TURNING THE TIDE 2.0

Dear all,

Hello! It has been some time since I last sat down and wrote a Blog. I regret not taking the time to write, because so many special things happened over the summer, and I wish I had kept some sort of record on TURNING THE TIDE. To make up for the all the posts I didn’t write, I’d like to take a moment to tell you a bit about my summer, this blog and myself.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m from NorCal and I’m a literary journalism major at University of California, Irvine. Yes, I’m a writer, borne from my love of reading. I am a freelance writer for two startup companies, and plan to move into public relations this fall. This is my final year of college. I’m really excited to use my potential to do good, but I’m definitely nervous at the same time!

Summer highlights:

– Landed my dream journalism internship at the UCI ANTrepreneur Center. I learned the importance of networking, how to listen and how to talk to anyone. This internship helped me find my first public relations opportunity.

– Went on a backpacking trip with my uncles, in NorCal. Want to read more? Check out my article. 🙂

– Had a great time with my friends at the beach on multiple occasions. Having a car is wonderful!

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When I started this blog, I had trouble pinpointing exactly what interested me and keeping readers engaged. I would write about some pretty random stuff. Then, I branched out into writing prompt style posts, which got a bit more traffic. I think the most recent stage was when I wrote about study abroad in Ireland.

Now, I am going to try something new! My new theme makes my blog pop, and motivates me to write engaging content. There’s something deeply satisfying in straying away from a traditional look. Besides the theme, the content will change. From here on out, the blog will focus on photography, student life, careers and current events. Occasionally I will do a writing prompt if I need the practice. I think my new direction will keep me on my toes, since I’ll need to read the news, search for interesting subjects, etc. That said, I’m going to post at least once a week, on Mondays.

To all my past readers, thanks for reading this post and following my blog. I appreciate your patience, and I’m sorry to have left you hanging this summer! I look forward to seeing what you’re up to and will do my best to maintain a presence here on WordPress.To first time visitors, I hope that we can connect. If one of my posts inspires you, please don’t hesitate to comment on it. I’ll take a look at your blog, too.

Cheers,

–Jennifer

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Jennifer Jopson: Lessons From Travels Abroad

My guest blog for Jered on Live Declared.

Escape to Skerries

Dear readers,

My apologies for it being a month since my last post. I appreciate your patience. Finals were stressful (the good kind of stress) and I wanted to prepare as much as I could. I survived my semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland, so now I just have to wait for my grades! I’ll elaborate on study abroad in a future post, I promise. I’d love to share a final set of experiences with you before I do.

Last Saturday was my first day of summer. I was so excited to go to Skerries in North Dublin I couldn’t sleep much the night before. Two months before I had read about Skerries in my guide-book, and while it didn’t go into detail about the town, it did mention Skerries Mills. Also around this time the international and Erasmus student society I was a part of on campus gave us the opportunity to do a clean up project in Skerries. I wasn’t able to participate, but once I started Googling Skerries I became more and more intrigued. I learned that they hold an annual Traditional Music Weekend there, for three days in May filled with dance and instrument workshops in the morning, street music in the afternoon and concerts at night. My host mom took one look at the lineup and said I had chosen well. Clearly, this was a cultural opportunity I wasn’t about to miss.

I decided to plan a trip out to Skerries once my finals were over, as a reward for finishing strong and as a chance to see another seaside town before I left for the States. (I leave this week. It’s bittersweet). My Irish friend Nwanne and I couldn’t have picked a better day to go. The journey was simple, as I took the DART (Irish Rail) towards Drogheda, and the route led me directly to Skerries. The weather was quite balmy, the sky a pretty blue mixed in with a few clouds. I talked with a very pleasant elderly gentleman on my walk into town. He seemed dedicated to the music festival, as he had been there before and knew which bands at the pubs I shouldn’t miss. He’d listened to all their music as well, which made him 100% more of an expert than I was.

I had to laugh at myself soon after when I went on a wild goose chase for a tourist office and a public restroom. Signs in the town pointed in the opposite direction of these facilities, which was at once very frustrating and humorous at the same time. After heading in the wrong direction for the monument (I was one street over), I finally met up with Nwanne. It was so good to see her, as she was also recovering from our chaotic finals schedule. When I asked her what she wanted to do, she let me decide what we’d do that day since this was the end of my study abroad experience. She was up for anything I wanted to do, which I really appreciated.

The first place we went to was Skerries Mills. There are three mills at Skerries; two windmills and a watermill. It is famous in part because it was one of the few mills with both wind and waterpower. I found them marvelous structures, and I desperately wanted to take pictures of them to seal it forever in my memory. We went on a nice tour of the Mills and really enjoyed it. In the huge watermill the guide demonstrated how workers would turn grain into flour, their pulley system to haul the bags of flour up to the next floor and then powered up the mill to show us how all the parts worked together. I thought it was pretty neat. Then we got to tour the inside of the Small Windmill. It was drafty inside, and we could hear the wind howling outside (it was not actually that windy outside, but inside the mill sound became more amplified). Anyway, it was my first time in a windmill!  I liked the Small Windmill better than the Great Windmill because it had a more rustic look and the red door with a fence surrounding it was a nice touch. When we got closer to the Great Windmill, however, I loved how it seemed to effortlessly work with the landscape. The thing that amazes me about these mills is the back-breaking work the men did everyday to earn a living. To think that they faced many trials in order to make the mill more efficient showed their dedication to work. Their jobs were very dangerous and the monotony, I assume, made it difficult to feel a sense of accomplishment.

