Sweat Lodge Ceremony

I few weeks ago I returned to the Golden Wings Center for a sweat lodge ceremony. After glass walking and fire walking there, experiencing a sweat lodge was obviously the next logical step.

According to Angela and Justin, the wonderful owners of Golden Wings: “The sweat lodge is a Native American purification ceremony. The Spirit can pick up some ‘rust’ along the way with the experiences of physical life. This rust is all the beliefs we carry that keep us in fear and judgments. The sweat lodge (Inipi) is symbolic of the womb. By returning to the womb, we leave each lodge with the opportunity to begin life anew. In this sacred experience, we are purified and cleansed. The focus is towards the future: once we let go of that which no longer serves us, we can begin to enjoy the blessings and new beginnings ahead of us.”

The sweat lodge was made of a round wooden frame approximately 10 feet in diameter and was draped with dozens of blankets. In the center of the lodge was a circular pit dug for the hot stones. Outside of the lodge was the alter and ceremonial fire (which was heating the stones).

Sweat Lodge Fire

There were about 25 of us in the tiny little lodge; it was very close quarters. We either sat on towels or directly the ground. I elected for a towel, despite being advised that the dirt would be cooler. I’m just not that earthy. The steam ended up making things quite muddy so I think I made the right decision. Once everyone piled in, 7 glowing red hot stones were placed in the pit. A prayer was said and they closed the flap on the front of the lodge so it was pitch black on the inside. I was not expecting this. The darkness made me really uncomfortable. It was disorienting and I felt out of control.

Inside Sweat Lodge

Once the water started being poured over the rocks the heat became oppressive. I was expecting something like a sauna or hot yoga (which I love), but instead it was like being hit by a train and the humidity made breathing difficult. I was shocked at just how quickly sweat began to pour down my face. I spent most of my time sitting there telling myself that it would be over shortly and that my inability to breath was just in my head. I longed for fresh air. Fortunately, we were only in there for a few minutes. We were in there long enough for some prayers and a song and then, happily, the door was opened allowing some of the heat to dissipate. Some people stayed inside during the break. I, however, chose to get out and stretch my legs and enjoy, what felt by comparison, a very cool 90-degree day.

We then piled back in for round two. This time 7 more rocks were added to the pit and the flap was shut again. I didn’t think it could get any hotter in there, but it did. This time when the water was poured and the steam started to rise it felt a bit like I was drowning. No matter whether I took deep or shallow breaths, I felt like I was under water. Finally, when I just couldn’t sit there an longer, I shouted “door!” This was the signal for them to let me out. I wasn’t panicked or afraid to stay in there, I’d just sat in there long enough to realize that it wasn’t for me.

Sweat Lodge Structure

Some people talk about being “called” to do certain activities. Something just speaks to them and says “today you should walk on fire” or “today you should take part in a sweat lodge ceremony.” Well, that day I definitely felt called to go sit in a refreshing cold creek bed rather than sit inside of a pitch black sweat lodge. One of the things I love most about Golden Wings is that it is isolated from outside world and I can spend a few hours technology free. There was something very peaceful about spending a Sunday afternoon with nature.

Creek Bed

I can definitely say that the sweat lodge is not for me. I’m glad I tried it and got to have the experience, but it wasn’t spiritual for me the way it is for many others. That said, I can’t wait to back and attend more events with my Golden Wings family because it is definitely my favorite place to keep trying new things.

A Night at the Drive-In

This week I experienced two New Things: Letting someone pick a New Thing for me and, as a result, going to a Drive-in Movie.  Early in the week I was informed that I had to leave work by 5:30 (not an easy task) because we had special belated birthday plans for Friday night. I was given no hints, no clues, just that I needed to leave work by a specific time for something on my list.

I love surprises, but I love figuring out surprises even more. Thus, I began my line of questioning.

“Can I wear a cocktail dress?”
“Sure, but you’ll be over dressed.”
“Can I wear cut-off shorts?”
“Do you even own cut-off shorts?”
“Are you trying to figure out what to wear or figure out what we are doing?”
::lying badly:: “Figure out what to wear. I want to dress appropriately.”

