thirty before thirty

On my twenty-eighth birthday, my friends gathered at Liberty Tavern, passed around my phone, and created a “thirty before thirty” list for me. Like a bucket list… but more manageable and not contingent on completion before death. My friends know me well. There were some fabulous items on my list. My friends are also goofballs, so there are some things on my list that are just not. going. to. happen. Here’s looking at you, Mile High Club.

Now my due date (aka 3-0) is just a month away, I figured I would look back and see how I did. Here’s the list in its entirety and some of the amazing experiences I had fulfilling it. Or most of it, anyway.

1. Horseback Riding. Went with my friend Donald to a horse rescue out west past Leesburg. Our guide was a grizzled ex-military guy who a serious love of his horse. Riding, I felt like I’d discovered another side of myself. I am definitely a horse person and this summer I plan to go back and volunteer with the horses.

2. Sing in public. I am strictly a car/shower singer, but Mary and Mary Margaret got me to sing karaoke in San Francisco this past summer at The Mint. This place was dinge-tastic and with the girls, I became a part of the ‘regulars’ crowd. This one chick KILLED Evanescence to the point where I wanted her to just keep singing for us. Mary’s rendition of anything jazz, to this day, gives me tingles.

3. Crow Tattoo. I tried real hard guys. Found a tattoo artist in Brasilia who came highly recommended. Unfortunately, he spent the entire World Cup traveling around Brasil following their National Team.

4. Learn to use my DSLR. This will have to rollover to my next list. I plan to start when I visit Croatia next month.

5. Baseball game. Sara and Maureen took me to a Nats game and opened my eyes to the fun that is baseball. I even got a ‘First Baseball Game’ certificate that they usually give to little kids. Have been back a to see the Nats a second time and got to see a game out in San Francisco. Not my favorite sport to watch, but the atmosphere is amazing.

6. Bourbon Trail Tennessee. This is still on the list, and will be happening within the next year. Damnit.

7. Motorcycle license. Not only did I get my license, I bought a bike! Mo. This summer, I convinced my brother to take the class with me. We had a blast and both ride now.

8. Visit Montreal International Jazz Festival. Not yet, but still a goal.

9. Mardi Gras. Having been able to swing this with my current work schedule but I’m salivating a bit just thinking about ALL THE FOOD there for the tasting.

10. SXSW. Not only did I go, I did South-By like a local. Sara and Alex bought me my armband for my twenty-ninth birthday. Spent three days trudging around Austin in the rain like a damn happy fool. Discovered MS. MR. which has become a personal favorite.

11. Run a 10k. November 2014, I ran my first post-surgery race in the Marine Corps Marathon 10K. Larry met me at the finish line with his huge professional camera and snapped just about the least flattering picture of me. The experience was incredibly motivational-running with veterans who were wounded, there was no way I was going to slow down. I felt like I owed it to every military member I’d ever served with to keep going. Of course, I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards, but it was more than worth it.

12. See Coldplay live. I think Coldplay is avoiding me.

13. Perform 10 Unassisted Pull-ups. I got to five. That’s good enough for the time being.

14. Be a Maid of Honor. One of the coolest things I’ve ever done as a friend. Never been happier for Sara and Alex. But damn, did the wedding have to be outdoors in the middle of July?

15. Drive Pacific Coast Highway. Douglas and I flew to LA and spent 8 days driving up the coast, stopping in Big Sur, San Francisco and St Helena. The most gorgeous drive I’ve ever taken, by far. But hiking the Redwoods and discovering Venge Vineyards were the highlight of that trip. Each moment was so peaceful and surreally beautiful.

16. Buy a Handgun for Oneself. Check. Proud owner of a Glock 42. It’s kind of like Mo… my size, but still could do some damage. Larry took me to his favorite gun shop and then helped me do a thorough cleaning when the trigger was a bit stiff.

17. Train Fang. I sure tried.

18. Hike the Inca Trail. Got so far as to look up guided tours but wasn’t able to make the timing work. After seeing friends’ photos of Peru, I still want to do this.

19. Jump out of a completely good airplane. Courtney badgered me for not asking her to go with me, so I guess we’ll be making that leap next summer.

