365 days and 40 activities didn't sound like that hard a project last year. I mean, just because I was turning 40 didn't mean I couldn't still DO things, right? And boy, did I do things. Things I never thought I would do, could do, and in some cases even were possible to do. 

But now, here I am posting the proud completion of #40: Write a Book.

Depending on what type of book you're writing, they can be a variety of lengths. A common breakdown is: Short Story under 7,500 words; Novelette 7,500-17,500 words; Novella 17,500-40,000 words; and Novel more than 40,000 words. The longest book written (or at least published) according to the all-knowing Wikipedia is In Search of Time Lost by Marcel Provst topping out at 1,200,000 words. I have not read it, nor do I intend to (maybe for a future challenge). And I didn't write that much, either, but I did write enough to make a book.

In the course of the past year I have posted 34,961 words (not including this post), and written an additional approximate 13,500 in off-screen notes and narrative, giving me a total word count of: 48,461. 

Looking back at all those words, and thinking about all the challenges I've done, I'm having a hard time deciding what was my favorite. Was it something fun and exciting like decorating a cake? Or snorkeling? Or going on a ghost hunt? Or going to a fashion show? Or dancing the Argentine Tango? Or maybe it was a challenge that I really had to work for like running a 10k or biking to work. Or the ones that took guts like auditioning for a play, crashing a wedding, or facing off against an "attacker" in a self-defense class. Or the simple things in life like getting a massage or watching a sunrise.

I started this project to gather fodder for a book, and I have definitely done that. But I've done a bit more. I've met people I never would have encountered, I've been welcomed into homes and clubs, I've been cheered along by strangers, and have discovered world's within world's right here in my own town - and beyond. I want to thank everybody for following along with me, encouraging me when my nerves were failing, and taunting me into keeping going (you know who you are). And I'm proud to announce I've completed my 40.

I considered wrapping things up with watching the sunset on the last day I was 40, but that seemed too final. Too much like a closing. Because let's face it, there's a lot more out there to try.

What are you doing this year?
I finally did it, #5: Sing Karaoke. As some of you will remember, this was not my first attempt at karaoke. Or my second, or even my third. But apparently the fourth time's the charm, because I got up last Saturday night to a packed room at the Seasons Grille in Portland and sang Birdhouse in Your Soul (my apologies to They Might Be Giants).

I thought it was the perfect song choice since not that many people would know it and therefore not notice when I made mistakes. But unfortunately it turned out I didn't really know it either and, in fact, had been singing the WRONG words for years. When the real words showed up on the monitor I got tongue-tied and, well, you'll see.

But before I play the embarrassing clip that will never have you looking at music the same way again, I thought I'd share a little fact about karaoke that I found out after I had it on my list - it's 40 years old, too! The karaoke machine was invented in 1971 by Inoue Daisuke using a car stereo, a coin box and an amplifier. And, in fact the first karaoke venue was a freight car in a Japanese rice field.

A rice field might have been a better venue for me, since many of the people at last Saturday's karaoke evening were obviously regulars who could sing surprisingly well (with the exception of the two gentlemen who performed the Beatles - thank for making me feel better about getting up there!). On the plus side, our waitress thanked me for my song choice - she hears a lot of the same songs every week.

That said, here it is, my karaoke debut. Thank goodness the room was dark and loud (the fact that no one was listening to me also helped give me the nerve to get up there) so the video stinks. I can't post this without a shout-out to my hubby who was trying to help me keep up with the words and sang along a few times - we did a great duet. Enjoy. (And again: sorry.)
2 days and 1 more to go...
It's less than 1 week to my birthday, meaning I have to complete the remaining 3 items in the next few days or this whole project is a bust. Let's just say, I was feeling the stress. Which meant it was perfect timing for #9 - Get a Massage.

After diligent research, I decided I would get an Aromatic Hot Towel Massage at Nine Stones Spa. (Hey, I had to do it for my project and a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.) I set an appointment for last Monday, but the day before I still had a lingering cough (a.k.a. a vibrating hack that made people turn and stare at me) from a cold, so I delayed a couple days. I presented myself at the desk only to find out they had lost my appointment when I changed it. But luckily they still had an opening later in the day.

