A Quick Retreat from Winter

Christmas morning, and barely a sprinkling of snow. I suppose you could call it a white Christmas per se (here in the snowbelt area of Teeswater anyway; not-so-much in other areas around SW Ontario), but I’m thinking that there are a quite a few Canadian children who are disappointed by the barren dry grassy plains in their front yards. However, I am ecstatic that the no snow or ice graced the road with its coy slick nature. I’m hoping for clear highways and humble temperatures as we venture across the North American continent! You see, slaDE and I were accepted {last minute ~ literally 1 week ago} as paying volunteers for a 12 week residential service learning program at the world-renown Mount Madonna Center.

They don’t call us snowbirds for nothing! I am thrilled at the prospect of escaping another cold snowy Canadian winter in exchange for some yoga and skydiving fun. However, this winter, the Airstream shall be left behind, and in our trusty Optra steed, we find ourselves fully loaded with skydiving gear and minimalist clothing + items, making our way, this most quiet of mornings on the highway. Today is the chosen day to pioneer a new journey for ourselves, with a new winter exploration beyond the Airstream comforts we have travelled for the past few winter solstices.

On this day, we pretty much stayed true to our schedule and made great headway towards the border well before the break of noon. Our crossing of the International Boundary was a bit arduous and longwinded. Being a prior ‘avocado seed smuggler’ (their words, not mine), we were pulled over for inspection. But all in intention and belongings were displayed upfront, and honesty rang true and through. An hour after arrival, we were allowed entry in to the beautiful US of A. Seems like my prior status with the USDA in forgetting about an avocado on board our Airstream will haunt us in future crossings. Dang my premature senility in remembering all things food! 🙂

My Dad made me this awesome mini-desk for my laptop …. and it was put to good use on our first day. I now carry a piece of my Dad and his love with me wherever I travel. And that makes my heart shine.

A good long first day found us arriving in Illinois late evening, spending a few quality days with our friend Barbie June. Knowing the solace and company of a long-time dear friend (and second Mother to me) ever welcoming has me warmed by the comforts of friends during the Christmas holidays. What a spectacular season this has been for family gatherings and friend get-togethers!

Fashionista, I Am Not

Funny thing happened in our temporary transition from Airstream life to apartment nomads …. I forgot a few significant props so necessary for participating in the plethora of Christmas parties available to us this season. I neglected to bring along dress shoes for the lovely skirts and pants outfits I diligently transported at the beginning of November. What’s worse is that I’ve been back to the trailer several times, and didn’t take stock of what I had in the clothing department. I remembered EVERYTHING else, go figure. But our lovely friend Jill offered to lend me her size 9 stillettos for the evening (tres chic this Mamacita!). With a wee bit of experience with platform slinky shoes, I had the crazy notion that my sized 9.5 foot (with size 10 pinky toes) would be like fitting Cinderella’s stepsisters in to the beloved glass slipper of choice. And in the end, I ended up setting a new fashion trend with my new rocker shoes this evening. At least they had a nice 2 inch platform to elevate me ;).

My lesson learned? Never forget the importance of slinky shoes in my life. 🙂 NOT! I refuse to go out and buy something just for the sake of saving face, when I already own several pairs of shoes with heels that I rarely wear. Now is not the time to keep hourding and expanding in my wardrobe! I may make a pit stop at Value Village just in case, and donate any acquisition right back on Monday 😉

20 Years, a Skydiver in the Making

‎20 years ago today, October 6, 1991, I took a leap of faith that changed my life forever. I became a skyDiva ~ skydiver. The bravest step I ever took in overcoming my fear of heights was pretty huge, and to this day, at times my ‘Acrophobia‘ is still somewhat a hurdle with each and every jump, believe it or not.

My first jump course and skydive was at the Cranfield Airport, UK. You could say that this is my original homegrown dz, although 5 weeks later, they closed the Parachute School and I had to relocate to Peterborough Parachute Club (aka Sibson). My first jump was on a bright yellow 28 foot Double-L LoPo round Static Line parachute, deployed from a height of 3,000 feet AGL out of a side-door Shorts Skyvan 3A-100 Skyliner. The first jump was completely thrilling and somewhat scary. The second skydive was absolutely terrifying, as I knew what to expect. Yet I kept going back for more. The community, the challenge, the adrenaline and the fear (plus the high ratio of guys to girls in the sport was an additional perk!) kept drawing me back for more. I was hooked from ‘Exit Position: GO!’.

Let’s hear a ‘hell yeah’  for pushing the limits of one’s comfort zone. Anniversaries are awesome … great reminders of where I’ve come from, moulding me into the sKYdiVA of today!

