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The Time We Went Skydiving

Me, falling from the sky

I don’t have a bucket list. The majority of things I want to do are impulsive, either done immediately or quickly forgotten. That being said, the idea of jumping out of a plane has never appealed to me. For one thing, I’m afraid of heights. Footbridges freak me out. Adding 14,000 feet to the equation is just terrifying. For another, I’m simply not that adventurous. Roller coasters are great, but I’ve never felt the need to push my luck much more than that.

That changed this past weekend. For an assortment of wonderful reasons celebrating one of our own, a group of my coworkers organized a trip to Skydive Atlanta. With the combination of a great price and peer pressure encouraging me, I made reservations for Xavier and I to join. For the three weeks leading up to the dive, I vacillated between apathetic and nervous. I felt there was no real reason to ever jump out of a plane. I wondered why I would put my life at stake. I wondered who would take care of my dog if something happened to me. These questions kept me from getting excited.

And then the designated weekend came, and we drove out to the airport and prepared to leap from a plane at 14,000 feet. To add to the adventure, it was an incredibly hot Georgia day in late June. Ground temperatures were measuring up to 108 degrees Farenheit. I was overheated and sweaty: nowhere near enthusiastic. After signing our lives away, all we could do was wait for the load schedule to be announced. This took a couple of hours. We were able to play foosball for a while during the lag time, which was a fun distraction.

Xavier and I waiting in the  hangar for the jump

Finally, training began. I’d heard horror stories of six-hour ground schools, but the session was remarkably quick and put me at ease. It took ten minutes, tops. We learned about the parachute, the harness, and how to position our bodies during the jump. Once I heard that there was a secondary parachute that activated automatically at a certain altitude, I resolved to relax and let my instructor take care of things. As my friend Marie said, “You could throw a dog out of the plane with a parachute and it would land just fine!”

Then we suited up, which was remarkably awkward. We had dressed for the heat, expecting to be provided with jumpsuits and safety gear. But the weather was so extreme that the staff decided we would jump in whatever clothing we were wearing. Skydiving in a tank top and shorts sounded like an awkward proposition. The harnesses were comfortingly complex, with tons of safety straps and buckles, but had the tendency to dig into sensitive areas. Everyone walked bow-legged to the loading zone.

Once we were in the plane, we had a moment to relax while the instructors did the work. Each instructor harnessed their jumper, having us sit in their laps for a moment to make sure we were literally attached at the hip. It was awkward, but the jokes and laughter sort of calmed everyone down. Everything still felt surreal. I was relaxed, except when I looked out the plane’s window at the patchwork of Earth below and thought “I am JUMPING out of this thing!” Then I was a little scared.

When we reached 14,000 feet, things began to move quickly. The plane’s door opened, filling the plane with a deafening rushing noise. Then a solo diver jumped. Then the camera guy. It’s a weird feeling to be on a plane that’s slowly emptying out. It’s not like watching people get out of a car and stretching out, knowing you have more space to stretch out.

One of the worst feelings of my life was watching Xavier jump first. Seeing your boyfriend disappear from the plane at 14,000 feet is creepy to say the least. At that moment, I went from cautiously relaxed to full-on-freaking-out. I tried to think about how much fun my boyfriend was having in that very moment, but was immediately distracted by my instructor jamming his hips into me from behind to scoot us up the bench. It was almost our turn to jump.

Things happened fast. We positioned ourselves in the doorway, and I saw the farms and fields and trees below us. Everything looked so far away. I felt the instructor’s taps on both shoulders, which meant it was time to lean out. At this point, I don’t remember if we leaned or if I arched my back the way I was supposed to: all I know is that I was screaming a terrified-but-thrilled obscenity as my feet left the floor of the airplane.

That first second was insane. I remember seeing the ground below us, and then looking to my right as the plane dove out of sight. And then we just fell. Warm air blasted my face and I tried to keep my hands up like a flying squirrel. The fall was exhilarating. There is no other word for it. It felt like floating and flying all at once, especially if you forgot the rapidly-approaching ground below. All of my fears melted away as I enjoyed the rush. There was no time to assess the landscape, or how much closer it was getting, and then suddenly the parachute was open. It was comforting to be scooped up by something much more powerful than myself, but it jolted a little. The fall slowed down. “That was a little rough,” my instructor yelled into the wind.

(Time for an aside. Ladies, if you’re skydiving, before you go up, please pay careful attention to where your instructor places the chest strap. If you happen to be well-endowed in that area, make sure the strap is placed comfortably. It won’t bear any of your weight when you’re attached to the parachute, so you’re going to want to make sure it’s not in a position where it will press uncomfortably into your boobies during that portion of the jump. If this happens, it will definitely distract you from the awesomeness that is skydiving. Be prepared).