Back on track, I returned to the spa. The receptionist settled me in their waiting area - plush couches and pillows surrounding an electric fire that had more ambiance than my own living room. I knew I was in for something good.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this wasn't my first massage. But not only had it been several years since the other massage, I knew it was something I would never be willing to pay for unless I had a good reason (because, and this will come as no surprise to most of my loved ones, I'm cheap). So getting a massage was something special that I really wanted on my list of 40. And I'm so glad I did. And not just any massage, but a hot towel massage. 

This type of massage includes lying on heated sheets (yes, in the buff). An extra weighted heating pad is placed on top of you and moved around as different parts of your body are massaged. Hannah would massage a muscle in the traditional way (and I felt more than 1 knot in my back rolling under her pressure). Then she placed a hot towel over the muscle that had just been massaged, pressing it to get the heat deep into the muscle. And I must have gone into a euphoric state since I can't remember much after that. I think my thoughts went something like this: Ooh, that arm massage is nice, I like it. Massages are good. Oh my gosh, a hand massage is even better. I don't think anything could beat this. Holy mackerel, that hot towel is amazing. This is the best thing ever. She just wrapped my hand in the towel? I am never going home.

So, yes, I enjoyed my massage. And as an added bonus, Nine Stones didn't even charge me because of the scheduling mix up. Happy birthday to me! (Almost. Don't rush me, I still have 2 more challenges to go).
Last Tuesday I got out of work, went home to change into jeans, drove to the Freeport Middle School and completed #21 on the list - Audition for a Play.

Those of you who know me, know I've been into theater... well, pretty much my entire 40 years of life. I was the grasshopper in the play "The Grasshopper and the Ant" in third grade. I distinctly remember auditioning for the part: our entire class got to read out loud for our teacher, and we all got a part of some kind. When I found out I was going to be the grasshopper, my teacher pulled me aside and asked if I was going to be okay since being the grasshopper meant I had to walk out on stage alone and deliver my first lines before anyone else was on stage. I wasn't just okay with it, I was psyched! Opening night rolled around and I donned my green turtleneck and tights with pride. When my teacher gave me the nod, I stepped onto stage brandishing my paper violin prop (which I had colored in myself) and started the play, "Where is everybody? Where did everybody go?" A star was born.

Fast forward to freshman year of college where I decided to be a theater minor. I auditioned for a student-written production called "Drinks," unsurprisingly about college students standing around and drinking at a party. I got the lead (I'm not going to say I was a natural for the part, but...). Shortly after reading the casting list, I found out they were looking for an assistant stage manager. Intrigued, I tagged along with the stage manager and discovered another world behind the curtain. One of people dressed in black, barking commands into headsets, corralling actors, and running the entire show! I instantly realized this was my world, handed over my role to the understudy, and stepped behind the scenes.

Since college I have stage managed tons of community theater shows. I worked "You Can't Take It With You," with one of my all-time favorite directors. I bossed around 93 actors and flew backdrop art donated by a local artist worth thousands of dollars in a production of Oklahoma at the Missoula Community Theater. Even more harrowing, I was in charge when we flew Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar. That's just to name a few of the shows I've worked on.

Being on the crew is almost like being in a cult, lurking in the shadows. I hadn't crossed that spotlight line since high school, but it was time to see what the other half was up to. So I found a production of Radio Hour - a series of skits and songs, being put on by the Freeport Players, and decided this was my chance. I cheated a little bit. Like that third-grade audition, I knew walking into it that everyone will be offered a role of some kind. I was called in with two other auditioning actors and read snippets from the show, taking comments from the director. Driving home, I thought of all sorts of ways I could have been better - I suppose that's the way with all auditions. But no matter the results (which I haven't heard yet), I'm proud I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tested my limits.