At the Small Windmill--built in 1500
At the Small Windmill–built in 1500
Hands down the most warm and beautiful day in Dublin!
Hands down the most warm and beautiful day in Dublin!
The Great Windmill of Skerries
The Great Windmill of Skerries–built in 1700

After we’d snapped several selfies and soaked up the sun, Nwanne and I headed back into town. We went to South Beach and sat down in the sand. We looked out to the islands there and had fun watching children chase their parents around in circles until we were nearly dizzy ourselves. We wanted to make it to Keane’s Bus Bar by 5 PM for live music, so we skipped the harbor and went to get dinner and wait.

Nwanne and I at South Beach
Nwanne and I at South Beach

Keane’s Bus Bar has the kind of ambiance that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the early 20th century. The seats were cushy, the tables tiny and several paintings of the Dublin area hung on the walls. We ate our meal with gusto and settled in for some good music. While the band that played was fine, the guitarist was the only one who sang for us. Still, the harp, the fiddle and the Uilleann pipes made the music legitimate and quite colorful. The gentleman I had talked to earlier sat at the table closest to the band, and when he saw me he explained that we had missed a fantastic traditional music session at 3 PM–apparently the whole town went to that one! While I was a little sad, I did not regret any moment spent in Skerries and I happily listened to the music playing. The three small children trying to out-dance each other at the pub stole the show! The band enthusiastically invited them to “play” the Uilleann pipes. Spending time with my friend and with the kind people of Dublin made my day. On my next trip to Ireland, I’ll make a point to return to the quiet and peaceful town of Skerries.

The band at Keane's Bus Bar
The band at Keane’s Bus Bar

 

Got fish? Visit Howth!

With its history dating back to a viking invasion in 819, Howth is one of Dublin’s main out-of-city attractions. Howth sits north of Dublin Bay, and the views from Dalkey and DĂşn Laoghaire harbors in South Dublin are particularly neat. You can reach Howth by DART (Irish Rail) from the city centre in about 30 minutes.

My friend Anika and I got a great first impression of the village as soon as we stepped off the train. We went into Howth Market, a farmer’s market with mouth-watering bread, sweets and other goods. Anika’s delicious bread had cheese, tomato sauce and jalapeño in it. We really liked seeing the array of shops and restaurants near the habour. Howth Harbour was wonderful! We walked along the west and east piers and saw a seal pop his head out of the water for a minute. It was so refreshing to feel the wind blow into our faces and to breathe in the salty, slightly fishy air. We watched kayakers paddle out to Ireland’s Eye and white sailboats floating far off at the edge of Dublin City. There are few things that are more relaxing than sitting pier side and watching the waves.

While we each had a map of Howth with us, we weren’t sure how close the sites in town actually were, and nothing sounded that intriguing. Anika suggested that we walk for a bit past the harbour, which I thought was an excellent idea. As we started our climb we passed beautiful homes and looked back to see views of the village now and then. We hiked up Howth Head, which is a sprawling peninsula that you could only dream of covering completely if you had the proper footwear, food and water to keep you going. Our boots got muddy but we didn’t mind–running shoes just didn’t seem ideal. I got tired early on mostly because of lack of food and hydration, but Anika seemed to have an endless supply of energy! I liked hiking with her and I’m glad that she motivated me to press on. Plus, the *views only continued to improve the higher we climbed. We figured that we were close to the turn that would lead us to a car park and back down to the village about an hour and a half in. We were right, and we didn’t have to walk far past Howth Summit to find a warm pub to refuel in.

We headed back into town and sat down on a bench to contemplate our trip and rest our feet. We drank some warm cocoa at the first cafe we had seen outside the train station to end the day. We both agreed that while the harbour area and the coastal views from Howth Head were amazing, the village itself wasn’t as beautiful and special as we thought it would be. My advice is to visit Dalkey over Howth, as there is much more to see and it is far nicer as a town. Still, Howth is worth seeing.

One of the things I learned about myself from my trip to Howth was that I don’t have to always travel alone. Here in Ireland I’ve planned most of my sightseeing and so far I haven’t minded doing my own thing.  My hope in this is that I get to develop an awareness of Dublin without limitation. Sounds lonely, doesn’t it? Sometimes it feels that way, but I like to meet people outside of my friend circle and learn about the things that I find interesting here. Having a friend to share yesterday with meant a lot to me. It’s hard to make friends when you’re at a new school and have deadlines to meet, but it is great to have a friend who takes the time to get to know you. Hopefully I can see Anika a few more times before the term ends!

Note: Hover over the photos to view captions, click to view larger

*The view changed rapidly. One moment there was mist over the next 100 meters ahead of us, and then it was clear. No time to take off your jacket!

Parisian Getaway

As I sit here listening to jazz, I’m content to reminisce on my two-day trip to Paris this week. It all went by so fast, but my friend Sangeeta and I made the most of it. Our goal was to see the main sights, try a few pastries and get an introduction to one of the most famous cities in the world all within our budget. Did we succeed? I think we did.

While Paris is a lively hub and has beautiful architecture, to me it is too large to love it all. The Louvre and the occasional street corner are special, but in general there are too many tourists and shopping districts. Also, it seems like most of the large buildings (hotels and apartments) try to outdo each other and don’t succeed, as they look similar and thus lose their magnificence. Since spring has just begun, the flowers are sparse and the trees are still dead. If I came later in the year, my impression of Paris would probably be different.