20. Join a boxing gym for 1 year. No idea who put this on my list, but boxing is not really my thing. I wouldn’t mind trying out Jujitsu, however.

21. Have a Threesome. Hahahahahahah. No.

22. Swim with Sharks. This was actually a freebee. Sara and I snorkeling with some nursing sharks in Key West after high school.

23. Tight Rope Walk. Oh man, forgot about this one. I’ll need to find a place to do some acrobatics. Love the feeling of free-falling and swinging around. There is a trampoline gym I have been dying to try out.

24. Ride an Elephant. Nope. Probably will never, not sure how I feel about how the elephant are treated in these scenarios.

25. Ride a Hot Air Balloon. Think I’d rather just jump out of a plane. At least I’ll have a parachute?

26. Go Surfing. I looked for a spot out in Venice Beach in LA last summer, but the surf looked way too choppy for a beginner. Instead, I want to try paddle boarding this coming summer.

27. Join the Mile High Club. See above answer to “Have a threesome.”

28. Cook Osso Buco. I’m guessing Tarra threw this on here. Sorry, love. Haven’t done it yet, but I’m sure I will if it shows up in my Blue Apron!

29. Hike the Appalachian Trail. Have definitely hiked parts of it. In 2014, the Babilyas plus Courtney and Fang trooped out to Shenandoah on a gorgeous fall day. I watched Larry and Courtney do matching handstands on a summit and comforted Fang who was scared shitless of the view from the top.

30. Run a Half Marathon. Given my knee’s reaction to the MCM 10K, I think this is a little bit outside my reach. For now at least. I can always continue to work toward building my strength back up.

31. Participate in the Running of the Bulls. My friends are ridiculous.

32. Watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I think I missed this one. Next Christmas?

33. Guest Bartend. Also took care of this one in the war zone. My name is carved into the ceiling above the bar.

34. Sleep under the stars. Sleep under the stairs. My friends are creepy. While I’ve never been camping, I did technically fall asleep on a pool chair in Atlanta on a layover to Brasil. Thanks, Scott for not leaving me there overnight.

35. Go Fishing. Hmm, don’t think I could. Hate to watch anything suffer. Nearly drove off the road trying to avoid a crossing possum last night.

36. Sip Malbec in Mendoza. This is so awesome and I should have visited Maureen in Argentina to make it happen. One. I love wine. Specifically Malbec. Two. At one point in 2013, I tried very hard to go live in Buenos Aires.

37. Play with Penguins in Antarctica. Ditto to the above. I saw photos of Rhonda and Maureen running a race in Antarctica. Those ladies are BOSS.

38. Run the La Champenoise Drinking Half Marathon. Just the thought of this is making me queasy.

39. See the Northern Lights (with Sara). Sara, when are we going to Alaska??

40. Ride a Tandem Bicycle. Who are you people? A mental image of me riding a tandem bike, with literally anyone, is beyond hilarious.

41. Snowboard Naked. There are two problems with this. One, I prefer skiing by far. And two, hahahahahahah. No.

42. Tomato Fight at Pamplona. I was actually going to do this last year! And then my travel buddy wasn’t able to get away for it. What a bummer. I was really looking forward to pelting total strangers with tomatoes. Who wouldn’t want to do that??

Ok, so looking back… my friends also cannot count. Thirty! I said-thirty-people! Each time I crossed something off my list, I felt this serious sense of accomplishment. Not only that, I had friends with me each step of the way. I loved sharing the silly, the awe-inspiring, the excitement with the people who had all of this adventure in mind for me. When I figure out what I want my next set of life goals to be, I’ll be sure to include you guys. Even whoever put the threesome on my list. But don’t get any ideas.

at home & abroad.

Christmas Eve. Fang and I are snug on my couch. Safe in America and only thirty minutes away from the homestead. Such a luxury, to be able to see all of my loved ones, in person, on Christmas tomorrow.

It hasn’t always been so for us, and I feel a little guilty in my contentedness thinking of my friends around the world who will not be with family this holiday. This life of service we’ve chosen truly requires sacrifice. And what other time than the holidays to most feel the sharp stab of longing for the comforts of home and loved ones? Life feels punctuated by all the moments you missed.