I then consulted my actual To-Do List, but there are so many options on there it didn’t help narrow it down. When Friday arrived, I was still contemplating what I needed to wear. When I asked again I was told, “It doesn’t matter, nobody other than me is going to see you.” Once I found out we were driving an hour to get there, my first thought was, “Great, he is going to take me to a field and murder me, I better find someone to feed my fish.”

Much to my delight, I was not left for dead in a ditch. Instead, we arrived at the Stardust Drive-In Theatre in Watertown, Tennessee.

Drive in Theatre

Our first order of business was loading up on snacks. They actually had a veggie burger, which surprised and thrilled me. And of course we got the obligatory popcorn, sodas, and (my favorite) Skittles. You have to show up pretty early to get a good spot and to avoid the concession line, but that gave us plenty of time to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather as we ate.

At the drive in

The drive-in had a double feature: 22 Jump Street and some Tom Cruise movie that I’ve never heard of. We left after the first movie because it was getting late and we had a long drive back. 22 Jump Street was hilarious and I highly recommend going to see it (especially if you liked the first one). I was particularly impressed with the sound. In order to hear the movie, you turned the radio to the associated radio station. Because of the acoustics of the car, it sounded even better than in the theatre.

Drive in Movie

I can’t wait to go back. Next time we’ll be totally prepared with a picnic basket, blankets, chairs, and whatever else we need to partake in the full drive-in experience.

An Aerophobe Learns To Fly

Over the last year and a half my mission to try a New Thing every week has led to a lot of exciting adventures. Many of them have involved pushing past my fears and doing things that make me uncomfortable. One of my biggest fears is flying. I hate it. I really really hate it. Logically I know I am perfectly safe, but at the first sign of turbulence I become convinced that the plane will suddenly become aware that it is a 500,000 pound metal death machine, that gravity exists, and then plummet to the Earth.

I’ve been trying to work on my fear. Last year I went skydiving for my birthday. This was counterproductive. There is something about being dragged out of an aircraft the size of my car that seemed to only reinforce my fear. A few months later I tried hang gliding. This yielded better results. This is likely because we were dragged behind a plane and not actually in one.

I don’t like to be held back by my fears. Since knowledge is power, I decided to celebrate my birthday by taking a flying lesson. When I told my friends my plan a surprising number of them replied, “like, in an airplane?” When I asked what else I could be doing, one friend said he thought I’d be more likely to don a flying squirrel wingsuit than willingly get in an aircraft. He had a valid point.

I woke up the morning of my birthday and drove to Nashville International Airport for my lesson with Nashville Flight Training. As I drove past the airport I could see the commercial jets taking off. This immediately led to nausea and elevated blood pressure.

Cessna 172

When I arrived at the hanger I met my pilot Erick. I was expecting some “this is how planes stay in the air” training, but we went straight to the flight. We flew a 1974 Cessna 172M Skyhawk II. I don’t know too much about it other than it had 160hp, a propeller, and red velour seats.

About to take off

Erick let me take the pilot’s seat. When we got to the plane he said that I wouldn’t just fly the plane, but I would do the take off. That was an uncomfortable amount of responsibility. Especially considering the number of flight instruments, buttons, switches, and knobs.

Cessna Instruments

He gave me the basic rundown how the plane worked. There are pedals that control the breaks (when pressed together) and the rudder (when pressed individually). The rudder controlled the direction of the plane on the ground. Steering with my feet was really bizarre and surprisingly hard. The plane has to follow the yellow painted line on the runway and I struggled to keep it straight.

Take off

When we were ready for take off, Erick said that he would handle the acceleration, but I would be the one lifting the plane off of the ground. When the airspeed indicator reached 60 knots (69 mph) I was to pull back on the yoke lifting the plane into the air.

As we accelerated down the runway my hands went into a death grip on the yolk and I kept my eyes on the airspeed indicator. When the guage hit 60 I slowly pulled the yoke toward me. The wheels lifted off of the ground and we were on our way.