The Louvre, MusĂ©e de l’Orangerie, Eiffel Tower and the many delicious desserts were my favorites. Each site has a unique feel to it: the Louvre is stately and very well composed; I loved the endless rooms and its warmth, Monet’s waterlilies in the MusĂ©e de l’Orangerie mesmerized me and I noted the individual, muted brushstrokes and how they contributed to the vitality of the entire composition. The Eiffel Tower was grand and close to what I expected–the walk from the Metro to the tower itself was suspenseful, because it took five minutes to get there and it seemed like we should have been there already. Though we caught glimpses of the tower during the day, seeing it at night and going all the way to the top was a treat. It was worth the wait. Finally, the food: I tried the chocolate-filled beignet, glacĂ© and the Nutella and banana-filled crepe. If I could study gastronomy in Paris, I would!

As for the French, I was continually surprised by their hospitality and kindness. We talked to two nice people who helped us navigate the Metro and around the Palais du Luxembourg. Out of the four restaurants we went to, only one owner was truly nasty to us. (We sat down for a moment to consult our Metro map and the owner kicked us out of our outdoor table when all the other tables were empty).  Overall, though, I found myself saying more “mercis” and “bonjours” than I thought I would.

The next time I visit Paris I plan to sit in one of the many gardens for a few hours and enjoy the sun. I will spend time walking around St-Germain and the Latin Quarter, two places I’d want to see more in-depth. I’d want to do day trips out of Paris, and have a picnic (maybe do a hike?) I also wouldn’t mind buying inexpensive gifts for friends, drinking chocolate, eating pain au chocolat and a huge baguette, and window shopping for fancy clothes and shoes. I’d like to make the effort to learn a few French phrases and pronounce the words right, too. Someday I’ll make it happen.

I won't forget the smell of those crepes.
I won’t forget the smell of those crepes.
The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience. — in Paris, France.
Eiffel Tower. The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience.
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid — in Paris, France.
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries — in Paris, France.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries.
The Louvre
The Louvre
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

I’ll leave you with some other photos of the trip. There are so many things to see in Paris, and if you go I recommend staying for more than two days. Take time to enjoy the city and indulge your senses.

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Belfast: A Divided City

What one can appreciate about Belfast is that it doesn’t lay claim to any one thing. It has a walkable city centre and all the modern conveniences a tourist could want. Impressive architecture pops up in the least likely of places–the Titanic exhibition near the port (next to the cranes and the storage sites), the huge mall called Victoria Square which is lovely lit up at night and too posh during the day. There is a deep, reverberating sadness about the place because of its violent history, particularly the Troubles. In short, Belfast is not a cookie cutter of a city.

I spent two days in Belfast and while I didn’t love the city I was certainly curious about it. I had heard that the Black Taxi Tour was a must, and so I made sure to go. For two hours my small group and I experienced the rougher parts of town in the safety of the British black cab. Highlights of the tour include Shankhill Road, Falls Road and the Peace Wall. The Shankhill and Falls Roads are Protestant (Loyalist) and Catholic (Unionist) areas, respectively. Large murals and small communities make up these areas, and the Peace Wall separates the opposing sides. Now, I am no expert at all with Northern Ireland’s history, but I do gather from what I’ve read on the subject and from the conversations with Irish people and on the Black Taxi Tour that the Protestant and Catholic conflict is not merely religious. It’s political by nature and though the violence is not what it once was 30 years ago, there are still tensions and riots. Our cabbie and tour guide was excellent and gave a pretty even view of both sides of the conflict.

After the tour, some of us decided to get lunch at the Crown Bar in the city centre. The Crown Bar is Northern Ireland’s most famous pub, and one of my goals was to get inside and eat a delicious meal there. Unfortunately we didn’t anticipate a 40-min wait to sit down at an upstairs table so we left and went to Brennan’s Bar across the street. It worked out perfectly! Not only did we have a huge, cushy table to sit at and interesting conversation about the rules of rugby, but just before we got our food we saw four Scottish men come in wearing kilts. Priceless moment. Brennan’s wasn’t the first pub we went to that weekend; the night before we did a pub crawl with the whole student group on the trip–so around 100 other people. I’ll never forget my conversations with my new friends, the locals and the dancing they convinced us to do!

To make the trip even sweeter, we went to Carrick-A-Reed Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle and Giants Causeway, all in North County Antrim. Fantastic weather, too. I wasn’t so sure the rope bridge would even be open, since the wind was blowing hard earlier in the morning. After bouncing around on a wobbly bus for over an hour, I was grateful to stretch my legs and walk on the windy trail up to the rope bridge. As far as rope bridges go, this one takes the prize! It’s one thing to see pictures of something but quite another to experience it for yourself…there was no way I was going to miss it. The Irish Sea bashes against the rocks here, and it can unnerve some people who look down and see the action. But I was ready and pleasantly surprised to find that the bridge was quite sturdy and that the view didn’t scare me. I marveled at the bridge’s simplicity, the oddly shaped grass on the side of the cliffs and the threat of the elements. A person standing on that bridge is vulnerable whether they are comfortable standing or not. It’s a thrill, really. Dunluce Castle stood in ruins, and the most interesting thing about it was the number of people who fell down on the slippery grass on the way to snap a picture. Thought for sure I would fall, but I didn’t. Giants Causeway was incredible! I liked the hike–a series of hills, stairs and then the paved road that led to the Causeway itself. Sea foam sprayed up in big clumps in the first few minutes while we stood and watched at the shoreline. The waves rushed in, powerful and white. We got to climb all over the famous hexagonal, basalt rocks and wonder how they got there in the first place.

All in all, it was a special weekend here on my trip abroad. If you decide to go to Belfast and see North County Antrim, you will learn about an important influence in Irish Republic history and explore the rural beauty of part of the United Kingdom.

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Just Another Day in Dublin

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Did school really start last Monday?

