Langdon Hall Country Hotel and Spa is a magnet for guests celebrating milestone events. Often they are honeymoons or anniversaries, but I’ve been part of many 40th, 50th and upward birthday itineraries. My Barbara Walters question is immediate: “Any revelations, destinations or to-do’s for the year?” (*I am a big loather of the “Bucket List” term—and don’t even get me started on “staycations.”)
I turned forty in September without hoopla, tacky t-shirt, tiara or hangover. It was a civilized and romantic night, soaking in a claw foot tub at the Naramata Heritage Inn in British Columbia. Kim and I shared a bottle of “Therapy” (yes, that’s the name of the nearby vineyard) and she gave me a card with an open-ended plane ticket to anywhere in the world. That’s how life is with her—one giant meringue-cloud dream without restriction or hesitation.
I have plenty of hair-brained ideas (almost daily) about life as a cheesemonger, chocolate maker, cake decorator, donkey groomer and the like. Kim supports all of this, genuinely. I frequently have us flying off to places like Robinson Crusoe island (yes, it’s an actual place) or the jungles of Papua New Guinea. As rational as Kim is, nothing seems far-fetched to her.
Turning 40 was seamless, just a continuance of this life by design. But sometimes, turning a different number triggers a need to focus attention on ideas simmering on backburners (or, taken off the stove completely). Much like New Year’s resolutions, monumental birthdays are another attempt at those champagne-fogged lists of refinement.
This list certainly won’t be a chore—why would I choose to do anything that wasn’t inspiring, feasible or purely indulgent? And, as any self-helpy book would dictate, when you ‘go public’ with ideas and goals, you’re more accountable because you’ve said it ‘out loud.’
So, here’s my Out Loud List. Some of the items have been cultivated for years. Some are ambitious, complicated, others effortless. A few are brand new developments that surprised even me—and that’s the beauty of lists, you can keep refining them until they make sense. I’ve already attempted knocking a few off, but, there have been mini obstacles for some. I’m not deterred!
- Enrol in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Biology course. (*Note: I’ve already attempted this. The textbook required for this course is out of print and is $680US to purchase on Amazon. I love birds dearly, and want to take this course—but, in lieu, will use that $680 to travel somewhere like St. Pierre and Miquelon to see the birds in person.
- Sign up for the Labour Day Novel Writing Contest. This is a no-brainer, but, despite being out of school for decades, the last official weekend of summer makes me so nostalgic that I can’t imagine being cooped up inside, hammering out a book in three days. I know I could do it, but, November might be more inspiring. If the September Labour Day weekend forecast is single digits and full of rain clouds, potential is high that I’ll finally scratch this one off the list
- Run For the Toad. This is a neat race at Pinehurst Conservation Area in Paris (Ontario) held every October. It’s responsible running for a sensible cause that doesn’t receive a lot of fanfare (toads). It’s been on my list for too many years. It’s just a measly 25 or 50km run.
- Watch The African Queen (*roadblock—our local library doesn’t carry this title. I need to visit my cinephile wonderland Queen Video in Toronto). This movie is obviously a cinema staple and, Africa-centric.
- Read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. My grade nine English teacher recently mentioned this as such an essential read, but I keep getting distracted by other titles.
- Read The Snow Leopard. (*roadblock—not available at the library and my sister ‘borrowed’ –which translates into ‘KEPT’ my mom’s copy. Kiley lives in Banff. I will blame her for #6 being temporarily unachievable.
- Go to Saugatuck, Michigan. When we were miniature, our aunt Buffer (long story) had a game similar to Monopoly called “Saugatuck.” We played it endlessly, cross-legged, sucking back cans of Coke with ketchup chip-stained fingers, awaiting our next move. It was only a few years ago that I learned that Saugatuck was an actual place. It’s lakeside and chock-a-block with art studios, quirky cafes and cutesy B&B’s.
- Make a gingerbread house. At Christmas of course, not now. This was always a tradition, but somehow I fell off the gingerbread house wagon.