Now, I hear there's a production of Noises Off coming this spring that might need a stage manager...
I know, it's been a while since I last posted. But despite the rumors, I haven't given up on completing before October 17! In fact, I apparently decided 40 challenges weren't enough, so I upped the ante (that's poker talk, more on that later) and added a couple previously unmentioned challenges: buying a new house and starting a new job. It turns out, those are 2 extremely distracting projects. And, it turns out, you have to wait for the cable guy to come hook up your Internet before you can post to your blog. But we've officially opened all our boxes at the new house (mostly because we couldn't find the sheets) and I've learned the best commuting route to the job, so I'm back on the 40! Here's what we've missed:
#37 Ride a Hot Air Balloon. 
The Great Falls Balloon Festival hit town just before my Internet blackout, and I got the ride of a lifetime. I chose a morning ride, which meant getting up pre-crack of dawn since launch was between 6 and 6:30 a.m. We collected at a nearby business and then our pilot drove all the riders to the launch site at the field. Balloons started lining up in a giant circle, spreading out the nylon fabric in preparation for filling. Riders and spectators crowded around as one balloon after another slowly started to lift, propelled by the heat blown into them by giant fans. It was so cool watching the burners flame in the dark.

I rode with another couple and their 8-year-old granddaughter, who was only told she was going to ride moments before loading. Still, I felt like the little kid in the basket as we floated over the city of Auburn. There's very little I can say to explain the sensation of being in the balloon. I was barely aware of our lift-off, it was so smooth and gentle. And even being so high in the air, I never had a moment of fear, I was completely secure within the basket.
It was over all too fast (although we flew for about 45 minutes). The adventurous part of ballooning is knowing that you go wherever the wind decides to take you. In our case, we flew a little higher than the other balloons also launching that day, and traveled over the river and past the highway - with cars and trucks honking greetings. Our pilot located a field for landing, and even though we were prepared for a bit of a bumpy ride since our speed was still a little high, the landing was soft.
#39 Go to a Rock Concert.
Before we moved out of the downtown area, we wanted to take advantage of our proximity to the arts district one last time, so we walked to the State Theatre for a concert from Ingrid Michaelson. We had seen Ingrid perform at a free outdoor concert at LL Bean a couple summers ago, so I didn't think this would count as a rock concert. Her music was more folksy, drawing a kind of hippie crowd. But her new album and the change in venue made this experience a true rock concert from the light show to the ringing ears afterwards.

We knew the concert was general admission so we decided to arrive about 1/2 hour early to get some good seats. But when we walked up to the theater the line was already wrapped around the block. The show was sold out, so we were glad we had purchased tickets ahead. Many of our fellow ticket-holders had homemade signs with them, and I soon noticed we were a bit older than the average, although definitely not the oldest in the crowd.

When we finally entered the theater, we decided to sit in the balcony to see the entire stage. We nestled into chairs and I had flashbacks to college days as I smelled the stale beer. Ingrid's husband opened for her in what I found to be a surprisingly long opening act. I realized just how old I really was as we waited for Ingrid to take the stage and I noticed it was already past my normal bed time.

But it was entirely worth it. The concert opened with all her band members beating drums, and the excitement only built from there. She did mostly her songs, but pulled out some past favorites during the encore - most notably performing a punk rock version of The Way I Am. We banged our heads to cap off the true rock concert experience.
#27 Learn to Play Poker.
I hinted before that I had already completed this one - much to my own surprise. I had been working to find a poker game I could join in when my husband pointed out that I didn't have to play in an official game, I just had to learn how to play- which I had already done. Last July 4 we were supposed to go to the Portland Symphony concert on the Eastern Prom but thunderstorms got in the way, so instead my husband and I played poker in our living room with my mom and our friend Todd. Todd taught me five card draw, seven card stud, and a couple other games that he might have been making up. We were only playing for paper clips, which was a good thing since I got entirely cleaned out, but I think I could sit in on a game now and not make a complete fool of myself - or I may be bluffing!