Aerial view of Nashville 2

Having the controls in my hands was a total head trip. I was convinced that I was going to do something horribly wrong. I knew Erick wouldn’t let that happen, but all I could do was imagine accidentally doing something to the controls that would send us spiraling to the ground. This was only intensified when we flew below a cloud which resulted in (very minor) turbulence. But for me, it signaled that the end was inevitably near.

Aerial view of Nashville

The airport isn’t very far from downtown Nashville, especially when you aren’t stuck in traffic. We headed towards the city to practice some turns. I didn’t enjoy that part. I really just want to get in a plane and go straight. That would be my ideal plane ride.

Erick showed me how to determine whether the plane was level with the horizon. Obviously you can check visually, but if you can’t see the horizon there is a turn coordinator to show whether the plane was parallel to the ground. I don’t think I took my eyes off of it the entire flight. I was really excited that it existed. I think commercial jets should be equipped with them in the seat backs.

After a few turns, Erick showed me how to use the rudder to turn the aircraft. But frankly I was so freaked out by what I was doing already that I told him I wasn’t comfortable adding to it.

Pilot selfie

Finally, Erick took back control of the aircraft so I could take some pictures. And with it came utter relief. When I let go of the yoke my hands were cramped from my white knuckle death grip.

Happy flying

Erick was a lot calmer than I was. He even took time for a mid-air selfie. He guided us back to the airport and ended with the smoothest landing I’ve ever had in a plane (thank goodness).

I’ve definitely eliminated “not being in control” as a factor for my fear. Even when I was flying the aircraft I was terrified. Once Erick took the controls I felt much better. Well, better. My fear is firmly based on the fact that humans were not intended to take part in the miracle of flight. That said, I will continue to work towards not letting my fear control me, one terrifying flying death machine at a time. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll take another flying lesson.

Halotherapy: 45 Minutes in a Salt Cave

I first heard about salt caves when I saw a Groupon for a halotherapy (salt therapy) session at Serenity Salt Cave. I was skeptical about the purported benefits, but I don’t think that is an acceptable reason to avoid a new experience. Halotherapy takes many forms and dates back to at least the twelfth century. The odds are you’ve had some form of salt therapy before, whether it was a epsom salt bath, or a saline inhaler to help with allergies, or perhaps gargling with salt water. 

Salt Cave

The cave (a room in an office building) is filled with 1,200 pounds of Himalayan salt. The walls are lined with giant blocks and the floor is covered with bath salt sized granules. It felt like walking on a rocky pink beach. 

Salt Lamps

I was the only person in my salt therapy session, which was lovely. If you know me, you know how much I value my alone time. I’d do very well on a desert island (except maybe for all that survival stuff). After I got settled the lights dimmed and soft music played overhead. The room was lit by 3 salt lamps, a few lamps on the wall, and flickering starry lights on the ceiling.

Salt cave ceiling

Perhaps it was in my mind, but the air tasted a bit salty. A halo generator kicked on every few minutes which pumped fine particles of salt into the air. Apparently, as the salt is inhaled it is supposed to dry out the sinuses and respiratory tract, clean out your system, and kill bacteria. It is reported to help with allergies, COPD, bronchitis, and other illnesses. 

I’m probably not the ideal candidate because I don’t really have respiratory issues. I didn’t really feel any differently after the session. However, regardless of the effects, I found the session very relaxing. I liked being alone in a quiet beautiful space for 45 minutes. I have another session remaining from the package I bought, so I will be back. I’ll likely bring a friend along next time to get a second opinion.

Iroquois Steeplechase

The 7 months of the year when we can’t eat, sleep, live, and breathe football, the South must turn to other sporting events to pass the time. When spring comes, we turn to horse racing. This weekend I attended my first horse race, the 73rd running of the Iroquois Steeplechase. Steeplechase isn’t just a sporting event, it is a social event. It is a cultural experience.

