Sunday, June 12, 2016

Revisiting My Life List

Sometimes I get in a rut, as I'm sure most people do, where it just feels like life is taking forever to happen; like I'm in a holding pattern until this can happen.  I don't know if there is an always effective cure to this rut, but I know it helps me often to plan my next trip, whether big or small, whether it will actually happen or not.  I'm actually having an exciting time in my life, I just got back from a two-week vacation in Japan, and am starting a new job on Monday.  But I am still anxiously awaiting other things to happen.  I thought I would take a few minutes to rehash what I've done recently, in the more distant past, and what I still have yet to do, by way of my Life List, to help me recall my good fortune and reinvigorate my passion for life.  

Life List Achievements in 2016 

To keep myself on track, I always aspire to accomplish at least two things on my Life List each year.  This is often completed on one big vacation, which I intentionally plan in order to accomplish a few things on my Life List.  2016 is almost half over, but I have already checked off four items because of our recent trip to Japan.  Those are (in order of accomplishment):

#129 - Watch a Sumo wrestling match - Checked off May 18, 2016

After two days of trouncing around Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disneysea, I welcomed a day spent primarily on our butts, drinking draft beer and eating
yakitori (meat on a stick) while watching sports.  Neither of us knew anything about this particular sport, but we picked it up pretty quickly - sport transcends language and cultural barriers.  I had pre-ordered my tickets months in advance, and was glad I did when I saw disappointed tourists turned away at the ticket counters - the tournament was completely sold out.  Not only did I get tickets, but I apparently did the "posh" thing to do, which is to get a box fit for four people, but only have two people in it.  I was glad, too, because these boxes were tiny, and had we had two others with us, we would have been eating our knees.  Later in the evening, a business-oriented tour group from Europe came in and sat in the boxes in front of us, four to a box, and they were terribly uncomfortable.  There was some information about the tournament in English; one of the staff was quick to identify that we may need this and gave us the English brochure before helping us find our box.  Sumo tournaments run all day, from about 8:30 in the morning until the top matches kicking off around 6:30 pm.  We didn't get there right at the start, but we got there shortly before noon and started to follow the rhythm of the rituals and matches.  We popped outside around 2 pm to gawk among the other fans and amateur paparazzi at the champions and top competitors as they made their way into the stadium.  Then we returned to watch the mid-rank wrestlers and finally the big show.  The Japanese tour guide escorted the European group had made a handy Engrish-riddled guide to the top matches, with ages, weights, countries of origin, little known facts, and who the favorites were.  Our neighbors, a woman from Italy married to an Australian man who was celebrated his birthday, had snatched up a copy of this guide, and shared it with us.  My favorite notation was that there was a wrestler nicknamed Nicholas Cage, and sure enough, if Mr. Cage put on 300 pounds, they'd be twins.  The wrestler Nicholas Cage won his match.  I had been concerned that we would be bored at the Sumo tournament, not understanding the customs and language.  But quite to the contrary, I was in high-heaven, sitting with my shoes off (no shoes allowed in the box), eating yakitori and drinking beer.

#24 - Sleep in a capsule hotel - Checked off May 19 - 20, 2016 

I actually dedicated a complete blog post to my terrific stay at the capsule hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo, but I will share a brief summary here.  This experience surprised me, I suppose, because people focus so much on the capsule that is your bed, and I don't think the unexperienced have any idea that the hotel is a whole experience, so much more than just a locker you shove yourself into.  I loved just about every aspect of the hotel, but especially being served very inexpensive draft beer while in my pjs and slippers.  As soon as I checked this item off my list, I wanted to do it again.  