University College Dublin is foreign to me. There are a few things I’m still adjusting to–the campus layout, getting comfortable with the library, finding the best places to eat. I find that most days I feel lonely because I don’t have my friends from back home to hang out with. I wouldn’t mind even sitting in the library and not talking; just being with friends is what counts. I also feel continuously aware of my international student status–look, newbie alert! So far my classes seem stimulating and challenging. The scariest part of school is that I am attempting to pass six upper division classes and get credit on my home campus. This requires a new sort of studying: going through a reading list and selecting what I think is the most beneficial. The “research focus” is such a wonderful idea, in my mind, as it encourages self-initiative. In the U.S., professors guide their students through the course every step of the way in terms of exactly what they’ll teach (the good ones, anyway). Lecturers and professors abroad give suggested further reading lists to their students and expect that the students will prepare themselves. I guess it’s sort of a mixed bag; you get more independence in Ireland but that means that you have to come up with a study strategy, and fast.

It’s OK. Besides the Newman Building, where I have all my classes, I spend the rest of my time in the library. T_T

I signed up for the Belfast Trip today with an international society so that’s making progress, I guess. Time to make friends and put myself out there.

TODAY’S LOWLIGHTS:

-Missed UC Irvine. No microwaves in the common dining areas? Come on.

-The bitter cold almost strangled me when I cycled home.

-Felt some anxiety and frustration about school and living away from the States.

TODAY’S HIGHLIGHTS:

-Sat in between two friendly Irish girls in my Millennium Development Goals class.

-Visa Debit Card came in the mail.

-Did a decent amount of studying and sat with my friend Sangeeta for a few minutes.

-Made Angie’s Clam Chowder recipe! (Minus the clams, but now I know where to buy them). Shrimp made a perfect substitute–I chopped the ingredients, put them into the soup pot and prayed that it would turn out. Fifteen minutes later the soup was thicker, the potatoes cooked well and the cream I put in made it look delicious! Simple, filling soup, and the smell was fantastic. Trying new recipes is so fun. Cooking is art, and when you make something new it is rewarding. Do browse Angie’s WordPress Blog! She writes memoirs from her life and the recipes she creates from her own garden tie in well. Seems effortless, but I know she takes time to work on her Blog. 🙂 Also, her food photography is better than mine!

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Goodnight! As always, thanks for reading.

Where the Wind Blows

A piece I wrote for my first literary journalism writing workshop. It is narrative nonfiction. Please feel free to share your thoughts!

Traffic roared by OEX Sunset Beach on a Saturday morning in May. Bright yellow paint adorned the shop, with blue trim designed to look like waves. Signs reading “sales & service” and “kayak & stand up paddle” hung on its exterior. A bright array of rental kayaks sat stacked to the side of the parking lot. Newbies and veterans of the water frequented the place. At Sunset Beach, kayaks and paddle boards rested on dark brown sand near the translucent blue water. The grayish skies were cloudless, the wind light.

At 10 AM, two girls standing by the kayaks at the beach awaited their first stand up paddle boarding lesson. With flip-flops kicked off, their toes touched the soft sand. The white Starboard paddle boards waited for them at the shoreline. The thought of mounting their boards made them nervous, but their instructor, Jerry Katz, didn’t give them much time to doubt. Jerry, 69, was 5’10”, muscular and tan. He stood apart from the crowd with his full head of wavy brown hair and a mustache to match. His searching eyes were the color of honey. Around his close friends you could see his face break into a wide smile. Retired now, he taught paddle boarding to his friends on weekends and let them stay out as long as they liked. He enjoyed watching them learn. Once they paid the shop to rent a board, he’d teach them for free. The convenience of renting right at the beach and choosing a new route each time made this place great. He had told one of the girls the other day that paddle boarding was easy in Huntington Harbor. She wouldn’t fall in the water on his watch—his students, with the exception of maybe two out of forty, stayed upright the entire lesson. Dressed in a gray tank top and shorts, he demonstrated to them the correct way to hold the black paddle, with one hand at the top and the other ten inches below. He waded into the water and gripped one of the boards. He gestured to both sides of the upper-middle part of the board.

You will move your board out into the water and sit with your knees on the board. If you feel like you are going to fall you can always go to your knees. It’s safe. Then you’ll want to slowly stand up on the board and unbend your knees until you can balance. Don’t stand up until you are moving forward in the water. The hand that is on top of the paddle will steer you into the direction you want to go.

Jerry intended to give the two coeds from UCI good instructions and a tour. Jerry watched Jennifer push-off into the water. Holding the paddle in her left hand and the board in her right, she climbed on the board and sat on her knees. The board shifted slightly but didn’t tip. Working the paddle into the water, she began to steer. He saw that she wished to stand, so he gave her the go-ahead. She slowly rose. Her friend Jazmin mounted her board as well. They hadn’t fallen in yet. Good. Both of them were exactly what he’d expected—they had never paddle boarded before, and their nervousness showed. His cousin Michael, who always accompanied him on his tours, cruised slowly up ahead on his board. Jerry watched as Jennifer practiced the paddling motion again.

You’re holding the paddle incorrectly, Jennifer. Hold it with the paddle going this way. She heeded his advice and gripped the paddle so that it faced the opposite direction, with the bottom shovel-like part coming towards her. She began gliding amidst the water using two long strokes, and in her excitement neglected to steer to the right with her left hand leading. Other hand on top. A pretty standard mistake, it happens. After awhile they’d get acquainted with the flow. Since a large white boat loomed closer, Jennifer steered away into the neck of the Huntington Harbor. Several styles of nautical equipment and white houses with leafy foliage sprouted from the docks. The girls’ nervousness started to wear off once they got the hang of it. After ten minutes away they went.