Before Steeplechase

There is a very specific dress code for Steeplechase. The guys wear pastels, bow ties, and searsucker. The girls where heels, sundresses, and giant beautiful hats. The bigger and fancier the hat the better. Since it was my first time, my friend Lillian let me borrow one of hers for the event. (Thanks Lil!)

I went to Steeplechase with my friend Justin, the one who incited my near meltdown over Martin Sheen last year. We started the morning with brunch and mint juleps at our friends Clay and Minnette’s house.

Steeplechase Group Photo

It’s hard to fit 19 people into a photo under normal circumstances. It gets especially complicated when half of the people in the photo are wearing giant frilly hats.

Steeplechase Boxseats

We had box seats, which meant we had a wonderful view of the events and a great place to just sit and relax with friends. Our very first stop, however, was in the Paddock Club for some refreshments. I started with a Jack’s Honey Lemonade, the official cocktail of the Steeplechase (complete with a tiny Jack Daniel in my drink).

Steeplechase Drinks

Being one of the biggest social events of the year, it seemed like everyone in Nashville came out for it. I first saw my friend Will, looking dapper in pastels.

Steeplechase Will

I ran into my friend Katie out in centerfield. (You can’t see the rest of Katie’s dress, but it was swooshy and beautiful!). Speaking of centerfield, it was like one giant SEC tailgate. There was cornhole, tents, music, and it seemed like a total blast.

Steeplechase Katie

I also got to see one of my favorite people in the world, Chancellor Carol McCoy, dressed head to toe in pink.

Steeplechase Hats

Everybody looked absolutely perfect.

Steeplechase Best Dressed JPG

After the 4th race they had the annual Steeplechase stick race. This is essentially a bunch of adorable kids running as quickly as possible on stick horses. They ran right on the racetrack, which has the best maintained grass I’ve ever seen.

Steeplechase Stick Horse Race

Believe it or not, there was some horse racing going on too. We had seats right in front of the finish line, which gave us an amazing and ridiculously close view of the event.

Steeplechase Horse Parade

A steeplechase is a jumping race. Instead of a flat race like the Kentucky Derby, the horse jump fences, bushes, and obstacles. Seven races are held throughout the day, but the last one is the big event. It was incredibly exciting to watch Divine Fortune (aptly named) cross the finish line to win the Iroquois Steeplechase.

Steeplechase Finish Line

On the way home, 9 of us piled into Justin’s car, which was clearly built for 5. It was impossible to get everyone in the photo, so this is just the back 2 rows. (Our awesome hosts Minnette and Clay are on the left).

Steeplechase Ride Home

We had a lovely day with perfect weather and wonderful people. Earlier in the week there was an 80% chance of rain predicted, so we felt very lucky to have blue skies and sunshine. While I’m sad I didn’t get to break out my new pink rain boots, I am certainly glad that I didn’t need them.

Renaissance Festival

The week I stepped back in time and attended my first renaissance fair. My lovely friend Loren (from the corn maze and distillery tour) accompanied me to the Tennessee Renaissance Festival. The fair takes place in 1566, so of course Queen Elizabeth was on hand to welcome the attendees.

Renaissance Festival Queen

I was surprised just how many people were in costume. It was really impressive. There were minstrels and other colorful characters roaming around. I expected only the vendors to be dressed up, but attendees also joined in the fun.


We took a break from the day to sit and watch the royal joust. The knights were in full armor, which I can only imagine is extremely hot during Tennessee summers. They did a ring tilt (knocking a ring off of a bar), sword throwing, and your traditional combat joust.

Joust 2

After the joust I tried my hand at knife throwing. I figured that there are few chances in life to throw cutlery without reprisal so I should take advantage of the opportunity.

Knife Throwing Instruction

All of my throwing attempts were extremely unsuccessful.

Knife Throwing

The knives bounced right off of the wall. Loren had better luck. She managed to lodge one into the boards. That said, she also threw one so hard that it bounced off of the wall and came flying back at her. Fortunately, the net protected her from potential leg loss. There was also a booth set up for axe throwing, but all things considered, we decided to sit that one out.