#19 - Ride a bullet train - Checked off May 21, 2016

We actually rode the Shinkansen, or bullet train, three times: (1) from Tokyo to Hiroshima, (2) from Hiroshima to Kyoto, and (3) from Kyoto back to Tokyo.  I was terribly underwhelmed by the experience, which I suppose is probably a
positive testament to just how smooth the Shinkansen are.  I was kind of hoping for an acceleration more closely related to that of an airplane or roller coaster, but we were whisked along on a quiet, uneventful ride.  Jaiman pointed out that when we went over small hills, there was a subtle moment of less than 1 G, and I'm glad he did because I don't think I would have noticed it otherwise.  Our ears popped a few times, but other than that, it felt very much like we were virtually motionless.  I would say it was like riding any other train, but most trains are actually less smooth than the Shinkansen.  The experience was much like that of an airplane - of course without the turbulence, acceleration and landing - the seats reclined a bit, but not too much, there were lavatories onboard and optional food service for a small price.  There was also a vending machine, which seemed odd at first, but also very fitting considering their prevalence in Japan.  I would say if you are looking at options between flying and taking a bullet train, the bullet train is probably less time overall (they leave about every 15 minutes, so boarding is really fast), afford incredible flexibility (you buy a ticket for the day, and can leave whenever you'd like) and just as comfortable, if not moreso, than economy flying.  Plus, it's a bullet train!  

#48 - Eat a fugu - Checked off May 21, 2016

May 21st was my oldest sister's 40th birthday.  It was also a big day for me, having gone on our first bullet train and then checking into the beautiful hotel in Miyajima.  I had every intention to look for and perhaps observe at a fugu
restaurant, but wasn't sure if I'd actually take a bite.  I joked that I should wait until the end of our trip to try fugu, because then if I died, at least Jaiman wouldn't have to trounce around Japan without me for long.  For those unfamiliar, fugu is blowfish, and is deadly poisonous unless prepared properly.  Many restaurants and even whole cities have banned it or refused to prepare it because of the implications and liability.  But it is also supposedly quite delicious, and in the proper serving, just a tiny bit of the poison is left to leave the consumer in a slightly high or drunken state.  Hey, I have plenty of things to check off my Life List, so I was not ready to die.  But, fugu was served to us as part of our first dinner in Miyajima, and I unwittingly ate it, having a determined attitude that I would at least try everything served to us that evening.  It was Jaiman who googled it later and assessed the presentation of fugu, deciding that we had indeed eaten it that night.  This is one thing I will gladly check off my list with no need to repeat it.  

Life List Achievements in 2015

#23 - Confront a cadaver - March 28, 2015

This may be one of the most disturbing items on my Life List, so I feel it warrants an explanation.  I think the movie, "My Girl" made a big impact on my childhood, and I spent a good deal of time thinking about ghosts and dead bodies and mortality.  I was also a bit of a tom boy, maybe relating to the main character in the movie more than I realized, and used to dissect mice or collect grasshoppers for fun.  In school, I was all for dissecting a cow's heart, and was the only one in my class that would touch it.  In high school I was triumphant in putting a frog to sleep, slitting its chest, pulling its heart out and separating it completely from its body, but maintaining it so that it kept pumping for maybe 30 minutes or so.  And then I remember my classmate and friend, Carrie, telling me about going to medical school where she would have to work on cadavers, and the thought struck me.  It didn't give me immediate chills, nor did it excite me.  I felt like I should know how I would react if I came across a dead body, whether it be in a clinical setting or not.  So, I decided, the only way to know how I would feel would be to actually put myself into the situation.  Now, I also knew full well that this wasn't something I would necessarily be able to plan, unless I actually enlisted in medical school.  The chance came when an elderly man in Jaiman's family passed away, and they planned to have a viewing.  Checking this off was not my priority, by any means, but the situation presented itself, and I was glad to be there to support the grieving family, meet members of the family I hadn't met yet, and pay my respects to Jaiman's great uncle.  My reaction was exactly what I suppose I knew it would be - it didn't freak me out, but I didn't love it either - I felt it is was it is.  