The one direction you don’t want to look is down. Your eyes will steer your board forward. You don’t want to go straight; your board will be moving a little to the left and a little to the right.

Jennifer maintained her long, rhythmic strokes in the water, alternating from left to right every three strokes as she passed by houses, docks and boats. The houses blocked her from the wind, serving as a measure of protection. Jennifer sought solitude as she paddled. Jerry didn’t mind; his students could do what they wanted. Just like he does.

Solitude finds Jerry when he is out hang gliding and surfing. To be Jerry is to respect nature. Nature is the earth, wind, sun, air we breathe, the animals down to the smallest insect. It’s all encompassing, the natural order of the world. Jerry finds meteorology so interesting that he’ll put you on hold to watch the weather report. You’ll never understand nature but you try to. You have to be in good shape to hang glide, because the higher you go, the more your oxygen intake decreases. You have to realize life is short and that it is your responsibility to get what you want out of it. You know what you want. The stakes are high if you are inexperienced, and naïve about where you fly. Sometimes even experienced fliers didn’t make it. He knew that well. He watched his good friend Buddy crash into a 1,500 ft mountain. Buddy broke his neck from the fall. He tried to get up and move around, but his spinal cord severed and he could no longer breathe. Since Jerry is experienced he doesn’t see the risk at all, just the potential for a future flight. His extreme confidence carries over to his independent thinking: learning and refining skills takes time and commitment. If he wants to surf, he can surf, and if he wants to hang glide, he can hang glide.

Today is a good day for flying here at Cerro Gordo Peak, Jerry thought on a Sunday morning in 1977 when he was 33. July 24 dawned with active and unstable conditions in the Inyo Mountains of California’s Owens Valley. Patchy, cumulous clouds filled the cerulean blue sky, with airflow coming out of the southeast bringing moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and California. Jerry’s chances to set a world record for the furthest distance in a hang glider looked promising. 100 miles wouldn’t kill him. He drove up the dirt road in Cerro Gordo, a silver mining town which means “Fat Mountain.” It featured one of the most productive silver mines in California, its ore hauled to the Los Angeles area. Sometimes Jerry would look for ore samples here. This morning, he went to see Barbara on the way to the peak. She lived in a notoriously drafty, 1,800 square ft, 120-year-old wooden house with a tin roof that gleamed when it caught the sunlight. A slender 5’3” woman in her late 60’s, with short, grayish hair, Barbara owned the property that would serve as his launch site. She always asked Jerry to sign her guest list. She’d give him water in return for his signature and make conversation with him.

At 1:30 PM Jerry tensed as he stood looking at fifty feet of cliff, which veered off abruptly into the abyss. He waited for the wind running south to north up the Owens Valley. Then, running with his glider, he leaped off the cliff, finding his first thermal—a column of warm rising air. To stay in the thermal he began flying in tight circles by shifting his body one direction to the other, steadily gaining altitude. The rapid beeps of his variometer affirmed his rate of climb. He had thermals on the brain because he needed height at this crucial stage. He could not rely alone on ridge lift from the wind that blew against the mountains. As he moved through the air, drag slowed him down. The faster he travelled the more drag he encountered, something he’d need to avoid. He understood the rough terrain and its tendency to create turbulence for a flier. Beginners might consider it hard to anticipate the weather conditions and act appropriately, as the unstable air off the peak meant wind blasted from different directions. But Jerry wasn’t a beginner. The wind whipped around him, his muscles relaxed and he concentrated on his next steps.

He caught several more thermals, climbing ever higher, and looked out at the magnificent landscape. The Inyo Mountains, 400 ft below him at times, beckoned and he’d descend just under the peaks. Other familiar landmarks included Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, also Owens Dry Lake and Lone Pine. As he gained altitude and distance he left the Inyos, moving towards the White Mountains, splotched with pockets of glistening snow along the uneven ridgeline and slope. A greenish tinge on the mountains intermixed with earth in various shades of chocolate, sepia and sandy brown. Sharp rocks jutted out in spurts, confirming that one mishap in midair could result in a fatal accident.

Jerry had flown Cerro Gordo many times before. The 7,800 ft peak served as a launch site for him and his fellow hang gliders. All of them had tried for months to be the first Class II glider pilot to soar cross country over a hundred miles. Pioneers like Jerry flew cross-country by starting at one point, thermalling up to14,000 ft and then continuing onwards. He called cross country a new concept for gliders who had gone through a rigorous trial and error process by the manufacturers to expand their capabilities. He had other records here, too: Friday’s maximum altitude of 20,000 ft and Saturday’s Altitude Gain of 11,482 ft from the lowest point of his flight to his highest point. Now he aimed for distance. He planned to take off from Cerro Gordo and fly just over 100 miles and come in for a landing at Janie’s Ranch in Nevada. With two years of experience, he trusted his knowledge and acquaintance with the area.

For Jerry, leaving the ground and soaring comes first. After that, cross-country is the goal—pushing the envelope. He will tell anyone it’s man’s dream, and you need nothing except a glider. You can hike your glider up a hill and just take off. Jerry’s investment in hang gliding comes from his idea that he is utilizing nature. He craves the feeling of flying because he is surrounded by nature. The camaraderie that naturally follows the sport is a big part of it, too. Hang gliding is part of life.