- Carve a pumpkin! Also, to be done during the appropriate season. I’ve slacked on carving since moving from Toronto—and in the city I paid big bucks for an urban pumpkin ($20). We live close to so many patches now, there’s no excuse. Plus, it’s been a while since I scorched a nice batch of salty pumpkin seeds. (Does anyone bake those without burning the life out of them?
- Sleep in a treehouse. For my sister’s wedding gift, the Torti fam pulled financial forces together to get Kiley and Mark two nights in the “Melody” orb at Free Spirit Spheres, near Qualicum Beach, BC. We always give the gifts we want to receive, right? (Hint).
- Re-create mom’s shortbread. I’ve never attempted my mom’s recipe, but, her shortbread is meant to be eaten on a treadmill or elliptical.
- Make a batch of egg nog. I haven’t done this since I was in Africa, of all places. Even stranger, Jann Arden gave me the recipe. I paid premium for the only dusty bottle of Captain Morgan’s dark rum in Entebbe and used unrefrigerated eggs bought at a roadside stand. I thought for sure I might kill off the entire staff at the Jane Goodall Institute, but, whew, didn’t. It’s time to make a Canadian-grade batch again. Also seasonal.
- Pick strawberries and make jam. When I lived in the beating heart of Toronto, I had such farm and foraging fantasies. We always seem to miss the strawberry season as June is when we travel east to Prince Edward Island (and we miss their season too, which is later). Last year Kim and I actually made mustard pickles (though we didn’t pick the cukes). We’re channeling our pioneer ways, slowly.
- Go to a roller derby match. I’ve been meaning to do this since that movie with Drew Barrymore—Whipit? Let it be clear that I have zero interest in participating—it’s completely barbaric and I still have a bump on my lower jawbone from when a Hostess Munchie chip mascot flattened me from behind on the roller rink. It was Jeff Kellam’s 8th birthday party and I thought my jaw was broken. But, I managed to stifle my tears and take advantage of the free birthday hot dogs.
- Go to the Organic Farmer’s Daughter. In nearby Baden, an actual farmer’s daughter serves up organic fare and it’s as close to farm to fork as you can get. You can visit the farm before dinner and see where everything is sourced from.
- Do one of those Farm-to-Fork events. The price tags are usually steep ($175+), but, you get to walk around some fairy tale farmer’s field in the autumn, or traipse through the woods with craft beer or guzzle wine and make pit stops at gourmand food stations and chat with chefs along the way.
- Sleep in a Lighthouse. Better yet, Kim and I both have fantasies of living in one. Preferably at a southern latitude, not the wave-battered, teeth-chattery east coast of Canada.
- Drink pink grapefruit margaritas at The Diplomat Hotel, Merida, Mexico. My ex-boss decided to ditch Canadian winters forever and the slog of working for other people. Sara and her husband Neil, opened their fancy-pants boutique hotel last year. It’s stunning and a true showcase of their design maven ways.
- Go to a lacrosse game. I haven’t been in over 15 years. I love the aggression in lacrosse. Last time I went was on the Six Nations Reserve with my dad. I sat in a seat that had a giant wad of purple Hubba Bubba stuck to it, and then, consequently me. Those jeans were toast after that game. I almost had to bring the seat home with me.
- Go to a women’s boxing match. Who doesn’t get all charged up watching Rocky movies? Adriannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnne! Sometimes when I run in the winter in the blinding snow, huffing the wind chill, I pretend I am Sly Stallone in Russia, training for the big ring with Dolph.
- Make spaghetti squash. Simple, right? If I can’t do #21 then I should just quit this list now.
- Go ice fishing. (Typed with trepidation. Just like our stay at the Ice Hotel. And, I don’t even non-ice fish, so, maybe this isn’t practical?)
- Try buttertea. There was only one place in Toronto that served this Nepalese-style of tea and it was always closed. The tea is hot, oily, made with gobs of butter and salt. I know, it sounds terrible, but I read a book called Buttertea at Sunrise and it’s been on my mind ever since.
- Increase gin knowledge. And this isn’t some lazy half-arsed excuse to just drink more gin. It’s historic and intriguing.