The summer of '15 was when we took off on our #epicroadtrip, what some believed would be a test of our relationship, but I knew we'd be just fine.  The road trip had taken shape from when I scored really inexpensive season passes to Six Flags, and commented that they were valid at all parks, not just our closest one.  I had initially looked into making separate trips throughout the year to visit different parks, and the costs of flights just kept adding up.  So I proposed that we drive around the country instead of flying, and Jaiman was sold on it.  Not wanting it to be all about Jaiman's passions - roller coasters and theme parks - I then started incorporating my Life List activities that could be accomplished along the way.  In all, we hit 5 Six Flags parks, Busch Gardens and Hershey Park, and hit a total of 61 unique roller coasters.  Jaiman and I both hit our own personal 100 Roller Coaster marks, his 100th was Goliath in Chicago, and mine was Sky Rush in Hershey.  We drove 6607.8 miles on that trip, in Jaiman's brand-spanking-new blue Fit we lovingly call Blue Jay.  Perhaps more impressive, among the coasters and long hauls in the car, I checked off four things from my Life List:

#134 - Drink at the Taste of Chicago - Checked off July 8, 2015

Having grown up in the Chicago suburbs, the Taste was always a big deal and lots of fun.  But it is just as much a party as it is a foodie festival, and I was always too young to drink when I was there.  Thus, this got added to my Life List and I've looked for ways to accomplish it year after year, but it never seemed to work out with my timing.  My relationship with Jaiman revealed to me that we were both major foodies, so this event was perfect for our road trip.  Because it was the only thing that had really sensitive timing, it steered when we could start and end our trip.  I didn't really get hammered at the Taste or anything like that, but we did enjoy several local beers, and we didn't have to drive anywhere or even take a cab because our hotel was just feet from the festival.  In fact, the hotel served us better than expected, because we ended up leaving the festival to nap and sleep off some of the food, and then return rejuvenated and ready to devour more of Chicago's best.  

#84 - Tour Niagara Falls - Checked off July 10, 2015

This is just one of those things I think everyone has on a Life List even if they don't write it down.  I could have spent more time at the Falls; they were so beautiful and there were so many different activities you can do to enjoy them.  But nothing beat our hotel on the Canadian side, with a perfect angle to watch the falls from our super fancy dinner table and from the ginormous suite of a room with panoramic windows.  We got a fireworks shows and then cuddled in bed watching Canadian Amazing Race on TV while the Falls were lit up by varying colors of lights.  Oh yeah, and of course we did the boat thing, Maiden of the Mist, and wow, I mean, really.  Not to mention our detour up to Niagara on the Lake, which introduced us to the sweet, sweet world of ice wine!  Yep, we did this one with style!

#6 - Walk the Boardwalk in Atlantic City - Checked off July 11, 2015

Happy birthday to me!  We spent my birthday meandering the sad, underwhelming boardwalk of Atlantic City.  My sister had visited just the year before and had told me it wasn't much, so I wasn't all that surprised, but at one point earlier in my life it had struck my fancy, so it was on the list.  We made the most of it, having yet another indulgent hotel room with a giant hot tub, and taking silly pictures along the boardwalk.  It was an okay time overall, but I wouldn't recommend it if it is not already on your list.  

#59 - Tour the Hershey Chocolate Factory in PA - Checked off July 13, 2015

A great challenge with Life Lists is that life does not wait for you to check them off, and sometimes things change that make it impossible to "truly" check something off, in which case I try to find the most suitable replacement.  Watching a space shuttle launch was one of these, since the shuttle program was shut down before I could see a launch.  The Hershey Factory, too, has been shut down to visitors for some time.  So the closest I could get was visited Hershey World in Hershey, PA, where they have a ride that gives you a somewhat cartoonish idea of how the factory operates.  At the end of the tour, every person gets a piece of chocolate, and the tour is free, so you can ride it again and again - and we did.  The amusement park was pretty awesome, but I think my favorite thing I took away from Hershey was the chocolate tasting we did.  It was less than $10 per person, and they walk you through how a professional taster (there's a real name for it but it escapes me right now) considers chocolate.  

Life List Achievements in 2014

Unlike in 2013, 2015 and 2016, my experiences in 2014 were not all clustered in giant epic vacations.  We did, however, have a great time in Hawaii, and there I checked off just one thing from my Life List (and re-checked a couple others). 

#76 - See a lunar eclipse - Checked off April 16, 2014 

I seem to miss these a lot, so I finally got the date in my calendar and remembered to go out to actually see the thing.  No amazing story to tell, but I saw it, and can happily check it off now! 