So that catches you up. I have a few more to go in the next couple weeks before my deadline hits. I think I found a play I can audition for, so that will probably be next. Then it's karaoke - again. Wish me luck!
I had dirt under my nails. At least a dozen tiny black gnats had committed suicide by sticking themselves to the sunscreen on my legs. Sweat trickled down my back, collecting where the strap wrapped around my waist. I was developing a blister on my thumbs where they rubbed against my walking sticks. The bottom of my heel ached from the injury I gave myself training for a 10k. And every third step another bit of my hair escaped its precarious ponytail to swing into my eyes. I was backpacking!

Yes, I bravely faced #20 Hike a Mountain to the Top AND #10 Pack Camp over the weekend. Originally, the plan was to drive up to Moosehead Lake, take a ferry to Kineo Cove and hike Mount Kineo, staying on the peninsula/island overnight, then taking the ferry back the next day. And while I still think that sounds like a beautiful experience, I sadly didn't have time. With a mere 9 weeks (that's right, 9 weeks!) to go before I'm supposed to have completed all my challenges, and 8 challenges looming over me - plus the added bonus of not only moving to a new house but also starting a new job - I discovered there is actually a limit to what I can do (don't tell anybody, ok?).

So instead, I opted for the much closer to home hike up Bald Rock Mountain in the Camden Hills State Park. Ranger Bill kindly answered my email inquiry to let me know that there are in fact 2 adirondack shelters just under the rocky peak that offer first-come first-serve camping. So I carefully planned out what my husband and I would need to bring, loading our packs with water bottles (there was no water source at the top), travel packs of peanut butter crackers, ramen noodles, and beef jerky - the king of all hiking snacks.

After shouldering our packs, we struck out for the summit. We almost immediately fell in behind a woman and her two dogs. And shortly later were greeted by an older couple coming down. It was pretty clear that these folks were out for a day hike, not an overnight pack trip. We were definitely overdressed. The next point that was all too clear was that the trip was entirely uphill. After abandoning the carriage path for the more wooded trail to the summit, we discovered a set of stone steps which my husband aptly labeled a "demented StairMaster." So it was a winded pair of packers that reached the top to gaze in awe at the scenic display before us.
Sadly, once we finished staring at the view we starting looking for the shelter and discovered it was a dark, dreary, dank, damp structure that evoked horror-movie images more than warm-fuzzy nature feelings. So instead of setting up camp and watching the sun rise from the top of the mountain, we decided to hike down and check in at the state park camping ground. Now, before you say that's cheating - I made a point that we only used what we had in our packs to camp, just like we would have on the mountain. I considered "hiking" into the campground from the registration booth, but they only gave us one map and I wasn't sure where our campsite was. Still, I definitely packed. And I definitely camped. Therefore, I pack-camped.

Oh, and did I mention that my husband and I played an epic game of Go Fish that night? (He would be upset if I didn't fess up that he won.) But while we played, we talked about the poker game we had when our July 4 plans were washed out, and that's when I realized I have to Learn to Play Poker, not necessarily play in an official game. Which means I have also completed #27!!! I'll share that story with you next time...
Standing on a wooden step at the top of a ski tower with nothing but a strap securing me to the platform, I started wonder what the heck I was thinking. I went ziplining at Sunday River yesterday, #4 Ride a Zip Line.

Ziplining was one of the challenges that I didn't add to the list - that came compliments of my sister. It still amazes me how many people would hear about my list and instantly want to dangle me from extreme heights - "go bungy jumping," they would say, or "you have to sky dive." It turns out I don't have to ski dive, and it's a good thing because I had a hard enough time just stepping off the platform to zipline, even after watching an 11-year-old girl do it before me.

But I digress. Sunday started as a simple weekend. My husband and I relaxed a while at home before getting in the car for the 1.5 hour drive. My husband spent a lot of his teen years skiing at Sunday River, and so was impressed with how easy it was to park there off-season.

We walked into the building and it felt eerily quiet. Steps that usually echo with the clang of ski boots were deserted. But once we got to the tickets counter we found the people. It turns out using the ski resort for off-season activities like mountain biking and gondola rides is a popular concept. Quite a few people were purchasing zip tour tickets which would take them on a 2-hour trip across the mountain on a series of lines. But we decided to go straight for the gusto and get tickets for the twin zips - the resort's longest and fastest zipline at a 750-foot, 40 mph ride.