- Learn more about beekeeping. Bees are so trendy right now. I always loved that the Fairmont Royal York Hotel (where I worked eons ago) had beehives on their rooftop. After reading Michelle Catherine Nelson’s Urban Homesteading Cookbook, I’m two steps (swats?) away from getting a ‘hive nuc’ (nucleus with Queen and drones).
- Make Italian Wedding Soup. It’s a rare thing to find on menus. I haven’t had it since I skipped out of some massage class back in 1997 and a classmate with a car drove us to a little tea house in Dundas that served it.
- Go to a Red Bull Crashed Ice event. Have you seen this madness on TV? The competitors are kamikaze—flying down an ice track on skates to the finish line. We narrowly missed seeing an event in Quebec City and instead watched the track being constructed. Competing in Crashed Ice is something you would do at age 7, when you don’t think about the consequences of not having front teeth anymore.
- Have an official high tea at Langdon Hall or the Empress Hotel in Victoria, somewhere authentic. I went to the Empress, but opted for a beer instead as I had discovered lamb burgers at the Pink Bicycle just an hour before. I’ve seen Langdon Hall’s tea service behind the scenes, but, it’s good to be on both sides, right?
- “Choose a direction to set sail instead of catching every which wind.”
- Go to a drive-in movie. Just for nostalgic sake. We grew up three cornfields behind one. There’s even a drive-in theatre in Aruba.
- Attend a life drawing class. Not as the subject.
- Take my Katniss double (Kim) to an archery class at Casa Loma. I’ve ‘arched’ before, but not since high school phys-ed class. And, summer camp, when half the idiot boy campers would aim at the nearby cows instead.
- Write my African memoirs. “I once had a farm in Africa…” Yes, they’re written, but, all over the years and in various forms—journals, blogs, postcards, beer coasters, porcupine quills, etc.
- Find out how I can be a James Ready Beer Cap Writer. The writing team under these bottle caps is brilliant! It’s Kim’s brand and I love popping the top to see what wit lies beneath. I really want to be a beer bottle cap writer. What a handle.
- Try a cake decorating course. I don’t even like cake that much (except the pear-ginger-molasses one my mom just made, wow! It was like a gingerbread man French-kissed a Bosc pear!). However, I love the cool direction that cakes are going with fondant.
- Check out the Arkansas Elephant Experience Weekend. I’ve already enquired about this course—it’s sold out annually, for good reason. Who doesn’t want to learn all about elephants, suds them up and scrub them down and hand-feed them? In fact, if there’s any sort of ‘experience weekend’ involving an animal of any sort, I’m in. Which reminds me–there’s a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica that’s always eager for husbandry volunteers.
- Investigate what it takes to be a Cicerone-in-Training. I didn’t even know there was a name for beer experts, but, this is the hoppy cousin to a sommelier. It’s the true bar exam.
- Get acupunctured. I’ve subjected myself to sand saunas, volcanic mud baths, Tuina, Chinese cupping, Anma-do…but never acupuncture.
- Go for a beer bath. The Grand Wellness Centre in Brantford has expanded its services to a more beer-centric spa menu. Clients can soak in a beer bath topped up with three pints of Ramblin’ Road Brewing beer and extra hops. And, you get to slug back a pint while you soak.
- Start list (ie. Maybe just delete a few of these wacky notions. Like, am I really going to start cake baking? I made a sorry batch of pumpkin cookies near Halloween that were so dense and wet that even the squirrels rejected them and ate an old foil ball and empty peanut shells instead.
It’s easy to come up with 40 ways to engage and live out loud. Just build stuff, paint things, make things, eat superb things–learn widely, read deeply…I’m still percolating with thoughts—like, must read Farley Mowat’s A Whale for the Killing. Sleep in a yurt. Road trip to Amherst Island to investigate if it’s somewhere we could actually live merrily. We haven’t been to the farmers’ market at Evergreen Brick Works yet or that lavender farm on the way to Paris. Do I need a literary agent? Should I learn more about orangutans? Should we build a bat house?
Of course this list isn’t comprehensive—it doesn’t even touch on my/our travel ideas because that’s a different list altogether and it’s double this one.
What’s on your list? Maybe it’s time you made one!
Last minute addition. #41. Go to Aruba Monday. Check!