#110 - Swim with giant sea turtles - Checked off July 22, 2014

An extraordinary guided experience in Hawaii!  Being a lover of swimming, I was the first to plop into the water with my fins and gear, and I was all alone waiting for the others to join me, when I heard someone coming up behind me.  I turned to see who it was, and was face-to-face with a beautiful giant sea turtle.  It was one of those truly breathtaking moments of my life.  As we got more comfortable with them, and they with us, I would dive down into the water to watch them swim, so elegant and careless.  

#68 - Spot a wild javalina - Checked off on Christmas Day, 2014

I officially feel like an Arizonan, now!  How it took me this long to see one, I don't know, but my whole family knew how important it was that I see one, and I got a "Christmas miracle" when my sis went to take the trash out and called to me to come running.  A whole family with little babies was prancing around the cul-de-sac outside my parents' house in Vail.  

Life List Achievements in 2013

Wow, looking back at my notes, 2013 was a really big year for me and my Life List.  A good part of that was the Alaskan cruise and road trip my family took in May, which gave us just an incredible, unforgettable family experience.  I don't know if we'll ever all be together on an adventure quite like that again (although I certainly hope so)!  On top of the cruise, I also had the chance to fly out to Florida to see the SpaceX rocket launch, I met up with a friend who gave me a legit Cuban cigar to smoke, and I met Jaiman and we danced in the rain together, and we went on a surfing adventure to California.  So yeah, really a great year all around.  Look at what I accomplished!  

#124 - Watch the launch of a space shuttle - Checked off March 1, 2013 at Cape Canaveral, FL
#38 - Smoke a real Cuban cigar - Checked off April 1, 2013 in Mesa, AZ
#104 - Dance with someone in the rain - Checked off May 1, 2013 in Vail, AZ
#37 - Go on a vacation cruise with my parents
#2 - Go to Alaska
#65 - See an iceberg
#69 - Sing in a karaoke competition
#58 - Ride in a helicopter
#41 - Go dog sledding
#131 - Learn to surf and catch some waves - Checked off July 16, 2013 in San Diego, CA

Life List Achievements prior to 2013

#21 - Ride a cable car in San Francisco - Checked off March 21, 2012
#61 - Ride a horse - Checked off February 6, 2012
#106 - Order over-priced room service in a 5 star hotel - Checked off October 31, 2011
#105 - Go to a rodeo - Checked off November 6, 2010
#118 - Slide down the evacuation slide of an airplane - Checked off November 3, 2010
#140 - Make out in a waterfall - Checked off September 18, 2010
#143 - Go wine tasting in California - Checked off September 1, 2010
#139 - Climb an active volcano - Checked off August 3, 2010
#91 - Visit Pearl Harbor - Checked off August 2, 2010
#75 - Luau in Hawaii - Checked off August 1, 2010
#128 - Ride in a submarine - Checked off August 1, 2010
#47 - Join a flash mob - Checked off January 10, 2010
#137 - See the ball drop on New Years Eve in Time Square - Checked off January 1, 2010
#126 - Visit the Statue of Liberty - Checked off December 31, 2009
#72 - Bring mom to Las Vegas - Checked off September 6, 2009
#99 - Carve a pumpkin - Checked off August 31, 2009
#54 - Walk the Great Wall of China - Checked off July 6, 2009
#79 - Celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans - Checked off February 25, 2009
#44 - Watch a movie at a drive-in theater - Checked off February 10, 2009
#16 - See a musical on Broadway - Checked off July 6, 2008
#55 - See Ground Zero - Checked off July 4, 2008
#123 - Have dinner at the top of the Space Needle - Checked off May 1, 2008
#141 - Go whale watching and see a whale - Checked off May 1, 2008
#62 - Go up in a hot-air balloon - Checked off May 6, 2006
#109 - Build a real sand castle - Checked off July 6, 2005
#50 - Hike the Grand Canyon - Checked off March 15, 2004

Stay Tuned - Still to Do!

So, I have checked off 48 of the 150 marvelous things on my Life List.  Many of those remaining require travel to new continents, namely Europe, Australia, South America and Africa (okay, and Asia, there's still a couple things left to do there, too).  The others are just trickier in their own ways.  I've got a lot of this living still to do!  