Surrounded By Love, Remembering That I Am Not Alone

I found myself fully awake as slaDE made preparations to go to the dropzone to jump this weekend. I’m used to (sort of) my husband’s early morning departures during the week where he quietly readies himself for work at 5am. And if I’m ever-so-lucky, I can remember his sweet gentle kisses in the sleepy haze of my early morning slumber. But this morning at 7am, the striking cold brisk chill in the air woke me up alarmingly fast as I bolted to empty my bladder. Overnight, literally, the weather had changed from a lazy warm Indian Summer’s night to that belying the abrupt onset of a Winter’s morning. Once I hit the freezing grip of the toilet’s caress, I was wide awake. Sigh, so much for sleeping in :). I knew that with the weather forecast of below freezing temperatures and unruly high winds that I wouldn’t want to be skydiving this weekend (plus my back still is going through mini-spasms — not ideal for arching or abrupt off heading openings). I’m a skydiving snob per se, a fair-weather jumper. And yes, I am okay with that. I’ve spent too much time wrapped up like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Guy / Michelin Man in the sky, and from these experiences, I know exactly where my comfort zone lies. Who wants to be questioning whether one can pull a sequence of handles at deployment time because the fingers have frozen, with all sensation pretty much gone, or at least numbed. NO Thank you!! Been there, done that.

With that being said, I chose to wrap myself up, nuzzling deeper in the blankets of our kingsized bed, loving my husband from afar (Skydive Toronto — 2 hrs away from our homebase in Oshawa) in yet another loner weekend in the Airstream. I sometimes wonder if I’m making the right choice. Of not spending that quality time with my husband on his weekends skydiving when I have other tasks to do or reasons to not be at the dropzone. I guess you could call it dz burnout. I’ve always been a bit of a loner. Yet as I sit here, I’m somewhat sad at my decision. Every singular moment that we have together is a pure luxury, regardless of what we’re doing. How could I say no? And in that moment of questioning and melancholy, I found myself wrapped in love. Literally, embraced by the warm wool blanket gifted to us by a girlfriend in Calgary. Three years after the fact, this worn and well-loved bed covering is one of the valuable items in our rV that continuously provides us with unfailingly comfort in the colder climes. And in this sweet moment of awareness, I think of her, and smile. The trend continues, and I think of, with deepening gratitude:

  • my Mother, whose warm fleece hat covers my head in the morning chill
  • my Idaho-based girlfriend whose lovingly crafted sunflower quilt provides us with warmth, sunshine and love in the darkest of nights
  • another skydiving girlfriend whose pyjamas I was wearing, acquired last winter in the midst of her move to an rV lifestyle
  • the complete stranger whom we purchased an Airstream from off of eBay (I think of this man often, silently thanking him for such an amazing home)
  • a dear lovely soul who is suffering from a terrifying illness and injuries that has this person fighting with every bit of their amazing strength and courageousness. It leaves me wondering: what can I offer or do to make life better for them?


And with these heartfelt revelations and remembrances, I realize that I am truly blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship, family and above all else, good health. Even in my solitude, I am never alone. There are always reminders of those who have left forever imprints on my heart. Of those who are experiencing tremendous trials and startling tribulations that leave me breathless.

With this surge in emotion, I am suddenly overwhelmingly quiet. A deep sense of love emanates from within, filling any space where a void may have existed briefly this morning. I am honoured and truly blessed for the friends and family in my life, for the life-partner that comes home to me, to us, unfailing in his love and dedication. With this appreciation, I’m realizing that, next time, I’ll be hard-pressed to not be by my husband’s side, even in the coldest of winters and difficult of days. I want to be his steadfast blanket, supporting and warming him when he needs me most.

Do you have a favourite momento or memory that carries you through the difficult challenging times, when feeling alone, sad and grey; a heart-worthy impression that provides a souvenir hug, enlightening and brightening your day?

Last Day at the CNE

Yay, my last work shift at the Canadian National Exhibition! It’s been an interesting process of getting back in to a ‘working mode’ with a steady schedule of long days, responsible to an entity other than myself. It’s been fun pitching the passion that I have for skydiving, working as a ‘representative’ of Skydive Toronto, but I’m looking forward to falling forward in to my creative lifestyle, unfolding with each day, on my own terms, transforming new adventures in to potentials and possibilities.