My instructor let me steer the parachutes for a minute. Then he took over, confirmed that I didn’t get motion sickness, and we did some spinning. It was like riding the best roller coaster in the world, except the ground was rapidly approaching. We landed on our feet, taking just a few steps to regain equilibrium. And then we were done. The whole jump took maybe four minutes.

Would I skydive again? Yes, absolutely. Despite not having any interest in it beforehand, the experience was so amazing that I am definitely going to try it again at some point. We decided that you’d need at least two jumps to really appreciate the experience. The first one is so amazing that you can’t take much in. By the second, I think you’d be able to enjoy the surroundings and notice a little bit more. We wished we’d scheduled two jumps in the same day.

Immediately after the jump

So, that was The Time We Went Skydiving. I don’t know what we’ll do next weekend, but it probably won’t be as exciting.

All photos were stolen from my former coworker, and now friend, Matt.

green garlic casserole recipe

I was really excited when the Piedmont Park Farmer’s Market opened up this past weekend. Last fall, the market was something of a Saturday morning ritual. We’d wake up as early as possible, haul the dog into the car, and park the car as close to Piedmont Park as we could get. Once at the market, we’d share a cup of iced almond coffee from our favorite vendor and buy a little bit of whatever produce looked good. Even little Riley got to sip water and sample dog biscuits from one of the stalls.

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed at the farmer’s market, much more so than at a grocery store. When you walk into the Publix or Pathmark closest to your house, there’s tons of fruit and vegetables to peruse. While the offerings might look shiny and inviting, it’s mostly smoke and mirrors creating an illusion. Have you ever gotten strawberries in November? They’re watery and tasteless. They were picked unripe so they’d hold up for transport, gassed with ethylene to give them color, and then shipped across the country for you to buy at a ridiculously high price. Yum.

On the other hand, at the farmer’s market, you can be reasonably sure that everything came from the ground very recently. If you see strawberries for sale, it’s because they’re actually in season. Therefore, they are probably delicious. This makes me want to go nuts and buy everything I see.

But it’s best to not go nuts, especially when it comes to fresh and highly perishable produce. My goal for this season is to keep my purchases limited to staple items and a couple of things that I’ve been craving, or want to experiment with. At least on this first weekend I was able to stick to this. We left the farmer’s market with a relatively light load: eggs, strawberries, kale, and green garlic.

I was intrigued when I saw something that looked like somewhat like leeks, but had a thicker bulb at the end. The vendor told us it was green garlic. When we cut into the bulb at the bottom, he said, pieces of garlic would be inside. I’d never seen garlic looking like anything but a bunch of cloves bound by papery membrane. In the spirit of adventure, we brought some home.

I brought it home to investigate. The greens on top still looked somewhat like leeks. I sliced them off and saved them for later use.

Next, I removed the hairy root end. What remained looked like a big clove of garlic – instead of papery skin, it had a thick oniony covering.

Cutting into the head yielded whole cloves of garlic, nestled within the layers.

Of course I tasted the baby garlic to compare it to the cured garlic that we see in stores. It was surprisingly delicious. It definitely had a garlicky taste, but it was milder, sweeter, and not at all pungent. The next question was, what should I cook with it?

My significant other has an extremely sensitive nose and is quick to show it off. Whenever I eat garlic out of his sight, he knows. Even if I brush my teeth and chew tons of gum, he can always tell that I had falafel for lunch that day. While this is charming in its own way, my top priority was to take advantage of the garlic’s delicate flavor. I decided that I would make pesto. It was a breeze: the garlic, basil, walnuts, parmiaggiano, olive oil, salt, and pepper went for a spin in the food processor. I used more garlic than I would usually would, and the resulting pesto was delicious. Its flavor was bright, garlicky but not overwhelmingly so. Furthermore, it went completely undetected by Xavier, so that was fun.

With the rest of the fresh garlic, I decided to riff from a New York Times recipe. The author originally envisioned a gratin fashioned from beet greens, green garlic, and barley. A bit of Gruyere cheese was to deepen the flavor. Mine used farmer’s market kale and arborio rice, and mozzarella. Sometimes you just have to use what’s already in the fridge. Regardless of the changes, this dish was amazing. I’m excited to obtain beet greens later at some point – I’ll make a gratin the way Martha Rose Shulman intended.

I’m really excited that the farmer’s market is open again, and I can’t wait to experiment with more new vegetables as spring and summer continue. And for the record? The strawberries that we bought were the tastiest that I’ve ever had.