We had a very nice employee help us into our gear including a harness, safety strap, and helmet. We donned our gear with a mom and son and once we were fully decked out our helper wanted to tell us about some "tricks" we could do on the line including lifting your feet to hook your toes around the line and dangling upside down while traveling along the zip. The young man in our group sounded interested (and so did my husband) but us intelligent women wanted nothing to do with it.
We thanked our gear expert and started the short walk to the top tower. I'm sure they make you walk it just so you have time to look up and watch other zipliners. I'm not sure if this is supposed to make you feel better.

We arrived at the base of the tower and watched a young girl mount the steps and fearlessly step off. Moments later, she was hung up just shy of the landing tower - perhaps she was too light to make it all the way to the finish. We waited and watched as the landing crew secured her and towed her to the tower. Then it was my turn. At least I knew I wasn't going to be too light for the line.

I took the steps rapidly so I didn't have time to focus on how high I was getting until I was on the platform. A worker met me with a smile and clipped my safety line onto a rope. She guided me to the far platform where I was instructed to climb the final 2 steps to the top. I did.

Even now my hands are sweating in recounting the sensation. Did I mention I have a heights thing? My legs started to feel like jelly and my hands started visibly shaking. My breath came faster and faster until I thought I might hyperventilate. As our guide helped EJ mount his platform and gave him instructions, I considered if I could, as they say, "just say no" and climb back down the steps the way I had come. But I reminded myself that a little girl had just done it and survived, and so could I.

Our guide counted down and told us to step off the platform, and before I could stop my legs - I did. The harness tightened around me and I instantly had a feeling of being completely secure despite the fact that I was dangling several feet off the ground and traveling faster and faster down a metal line. The air whirred in my ears and my harness started spinning so at one point I was facing backward, then forward, then backward again. And in moments, just as I was settling in and starting to get used to it, it was over.

I came to an abrupt swinging halt as my line hit the brake rope at the second tower and I was hauled in by another guide who welcomed me to the platform. I once again perched on a wooden step identical to the one that started my journey. As I stood there and waited for the guide to disconnect me from the line, my legs started to truly turn to jelly. She very kindly guided to back to the stairs down from the tower and said, "it's better the second time."

It was.

(Video taken by my husband who rode the line next to me - there was no way I was letting go of the strap!)
Everyone who knows me knows that I have rules in my life. Rules like not allowing my foods to touch on my plate unless they were cooked together. Or reading only 1 book at a time, and leaving at least an hour between finishing 1 book and starting another in order to fully mentally digest the first. So it's not a surprise that when #7 Crash a Wedding went on my list, it came with rules.

Rule #1 for Crashing a Wedding: Don't eat the meal. Just because you're inviting yourself to someone's party doesn't mean they should have to pay for you.

Rule #2 for Crashing a Wedding: Leave a gift. In this case, a card with a little cash suffices, just enough for the happy couple to enjoy a nice cocktail while wondering who the heck you are.

With my rules solidly in place, I drove to a popular wedding venue in the Kennebunk area to hunt for a wedding. I won't say which venue I ended up picking since I wouldn't want them to have any nervous brides in the future, but suffice it to say it was gorgeous.

I pulled into the lot around 7:30, which proved to be a little early. I had hoped to wander into the reception in time for dancing and maybe to have a drink, but instead the party was still working on the dinner buffet. This had some advantages - having a buffet meant that I could easily blend with the other guests who were walking around the tent. Which is exactly what I did. 

I had brought my Impractical Shoes to wear, but realized they were in fact the perfect impractical shoes because I had to walk across the lawn to get to the venue, and these shoes were not going to make the trip. Thankfully, my practical self had brought along some flats (just in case) so I donned those and headed toward the music.
As soon as I got there, I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures. The room was beautiful with giant paper lanterns strung across the ceiling of the tent. And of course the cake caught my eye right away, having some experience in decorating a wedding cake. But the most beautiful element was, of course, the bride. Even across the room, you could instantly tell how happy the bride and groom were. And their happiness was catchy - everyone I saw greeted me with smiles and hellos.