Jerry depended on his Pacific Gull Alpine competition glider. It was capable of a 10:1 glide ratio, which meant that from one mile up he could travel ten miles forward. The 16 ft. long wing had a patch of cornflower blue in its center, followed by patches of white and navy blue wingtips. A triangular structure called the control frame hung suspended through the middle portion of the wing. To control the glider, Jerry shifted his weight in the direction of the intended turn and used the shift control bar to move backwards or forwards.  His glider came equipped with a harness and a white parachute, which he wouldn’t need to deploy unless he had to make an emergency landing. He had never used a parachute in his life, but he carried one out of safety. For protective gear, he wore a medium-red colored powder suit to combat the freezing temperatures beyond 15,000 ft, special sunglasses to prevent glare, ski gloves and a black helmet. Instruments attached to the glider included an altimeter that would measure his approximate height and air pressure, a citizen band two-way radio and a sealed barograph to record his altitude and times on a chart from takeoff to landing. He obeyed the regulations for a glider pilot interested in setting records.

After Jerry bought a kit and put a glider together in 1973, he took a single hang gliding lesson from Bill Bennett Hang Gliders on the beach at Playa Del Ray. He had talked to Bill Bennett and Bill Moyes, men who helped popularize the sport by adapting NASA engineer Francis Rogallo’s Wing into manufactured flexible wing gliders. Like many other beginners, Jerry the first time made it 15 ft off the ground and flew for 100 ft. Escape Country, near El Toro, became his flight territory. He practiced on 500 ft hills and advanced to the 1,300 ft hills once he felt comfortable. He moved onto flying off mountains after he had mastered Escape Country.

At 10, 12 and up to 14,000 ft, Jerry discovered stronger cloud development. This related to the thermals rising. The clouds cast an ominous dark blue and purple hue on the land below, as they crept ever closer to Jerry’s glider. He called it “overdevelopment”, the perfect condition for a thunderstorm. This thunderstorm developed by updraft, the same as thermals, and overdevelopment arrived from the south due to monsoon flow. Fifty miles in, Jerry flew over Black Mountain Peak, and then crossed the White Mountains. Westgard Pass, a crucial point of his flight, lead out of Big Pine. The battle against the wind wasn’t terrible because there were no westerlies that day, so his passing over it left him a 50/50 chance to fly further.

What is this airflow going to do? Will I find lift? Am I going to hit some thermals? What are the clouds and conditions like? Where are the people I started the flight with?

At 16,000 ft the pilot of a white sailplane running parallel to Jerry, a bit below him, warned him of a thunderstorm building up behind him. The pilot dipped a wing in the air to him, and pointed back to the gathering clouds. Jerry acknowledged him with a thumbs up. For half the flight Jerry had been scratch-flying, trying to work his way up higher in light lift. He pressed on, though, getting to use his skills. As lightning flashed far in the distance while thermalling, a pair of golden eagles helped him get through the last stretch of the flight. He passed the 95 percent mark as he crossed the state line to Nevada.

The thunderstorms brewed in the distance as Janie’s Ranch came into view. A rush of adrenaline kicked in. His world record stared him in the face. The timing—perfect. Jerry didn’t worry about setting this record or not, just thought of it as an incredible opportunity. While at a steady 18,000 ft, with the ability to continue fifty miles more, he didn’t want to push it. Better to work his way down before he got sucked up into the storm. He spotted a landing field with an orange wind sock on a dirt strip and started doing aerobatics, which caused him to lose altitude quickly. 7,000 ft to go…6,000…5,000…4,000… 3,000…2,000…1,000… The ground rushed closer to him, Janie’s Ranch getting larger, the wind whipping his hair. He turned into the headwind and pushed the control bar in, tipping the glider nose upward to slow his progress. He went straight down, like a parachute. He sought control without blowing backward in the wind. His glider stalled, allowing him to land correctly on his feet. An all-around easy landing, thanks to the gusts of wind. Four and a half hours in the air—so worth it. The 103-mile world record…was his.

It had been a stellar day to get lucky and he felt elated that he made it without crashing. A stoked Jerry felt even more excited about going home. No time to sit and contemplate his record here. He had work tomorrow, after all. A road wound its way back to Lone Pine, a hundred miles away. To get there, he’d need to hitch.

He dubbed Janie’s Ranch, an off-white, five bedroom house a “gentleman’s club with benefits.” Janie herself wondered why he landed in front of her property and would he partake from them? He deflected the question by telling them he had a glider to get home and that it wasn’t interested. Then, a chubby, bald man smelling of alcohol sporting glasses and gray side burns offered him a ride back to Lone Pine, the hang gliding base. Jerry didn’t think twice. He folded up his glider, setting it in the back of his ride’s dump truck. He didn’t mind that his new road buddy enjoyed drinking a half gallon of Red Mountain wine while he drove. From Nevada they went through Bishop, Big Pine and Independence in just over two hours. Proud and tired, the world record holder welcomed the return to civilization, happy to rest his sore legs for a bit.

Jerry didn’t make a big deal out of getting the record, not realizing so many people thought differently. He got asked to interview for articles and go on television and he rejected most of the offers because popularity didn’t interest him. Rather, spending weekends with friends doing a sport he genuinely liked motivated him. He appreciated the physiological aspect involving endorphins and rising serotonin levels and felt the same thing after surfing a great wave, and skiing a challenging mountain.

Three hang gliding manufacturers wanted him to fly their gliders. He tested their gliders and got a little money, but not much. People in the small hang gliding community shook his hand and knew his name. He also ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records. It took five years for someone to break his record.

He remained the same old Jerry, though not quite as driven. The Chuck Yaeger of hang gliding had lowered his intensity level from 100% to 75%. He continued to fly cross country and competed in numerous competitions, but then transitioned into recreational hang gliding.