Renaissance Festival Show

There were countless shows to enjoy as well. We sat down for a bit to watch this one, but admittedly we were so busy catching up and girl-talking that I can’t tell you a thing about it.

Tennessee Castle 2

The coolest part of the day was touring the castle. Yes, there is a castle in Tennessee. Castle Gwynn (“white castle”) has been a work in progress since 1980. Mike Freeman, the owner, had a dream to live in a medieval castle and designed and built it himself.

Tennessee Castle

Castle Gwynn is modeled after a 12th-century Welsh border castle. It has 2 7-story towers, a brick cloister, a 450-year old portrait of Queen Elizabeth, and a life size hand carved horse. I wish we got to tour the entire building, what we saw was pretty incredible.

Inside Tennessee Castle

Overall, it was just like a regular fair, but with people using words like “verily” and wishing you a “good morrow.” Instead of riding roller coasters you could ride camels and instead of bouncy castles there was an actual castle. And of course, I gorged myself on the typical fair foods. Yum.

School Bus

Speaking of New Things, Loren has never ridden a yellow school bus before. Yes, you read that right. Loren has never ridden a school bus. I had to take a quick picture of her running gleefully towards it to go to the castle. Many commemorative selfies were taken on board.

Hitting a 70 mph Fastball and Driving a Go-Kart

As part of my journey I attempt to try one new thing every week to broaden my horizons and, more importantly, to just have a good time. However, sometimes work and other life events get in the way. Last week, work took over and I wasn’t able to mark anything off of my To Do list. To make up for it, this week I did two new things: Hitting my first baseball and driving a go-kart.

Hitting a 70 mph Fastball
I’ve never been very athletic and I’ve never had an interest in playing sports. Those two things combined mean I’ve never hit a baseball. Since that is something most 8-year-olds have likely accomplished, I thought it was time to change that. So this weekend I visited the batting cages with my very own hitting coach.

Hit first baseball

I started off with a 35 mph slow pitch to ease into things. I missed the first several pitches, I was either swinging to high, too low, or too late. Then, finally, it happened! The ball actually came in contact with the bat and it went flying back toward the machines. When I hit my first baseball I was absolutely ecstatic and expressed my joy the only way I know how: by jumping up and down and screaming.

Baseball stance

I learned that hitting a baseball really hurts your hands. Two days later my palms are still sore from the force of the bat hitting them each time it came in contact with a ball.

After trying 35, 40, and 50 mph pitches, I eventually worked my way up to 60 mph. This is when I get a little nervous about the speed of the balls flying at me. My general technique, as demonstrated below, was to try to keep the balls as far away from me as possible.

It turned out that I had good reason to be nervous. One of the balls popped off of my bat and sprung back to hit my ankle. I am still unsure of the laws of physics that allowed that to happen. All I know is that it hurt like hell.

Baseball  bruise

Once I worked my confidence up with the 60 mph pitches, and walked off the pain of getting hit, I wanted to try the very last cage: a 70 mph fast pitch. While my initial goal was to just hit a ball, at any speed, I couldn’t walk away without at least trying the fastest machine.

I was absolutely shocked when I hit the ball. It was not something I imagined possible. While I may not have the best technique yet, I can at least say that I’ve hit a 70 mph fastball. With a little practice . . . look out MLB!

Driving a Go-Kart
After the batting cage, I decided to take a ride in a go-kart. How I’ve made it this far in life without driving one, I don’t know. We were at Kart Kountry outside of Louisville, KY, which has the longest go-kart track in the world. It was the ideal place to try it out for the first time.

Go Karting

The track was 1.5 miles of twists and turns. My general technique was to drive as quickly as possible and never break. Probably not the best idea. It was a beautiful day, so the place was absolutely packed. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the track wasn’t as congested and it was easier to get past the slower people. Or at least there was someone out there waving blue flags so I could get around the random 13-year-old who was swerving all over the road. I’d love to go back when there aren’t as many people around and I can really let loose and and test out the track. Driving a go-kart, of course, has only increased my desire to drive an actual racecar.