#1 - View Athens from the Acropolis
#3 - Float along the Amazon
#4 - Dance the tango in Argentina
#5 - See my art in a gallery or store
#7 - See an aurora
#8 - Drive the Autobahn
#9 - Bathe in the Ganges
#10 - Ride a penny-farthing bicycle
#11 - Ride a tandem bicycle
#12 - Ride a recumbent bicycle
#13 - Ride in a blimp
#14 - Race a bobsled
#15 - Publish a book
#17 - Watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
#18 - Build a custom house with "secret" architectural features
#20 - Watch a fire-dancing show at Burning Man
#22 - Golf in Cabo
#25 - Go to Carnival of Venice
#26 - Participate in a Carnival parade in Brazil
#27 - Spend the night in a castle
#28 - Tour Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
#29 - Read Catch 22
#30 - Catch a fish
#31 - Walk the Champs-Élysées
#32 - Ride through the Chunnel
#33 - Go cliff diving
#34 - See the Colisseum
#35 - Visit a concentration camp
#36 - Road trip in a convertible with the top down and music blaring
#39 - Float in the Dead Sea
#40 - Help dig for dinosaur bones
#42 - Swim with a dolphin
#43 - Ride on a red double decker bus in the UK
#45 - Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower
#46 - Have dinner with someone famous
#49 - Ride a gondola
#51 - Attend a performance at the Grand Ole Opry
#52 - Press grapes into wine with my bare feet
#53 - Snorkel or Scuba through the Great Barrier Reef
#56 - Stay at the Hamptons
#57 - Spend a night in a haunted house (or hotel, or castle, etc)
#60 - Make a hole-in-one
#63 - Design my own house, and see it constructed
#64 - Ice skate outside while its snowing
#66 - Travel India by train
#67 - Be interviewed by a reputable journalist in person
#70 - Kayak through the jungle
#71 - Drink a mint julep at the Kentucky Derby
#73 - Look for the Loch Ness Monster
#74 - Go on the London Eye
#77 - Hike the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu
#78 - Tap a maple tree for sap
#80 - Find a message in a bottle
#81 - Be an extra in a movie
#82 - Go to a red-carpet film premiere
#83 - Have something named after me
#85 - Float along the Nile
#86 - Golf through Nullarbor Links
#87 - Drink in Germany for Oktoberfest
#88 - Be a spectator at an Olympic event
#89 - Cruise through the Panama Canal
#90 - Be awarded a patent
#92 - See Petra, Jordan
#93 - Photograph an endangered species
#94 - Try pole vaulting
#95 - Participate in a police lineup
#96 - Walk the ruins of Pompeii
#97 - Have my portrait painted
#98 - Send in a postsecret
#100 - See the pyramids of Egypt
#101 - See the Louvre Pyramid
#102 - See the pyramids of Chichen Itza
#103 - Drive a race car around a real track
#107 - Walk a runway
#108 - Learn to sail
#111 - Give a person a second chance on life
#112 - Set foot on each of the seven continents
#113 - Shake hands with someone who has truly changed a country.
#114 - Eat at a Shenanigans
#115 - Go water skiing
#116 - Ski or snowboard in Colorado
#117 - Ski in Dubai
#119 - Learn to use a slide rule
#120 - Drive a snowmobile
#121 - Be in the stands when two rival South American club teams play each other in soccer.
#122 - Go into orbit/outer space
#125 - Visit the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado
#127 - See Stonehenge
#130 - Attend the Super Bowl
#132 - Watch a show at the Sydney Opera House
#133 - See the Taj Mahal
#135 - Attend a tea party during the cherry blossoms
#136 - Ride a camel in Timbuktu
#138 - Stay at an underwater hotel
#142 - Go white water rafting
#144 - Go wine tasting in Europe
#145 - Eat at a Wingers
#146 - Write that "one song"
#147 - Time Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park
#148 - Do the Dirty Dancing lift
#149 - Help set a world record
#150 - Open a million dollar hot dog stand

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