try so I can add them to the list as well. In the meantime, I’m paying a lot more attention to how my everyday foods taste, and investing a little more to buy better produce and prepared foods.

In all, it was an unforgettable night, and the company was just as good.

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Intel is making my site more interesting by sponsoring my Mighty Life List as part of its Sponsors of Tomorrow campaign. This meal was just one of ten dreams they’ve helped me achieve.

Sep 28 2009

Paragliding is Not for Me

As part of my Mighty Life List campaign with Intel, I thought I’d go parasailing. I figured I could do it in Puerto Rico or Greece, but it wasn’t available, so Bryan did a little research near home. We’d mostly missed the parasailing season, but we could go paragliding instead, he said. It’s really similar, he said. Sure! We booked it. Then, I did a little research.

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Y’all. Paragliding is nothing like parasailing. They are so dissimilar, in fact, that the description on the parasailing Wikipedia page actually reads, “Parasailing is primarily a fun ride, not to be confused with paragliding [which is terrifying and will kill you dead.]” I teased out the subtext for you on that last bit.

fan

The paragliding we booked involves strapping yourself to an instructor who’s attached to what can only be described as a large fan. Then you run along the beach and lift off alarmingly high in the air. It’s like flying a helicopter without an actual helicopter around you, or skydiving without an airplane, or building a pair of wings from feather and wax and jumping off the roof of your apartment.

anxious

Nonetheless, we flew to LA to meet the paragliding guy on the beach. Between kayaking and zip-lining (which we’ll discuss in more detail soon), my adrenal system was rather taxed. My body wasn’t used to all this fight-or-flight action — the most my pulse usually quickens is when there’s a new episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” on the TiVo — so I was kind of a mess.

mess

It was too foggy to take off from the beach, so we had to wait around while I pondered the intricacies of Fast Descents and In-Flight Wing Deflation with my head between my knees.

A pinhole of light came through the fog, so we helped our instructor tow his equipment out onto the beach, where we waited for a few more hours. Four stomach churning hours, while sorority girls made human pyramids in the sand next to us, and I looked around for a paper bag into which I could breathe.

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When the weather refused to cooperate, our instructor decided we’d just have to go up on the nearby hills and jump from there instead. I lifted my head from between my knees and threw Bryan a panic-stricken look. “Uh,” I said. “Um.”

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Jumping off a cliff strapped to a fan was so very far from my original goal of being swept up like a kite over the water that I could no longer squint and see the comparison. Jumping off a cliff was not on my effing list. My throat began to ache.

We walked over to the cars to prepare for our drive. “From where will we be jumping, exactly?” I asked. “The hills up there,” the instructor said.

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The taste of tin filled my mouth. I blinked back tears.

“No,” I said.

“You’ll like it,” the instructor said.

“No,” I said.

“I’ve done it from there many more times than from the beach. Thousands of times.”

“No,” I said. “I have no desire to do this.”

And so we drove to the hotel, where I wept with relief and disappointment at my failure to strap on a pair.

The next day I met Eden for breakfast. Later Rebecca, and I headed out for an enormous bowl of sweet potato fries.

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And several glasses of wine.

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And after that I felt much better.

The end.

Intel is making my site more interesting by sponsoring my Mighty Life List. I’m learning my limits as we go along.

Sep 25 2009

Rolling a Kayak, the movie!

Bryan spent many hours with iMovie putting this together. Thanks, mister:

Intel is making my site more interesting by sponsoring my Mighty Life List. They’re the reason I was able to do this, and so I like them very much. Thanks, Intel.

Sep 24 2009

Learn to Roll in a Kayak? Check.

Kayak Lesson

Despite appearances here, sporty stuff is not my jam. I read my way through childhood, and distant memories of dodgeball still make me feel a little sore. In my soul, I mean.

Learning to tip

There are a few things that made my Mighty Life List because I’m afraid of them, and rolling a kayak is one of those. Bryan loves to go kayak camping, but the few times we’ve gone, all I can think about is the boat flipping. What if I can’t pull off the rubber skirt thingie and end up trapped? Upside down? Underwater?

I’ll tell you what happens, people. Death — with bona fide dying, and moving toward the light, and all the dead people you know slapping you on the back and offering you smokes.

Suki Waters of WaterTrek Ecotours

This is Suki Waters, the patient and aptly named owner of WaterTreks Ecotours up in Jenner. She and her friend George met us at a little lodge in Guerneville that offered to let us use the pool for the day.

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My goal was to learn how to roll so I could stop obsessing about tipping whenever I’m in a kayak — overcome my fears, spread my wings, today is the first day of the rest of your kayaking, and so forth. Suki told me it was possible I wouldn’t be able to flip in one lesson, but we’d give it a go.

As you might imagine, signing a contract with Intel has pushed me to do many things I otherwise could have put off perpetually. This, for example:

Underwater in the kayak

That’s me upside down in a kayak with no escape but my wits. Also the two people on either side of the boat waiting to flip me back over, but shut up. If that photo doesn’t make you anxious, your Xanax dosage is too high.

The first time I went over, I didn’t have a nose plug on, and the water went straight up into my brain. Lesson 1, if you want to flip a kayak, get an effing nose plug. It’s been a few days, and I can still feel water sloshing around when I think about anything complex.

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The idea here is to avoid panicking when you go under so you can set up your paddle, sweep it across the top of the water, and use it to propel you back up. Naturally, every time I flipped over, my first order of business was panic. My brain stuck on Panic’s Greatest Hits — Claustrophobia! Aspirating Water! Drowning! And so much more!

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We practiced for four hours, and I was feeling fairly grim for 3.5 of them. All I wanted to do was get my head out of the water, but if you sit up, your head drops you back down because it weighs about as much as a bowling ball. The human head makes an excellent kayak anchor.

I swept my paddle, swept it, swept it, and then thrashed around underwater, until Suki and George dragged me up. Rinse and repeat, literally.

Bryan and Hank played nearby in the pool while I moved from dread, to terror, to dismay, and eventually became familiar enough with my internal frenzy that it ceased to bother me.

Me and Hank

We were about to call it a day, when suddenly everything came together. I swept my paddle and popped up so easily that I assumed a powerful outside force was at work. A wave, the hand of God, Oprah, something like that.

On our very last try, I did an entire roll. Over on one side, back up on the other. YES! Then I offered to bear Suki children if she would let me out of the boat.

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As we left I was feeling profoundly accomplished, and I still do. That fear used to get in my way, and now it won’t anymore. My horizon just got a little bit wider because I took action on my anxiety. That’s a uniquely pleasant feeling, and one I don’t experience enough.

Bryan caught the whole thing on film and made a little movie of my previous attempts. So tune in tomorrow for the mildly agonizing but ultimately triumphant footage. Thanks to Suki Waters and George Zastrow for all the help and support. And as always, a huge thanks to the team at Intel for sponsoring my lifelist. I couldn’t (or rather, probably wouldn’t) have done it without you guys.

Sep 22 2009

Food Fight Footage

Margaret Stewart recorded the entire fight, including a mini-interview with me beforehand.

Tarps made matters scary slippery, so after some initial bailing, we all began to move like cream-covered zombies. Because slow and careful food fights make for good fun but sleepy viewing, may I suggest you forward to 4:35 when I finally realized that Margaret had been avoiding the mess by using her technology as a shield. Take that, Stewart.

You know Intel sponsored this, right? Yeah, I thought so.