There were a few really nice touches to the reception, too, including a photo of the couple with a mat that all the guests could sign (I refrained from adding my well-wishes). After dropping my card in the assigned basket, I stood to the side of the crowd - leaving room for those with plates laden with food to weave through the tables - and swayed as the band crooned one of my favorite wedding songs of all time "...just because I love you, and the way you look tonight." About 20 minutes of this, and I snuck back out the way I had come.

Thank you to Zac and Mary for (albeit unwittingly) allowing me to catch a glimpse of their happiness. I love the idea that on any given weekend you can find a group of people happily celebrating love. It's so romantic.

...run, run away.

That might not be how the saying goes, but that's definitely what I did last night when I made yet another stab at #5 Sing Karaoke. This time I towed my husband to a nightclub downtown that offers karaoke every Wednesday at 9 p.m. I had been assured that the people singing at karaoke night were not necessarily good singers and that I would blend right in. 

As soon as we walked through the door we realized blending was not going to be accomplished. Even if I ignored the fact that I was the only person not wearing black (except for the girl sporting a strappy, slinky bright red dress), we were most definitely twice as old as everyone else in the place. Undaunted, I downed a rum and coke, and bravely made my way to the song book. Since I was too chicken to go up on my own, my loving and ever-patient husband stood by my side as I perused the book, filled with hundreds of potential ways to embarrass myself. After digging through the song list for at least 10 minutes, I jauntily wrote my name and song selection on a slip of paper and brought it to the deejay.

About an hour later, and no one was singing yet. My plan to sing before anyone else was there was thwarted as the room filled with more and more people, all ready for a night of clubbing, while I watched the clock and thought about the fact that I had to get up at 5:15 the next morning. As the time ticked past my nerves built up until even a second rum and coke didn't do the trick. I hung my head, grabbed my husband's hand, and beelined for the door.

That's right, I ran away. Walking back home, I imagined the deejay calling my name like the teacher in Ferris Bueller. Better luck next time?
You'll recall from my May 21 post, that I decided to tackle #15 Bike to Work by biking as often as possible during the months of June and July. Well, now that we've hit the end of July, I'm relatively pleased with the result.

Out of 24 possible commutes, I rode my bike 12 times - a perfect 50/50 mix. That's 43.2 miles of biking. It's not as high as I had originally expected, but most of the driving was due to thunderstorms which were out of my control. So I think I can hold my head up and cross #15 off the list!

In honor of biking to work, I wisely took advantage of the opportunity to procure a beautiful new bike. The first time I carefully locked it to the bike rack outside of the library, I received several comments from patrons admiring it's style and color. And now that I've been riding it regularly for 2 months, I still love it. I occasionally ring the bell randomly for no reason at all except that I have a bell and I can ring it.

I wondered how my bike commuting fit in with others. The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety reports that of all trips to work in Maine, 0.3% are by bike. Of the bike commuters, 18% are women and 82% are men. Interestingly, Montana leads the nation in bike commuting. After bringing so much of the East Coast to Montana where I lived for 6 years, I'm happy that I've brought a little Montana back to the East Coast.

Now that I'm an commuter-biking expert, I thought I should share a couple things I learned:

1. Get a job that's downhill from your house. And then move during the course of the day so that your house is downhill from your job. This could result in living and working in a completely different state by the end of the summer, but trust me - downhill is definitely the way to travel.

2. If you're going to wear a skirt while you bike - and my bike is designed to make this comfortably possible - put bike shorts on underneath. Nobody wants to see the wind blow your skirt up in the middle of the bridge.

3. Don't over pack! Remember, when you decide to borrow a pile of books from the library,  those books will be going in your bike basket. And then you will have to pedal them (uphill because you didn't take my advice from number 1) to your house, and then pick up your bike to carry it (and the books) up the steps and into your building.

4. And here's the one your co-workers will appreciate - bring deodorant.

Those are my words of wisdom. But if you're interested in biking to work, the League of American Bicyclists offers real tips for bike commuting that you might find helpful. But there is one they forgot - have fun!