Looking back on all of the holidays and special events that were just slightly off –because of our family’s duty to Country–you know, they were some of the most memorable and special for it. Nothing will make you appreciate your family and home more than being away from it during a time entirely devoted to the importance of Family.

There was the Christmas in high school when Dad was gone for months, including Christmas, in order that my parents could afford to buy me my first car. A 1992 green Mercury Cougar. With a red bow on it fit for a Lexus. That thing was a tank and I loved it. But I have to admit, at the time in my teenage angst, I was a teeny bit resentful of his absence. Not until I was an adult, serving my own Christmas in a war zone at the age of 23, did I full comprehend what my parents gave up to provide the best life possible for their children.

At 23, the year I missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, my Mom’s birthday, my brother’s graduation from college, and so many other moments. I wasn’t without love. The family we built out there on camaraderie and pure survival saw us through the holidays. My job was basically to serve as the mom for all of my coworkers. Duties included jerry-rigging decorations and nagging the guys to not forget to write to their moms/wives/girlfriends/children.

That year for Christmas, my parents sent me a camera so that I could document life. Knowing that I have loved taking photos since I was old enough to understand what a camera was and how to operate it, this was a fantastic gift. Or at least it would have been. Mom sent it through the mail system early and I put the wrapped present under a hand drawing of a tree in my hooch and dutifully waited until Christmas morning to open it. The box was empty! I laugh now, but then, I cried like a baby. Getting a gift from Mom and Dad was the closest thing to normal that I had, and it was off. Mom to the rescue; she went back to the store, probably Target, explained what happened, and I got the camera about a month later. I still have it, even if I’ve upgraded a few times since. That thing went through a lot to get to me.

A week later, tragedy struck. How do you celebrate the coming of a new year and a clean slate when you’ve just lost friends to senselessness? There are no words. Twenty four hours after, I was faced with a decision: go ahead with the New Years “party” I had put together in the MWR or cancel it. I went with something in the middle. God knows why, but I’d found a six inch mirror ball in a storage closet and rigged it on string to drop at midnight. I had our cooks make platters of “American” food and had hoarded enough Johnny Walker to toast with. We used the occasion to mourn and move on because there was no other choice. Life and the rest goes on and there is no stopping.

Fast forward to a year later. I decide to surprise my family for Christmas. I worked it out with a close friend of mine to pick up and drop me off in a giant gift bag that I could hide in and get left on the door stoop. Stupid, yes. Cute, absolutely. SURPRISE. My first flight is significantly delayed and I am told that I will likely miss my connecting flight in Paris. Because, Africa. My heart sank and I felt a desperate urge to Just. Get. Home. I ran through Charles de Gaulle and made my flight. My luggage, not so much. Despite the nighttime arrival, my friend was kind enough to drive me to Target to get a change of clothes and a tooth brush. The gifts I’d ferreted in my suitcase wouldn’t make it that year. But the look of utter disbelief on Mom’s face when she looked down the stairs and saw me-priceless. Air France managed to find and return my luggage back a couple months later.

At 25, I was nearly fired over a special event. My little brother was graduating boot camp in mid-January so we postponed Christmas so that we could all be there. I would fly home from North Africa and head down to see Larry at Paris Island before we all went home and celebrated. And then a month in advance, a project comes up that I cannot miss. No, what I was not going to miss, was another graduation of his. At the end of the day, what am I going to look back on and regret-missing being on hand to open doors for a Big Wig… or missing the moment of pride in seeing my little brother become a US Marine? Easy decision for me. Ultimately, I won that battle, which was made moot when said Big Wig cancelled said project at the last minute. We froze our assess off hoping to catch a glimpse of Larry running by in formation and then hugged his skeletal frame in an auditorium full of other families ecstatic to see their newly minted Marines.

So tonight, I am thinking of my dearest friends all over the world. Sacrificing and serving so that I can sit here with Fang on my cozy couch in America. We’re sending you all hugs and licks. I’m also thinking of my family. It still surprises me every time I realize I can just hop in the car and go see them. Especially during this season. The holidays are special and even if you can’t be with family, they are still out there, thinking of and loving you. Waiting until that next time they get to hold you hard enough to make up for being absent on that arbitrary date which the calendar tells us is special.

Happy Christmas and Merry New Year, everyone.