A Raft and Night Jump Extraordinaire

A superb day in the history of our jumps together. What a way to kick off the weekend! slaDE and I made our way to Parachute School of Toronto for an evening visit with our friend Minna. PST happened to be holding night jumps this evening. Although slaDE was extremely excited at the prospect of landing his new tiny 99 Velo in the dark of night, I was less than intrigued at the prospect of skydiving in darkness at this unfamiliar drop zone. My previous 2 night jumps were far from ordinary and the last night jump experience (both nerve-wracking and stressfully chaotic) had made me wary with trepidation. About 14 years ago on a no-moon night at the old Skydive Chicago DZ, I became confused by the spontaneous unplanned for night jump that had me landing 2 miles off the dz between a forest and a quarry (read zero glow-sticks or strobe-lights to mark my presence or aid my limited vision at a then unfamiliar airport). In all of my jumping career, I had never been so grateful to have my two feet safely on the ground. With the area and dark of night being unlit and ominous, I was extremely lucky to walk away unscathed. I literally kissed the freshly ploughed field (the size of a postage stamp) upon landing. Two hours later, I had found my way back to airport.

Fast-forward to the present moment, and imagine the thoughts going through my head when slaDE mentioned that he wanted to jump together on this beautifully clear, well-lit summer’s night. slaDE was sweetly intent on making this night skydive together, so with fear in my heart, I approached the jump a tad stressed but ready to conquer another challenge. Immediate thoughts of an off-dz landing at an unfamiliar dz were at the forefront of my imagination, but I wanted to make that leap into the unknown. Sometimes, it’s good to RELLY push ones fear envelope (calculated risks and all).

I admit, I stressed out a bit prior, feeling rushed with getting the glo-sticks ready for our jump on Load 2 out of the Skyvan (yes, I said Skyvan, from 13,000 feet :)). My night vision wasn’t nearly as adjusted as I had hoped come exit time from altitude, but in the end, there was no difficulty with seeing either my canopy or other parachute traffic mid-air. In fact, the scene was so surreal and sparkling clear, I savoured the shared experience, so beautiful and gloriously momentous  (out of a Skyvan no less!). It’s hard to explain the sensation of freefalling with the twinkling stars as the backdrop to a seemingly innocent abyss. The bubble-like cocoon I found myself in was a completely different world and experience, skydiving into the edge of darkness, slipping into a a sea of quiet sparkling solitude. Dazzling and memorable beyond words! But here are a few thoughts that might describe the experience:

A raft dive, with Kat in front, me secured behind her in a tight space meant for 1 (not 2 with rigs :)). During the skydive, Mark reached for Kat’s gripper instead of holding on to my main lateral lift web. I was cautiously paranoid about all 3 of my handles. As I was so secure in the raft, my hackie sac was wedged. Because of this, I was overtly cautious about premature deployment. What an amazing fun jump. Rolling out of the raft was like a slow-motion movie, moving through molasses, wedged so tightly that the only way of geting out was to rock and roll our way out. In tumbling to left, the Hackey Sack attached to my pilot chute would have less a chance of ‘catching’ on something.

Here’s the amazing raft skydiving video from that day!! Raft Jump over PST

Wedded Bliss

I love long weekend weddings especially when it involves good friends who happen to be skydiving playfellows! Brian and Carissa Bell had an incredibly beautiful day with the impending bad weather holding off until after the ceremony (how blessed was that??!). The wedding itself was beautiful and memorable. The bride was shining in her happiness, almost to the point of levitation. 🙂 Carissa’s dress was heavenly perfection (omg, the train was to die for). Both the bride’s Father and Mother were wonderfully emotional. Their first daughter (who happens to be a twin) married to a fellow skydiving beloved family friend. They couldn’t ask for a better union, truly! In the end, it was so lovely to see many of our dear skydiving friends all under one roof. A wonderful way to ring in a long labour day weekend.

One of my favourite parts of this afternoon’s wedding was the wedding cake from Muscoreil’s in Tonawanda. A DIVINE raspberry swirl concoction with white chocolate almond frosting that left me salivating for more. I rarely eat beyond a few forkfuls of a wedding cake, usually sharing my slice with my accommodating husband. Not this time! Decadence sublime. I was in sugar heaven!

Tandem a-gO-gO

slaDE has happily found a dropzone to work at for the summer. His goal, first and foremost, teach people how to fly, and secondly, earn some money throwing drogues. Layman speak: taking people for a tandem skydive. With the Sigma Tandem System that Skydive Toronto uses, slaDE must maintain a certain currency since his previous jump, all within a set time period set by Strong Parachute System.

A. If any currently rated Tandem Instructor has not made a Tandem jump in the preceding 90 days, he must make one Tandem jump with an experienced jumper acting as a student before taking a student student. The experienced jumper/ student must first be briefed on how to respond to Tandem emergencies.