Jerry went into private business selling building material, divorced, raised a son and taught hang gliding. At age 69, he’s still learning. He volunteers at the LA County Arboretum and does crime analysis for the LA County Sheriff’s Department. He’ll tell you about teaching third and fourth graders from different schools around the county about the different plants and other wildlife surrounding them. Pointing out lakes and waterfalls to kids who have never laid eyes on them before makes him appreciate nature all the more.

He favors free form landscaping, which is apparent when you visit him and see his garden. This spectacular 20-year-old garden is a certified wildlife habitat: it lays claim to over 375 species of plants and 50 different trees. Real order does not exist. You catch what you miss the first time, as if the magic of the place swallows you whole. Among the kumquats, loquats, sweet lemons, pomelos, cherimoyas and Hawaiian plants, to name a few, nestle Buddhas and lawn ornaments. Jerry feels tranquil here, and when he waters he sees what is changing in nature.

36 years after setting the hang gliding world record, he’s lining up things to do in his busy schedule: biking, surfing, teaching stand up paddle boarding, watching lectures from The Great Courses, visiting with his family and trying to meet women. He still hang glides, though he doesn’t feel like he has to fly all the time.

In Huntington Harbor, Jerry stayed back with Jazmin, who paddled slower. The pair talked about family and rested once in awhile, taking it easy. Jennifer kept paddling faster and faster, her rhythm mechanical and fluid. She propelled herself forward by raising her arms and pushing through the down stroke as if she were slicing the water with great force. She should be going faster since she felt comfortable and Jerry’s cousin Michael kept her company. Get your butt back to the side and don’t get hurt, he thought as he observed Jennifer’s tendency to edge into the middle of the channel. He wanted her to mind the boats and yachts coming through the center and to stay out of their way. Keep to the right side where the boats are. If there aren’t any boats coming, you’re fine.

As Jennifer passed by Gilbert Island, Jerry and Jazmin caught up to her. Jerry pointed. To your left is Trinidad Island. You two are doing very well. At this point they could loop around Trinidad Island and return to Sunset Beach, but they asked to continue. The strength of the learner mattered to Jerry, and he felt the girls still had enough energy. Most people he taught felt they had had a sufficient tour at this point and turned back.

That boat there is a Duffy. A small, electric-powered boat with navy blue trim hanging from its top moved towards them on the other side of the harbor. They caught the boat’s wake with their boards pointed straight into the waves. Jennifer stopped paddling for a moment to judge how stable she was. After taking on the first wake, the girls anticipated and enjoyed the small waves from boats that came their way. They managed well because they were taught to point straight and not perpendicular into the wave. The group passed large groups of kayakers and paddle boarders. They called to each other every time they peered down into the 20 ft deep water and saw golden brown shore stingrays darting beneath them, creatures Jerry usually didn’t encounter when he paddle boarded here. Little white birds hunted fish. A Styrofoam 7-Eleven coffee cup floated in the water.

They took a right and continued down the channel until they saw the Pacific Coast Highway and a large bridge. If they floated beyond the bridge they could get fined for being in a no-paddle zone. Jerry told them to paddle around the orange and green shoal markers a hundred feet ahead, cut across the wide channel and stick to the right side where the boats were. Here the current picked up into what he called a two-for-one, meaning that every two strokes equaled the effectiveness of one back in calmer waters. You are exercising your core muscles now. And see that thing up there in the air? What’s that? How cool is that? A paraglider, Jennifer answered, seeing the orange and red parachute in the sky. Yes, that’s right. Wish it was me, Jerry thought.  Jennifer sped up after hearing Jerry’s instructions, determined to cross the channel before the two approaching boats came closer. Jerry helped Jazmin learn how to paddle a certain way—she had to turn the steering mechanism and her board into the headwind, paddling harder in the strong crosswind of the channel. She wasn’t using enough energy. Floating near a green bank, he watched her struggle against the wind and then gave her instructions to correct the problems. Jerry yelled at Jennifer and Michael to wait up when he was within earshot.

Passing Broadmoor, they took a right away from the main channel and went through some canals. Then they cruised by Admiralty Island in a narrow section of the harbor. They saw cars going by in the residential area away from the harbor on their left. Off to the right was a long row of waterfront property. No two houses were alike. Jerry liked paddling at a slow pace; he exercised often and felt no fatigue. The girls’ energy levels dropped, something entirely normal. The energy they generated came through their arms and into the core of their bodies, easing down into their heels. Their heels pushed the boards forward, keeping them stable.

In the final stretch back to Sunset Beach the girls gained more confidence than ever as they steered through the water. Jerry led the group towards the rainbow of kayaks. Go in straight to the shore, real slow. As the board hits sand, step off to the side. To prevent herself from crashing into Michael when they reached the shoreline, Jennifer risked bumping the nose of her paddleboard into an orange kayak and almost tumbled in. She did the quick motion stop and propelled forward, what he wanted her to avoid. With the exception of her recent lapse, Jennifer did better on the paddle board than Jazmin. Some people remain stiff when they paddled, but not her. Jazmin quickly figured out how to do it after more instruction. Jerry encouraged her to dismount her board slowly, and she made it without any problems.

Jerry smiled when the girls told him how much fun they’d had out on the water—they had done something they didn’t think they could do at first. They had such a good time, and it made him happy. He wanted them to take another lesson soon. As the girls said goodbye to Jerry, the sun rose high in the brilliant blue sky. Other people were preparing to paddle board away from Sunset Beach. It was 11:45 AM, time for Jerry’s 15-mile bike ride. But he hoped the girls would find a way to get back on those boards.

Getting Wiser

They say never write for free. But I’m doing my stretching right now and sometimes you have to get your voice out there, be brave. The words you select and the words you leave out tell readers a lot about you–meaning manifests in surprising ways. Experimenting is necessary.