That’s where I fit in! For slaDE to become recurrent, it was time for me to make another tandem jump with him. I’ve been a passenger on about 20 different occasions, as an experienced jumper, filling the ‘student’ role for either a learning tandem master or for means of recurrency. Let me tell you, it never becomes fully easy and comfortable, that relinquishing of control. You see, I have over 1400 skydives, and on all solo jumps, I have pulled my parachute each and every time, saving my own life. However, with tandems, that’s another story. More often than not, there have been ‘chicken handles’ for me to access in case I needed to perform any of the deployment or emergency functions. However, in the previous 2 times that I have jumped with slaDE, there were no such handles, apart from the main tandem canopy deployment ‘golf ball’. Gulp! 🙂 Although nervous and out of my comfort zone, I’m good with that option and choice. I have complete trust in slaDE and his abilities to land us safely on the ground.

Today was no different … the skies were a startling clear blue colour and the temperatures were invitingly warm. With the opportunity to skydive from the Cessna 182, I felt right at home, enjoying the ride to altitude as we circled a 4 square mile area around the urban airport. Our dive out of the airplane was poised and perfect. The canopy ride, stealthy (I love the Icarus canopy!) and the landing, perfection. Another jump lived, loved and shared with my husband. What a beautiful day!

Nouvel Air

Before the mad rush of an intense day of travel towards Sudbury, slaDE and I decided to spend the day unwinding and enjoying the delights of Nouvel Air (a dropzone 1 hour south of Montreal). Our friend and host Michel Lemay treated us to a late evening last night of conversation. But we were knackered and enjoyed a late morning lie-in before heading to the NovelAir dropzone. What a splendid facility — equally impressive but very different from their new flagship dz (Parachute Montreal). slaDE did video for Michel Lemay’s 4 way pickup team for a few jumps. And then we knocked out 3 spectacular 4 way jumps that had my mind reeling. They were some of the BEST skydiving jumps I’ve done in all my years. Fluid, peaceful, quiet and highly successful. We averaged 18 points on each jump. WOW! Pretty cool to get personal coaching and jumping with a National Champion. What a difference can made to my skill level!

We enjoyed an evening of raw food, great companionship and yogaFLIGHT amongst friends before reluctantly leaving, preparing ourselves mentally for the big trek ahead of us tomorrow driving cross-Province.

VitaMix Fruit Ice Cream Recipe (use organic ingredients if possible)
Fruit ice-cream / sorbet can be made quite easily with frozen fruit plus the addition of plain unflavoured yogurt if a creamier texture is preferred.

  • The basic “rule of thumb” for making ice cream (or sorbets) in a Vita-Mix is 3 cups of frozen ingredients to 1 cup of non-frozen.
  • You need to keep the ratio of unfrozen ingredients to frozen at approximately 1 to 3 or 4 for it to make a soft scoop type consistency. For a stiffer consistency, use only frozen fruit.
  • If you can’t buy frozen fruit or berries, just freeze your fresh ones. By using ice, you water down the lovely flavours possible with just two ingredients (fruit alone or fruit and yoghurt). I get the best results from making smaller quantities. About 4 cups is a good size batch.
  • Started by mixing on Variable speed 1 and increase to 10 quickly, using the tamper to push the fruit down. Once you see four ‘mounds’, you are finished!
  • Use a spatula to scoop out your ice cream. Serve immediately.

 

Day 6 of Mission 100

Without having built a record as hoped for yesterday, we were on the field at 6:30am with full gear, anticipating at least 3 jumps this morning. Unfortunately, the Sherpa pilot needed to be back in Illinois by mid-afternoon, meaning we had a small window to skydive, with 12 noon being our deadline. The first jump of the morning was extremely close to successfully building a 100 (or so) way. It felt that if we had only had another 1,000 feet, we would have been successful! Geez, not a great time to be scrimping from our promised 20k (we had 18k on that first jump). The next jump was kind of a zoo (I didn’t even get a chance to dock with so much zoomy traffic in my quadrant), so with the final jump being lined up, we all gathered together, breathing deeply in sync, praying for peace and success in our final skydive. Had a fellow jumper not had a premature deployment at 19,000 feet, I truly believe that we would have built our Canadian Record. The formation flew so quiet and beautifully solid. Only one sector of the opposing helix was incomplete (due to the preemie jumper still under canopy at altitude). Dang, it felt good to fly together as a collective flock, smooth, slow and safe in our maneuvers. But alas, 6,500 came too quickly, and we realized our Mission 100 record attempts were over for 2011. Collective as a group, we had some pretty spectacular skydiving this week. Much improvement in skill and flying was seen. Although a Canadian Record was not set at this event, we can all hold our heads high, having achieved much success and many wonderful memories in the little jumping that we did do. Well done friends! Here’s to trying again next year :).

 

Success is not the key to happiness.
Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing you will be successful.
~ Herman Cain