I really haven’t been myself for the longest time, it feels like…I haven’t been getting enough sleep at night, I’ve been having nightmares during the few hours of sleep I do get, I want the pain to release me from its tight grip. I don’t understand why I act the way I do sometimes.

The other day the exhausted me was more than a little disgusted at my piss-poor planning for that week. I tried to do all nighters, I tried to keep my commitments. I failed my own expectations and it hurt my pride. I had so many assignments due that day, too many people to meet up with. I had a “what the hell are you doing with your life” talk with myself while I waited for my next class. Did I know? I had an inkling. In the end, everything miraculously worked out after a couple of prayers and my brilliant plan to chain myself to a desk at the library so I could write a rough draft essay before it was due that night.

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I’ve learned a lot these past couple weeks. I realize more than ever that friends will come and go. Friendship is something you can’t force on anyone. They have to put in the same amount of effort that you do or it is meaningless. Memories seem to come out, they scream at you. At the same time, you smile at hilarious moments and remember the insights with clarity. And sure, it hurts, especially when you lose a friend and say to yourself that it’s time to walk away! What do you do when someone stops caring? You might just blow them off.

I made a new friend this week. She showed me kindness without expecting anything in return. She showed up unannounced. It’s so easy being around her and I see her glowing around the people she cares about. An opportunity to grow closer is here at my feet. It’s arrived when I need it most and I think I want to take it.

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Part of my positive outlook on life comes from my family (the Jopsons). I see again and again that I have wonderful examples of people who put others first, resolve problems with diplomacy and not through harsh words, the integrity they possess to get something done. Money is not the most important thing to them. They are sometimes too humble. The values they place first in life–keeping in touch and strengthening relationships inside and outside the family, education through schooling and showing kindness to people for the sake of kindness alone are what they’re about.

I am Jennifer Tennant Jopson. I am more assertive, I am learning to tell people what I need without feeling guilty. I can say no. I am free. To do what I want to–I shape my life based on my passions and the little things, too. I knit, I crochet. I do amateur photography when I remember to bring my camera along and I like working out because it makes me feel good. On Saturdays I enjoy reading Rolling Stone in bed. I take the time to work on my talents, making up for the years I thought no one cared anyway and would it matter much at all. I will go to the beach this summer and stand up paddle board with a friend of mine. I sing for myself and I sing to God. This is what I do.

White Christmases and Sing Alongs

What a special Christmas this turned out to be. I slept in a little bit longer than I thought I would, and spent a little time warming up by the fire. I examined the contents of my stocking (a harp seal flash drive, a fancy highlighter pen, a pocket journal and other goodies) and then woke up my siblings. While I sat by the fireplace, I watched the snow drift down in gentle rhythms that coated the house’s railings with long strips of white. By the time we finished our egg casserole, the snow was up to two or more inches. One of my sisters was ecstatic that it was snowing; it was her wish to wake up to a White Christmas.

It was the first white Christmas at home in years.

The presents exchange this morning was fun, especially watching how excited my siblings got over SpongeBob Squarepants and long-sleeved shirts. Me, I was taking it all in, and didn’t expect to receive a whole load of presents like I did. I wasn’t disappointed or anything, but I knew that I’d have to figure out where to put the stuff. Later I managed to stuff all but one of my presents in my duffel bag, as I plan to take them back to my apartment when break is over. In fact, we’re leaving Etna tomorrow, so I have to have everything ready to go. What I learned about traveling is that it is always good to pack light, so that there are less things to forget and a little bit of room for the extra.

After the gift exchange, my brother and I lay passed out on the couch by the fire for awhile. Then we decided to go visit my best friend who lives five minutes away from us in Etna. Driving in the snow was something else–it had been awhile since I had last driven in snow that was a little slick and still a little crunchy. It took a couple tries to back up successfully into our U-shaped driveway, but I did it. Driving at about 35 mph, we made it over to Katie’s in about 15 minutes. I didn’t want to get in a wreck on Christmas, so it was well worth it to drive safely.

We hung out with Katie for the next three hours. It was like we had never been separated since the summer! That’s the thing about having a best friend: they’ll still care about you even if you don’t stay in touch for awhile. They’ll still remember the times you had together. They just get you.

Leaving Katie’s house, I was sad that I wouldn’t see her until next summer at the very least, but I felt reassured at the same time that we could still be close. College is difficult at times because I live about 12 hours from Etna and so I can’t just go home and see people that I want to see. Plus, people get busy and everyone has their own set of things to do, so I guess one has to work with what they have. We don’t always get what we want.

The Chocolate Dipping Party

Every year my uncle from Etna throws a fabulous get together for his friends and anyone else interested in chocolate to celebrate before Christmas by dipping delectable candy centers in milk and dark chocolate. They get to take a box of chocolates home with them. These parties are immensely successful, and this year was the first year that everyone was able to enjoy space to mingle and breathe in the remodeled kitchen.

The other night at the party, I sang with my sister and uncle, directed by my voice teacher who taught me from the summer of junior year onward. We planned to sing a wide repertoire of songs including Christmas carols, letting the audience join in with us. At the beginning of our recital together, I remember my German exchange sister singing the first verse of ‘Silent Night’ in German.

“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht”

I started feeling uncomfortable. Her voice was strong and sweet, ready to pour out to the audience. I figured out why I was so uncomfortable: in the dim light, I made out my mother’s face and saw a tiny tear and her hand wiping it away. Then it hit me. I was going to cry, too.

“Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar”

I felt emotional but I couldn’t cry. My attention was locked on my sister as I stood by the piano. I couldn’t let myself cry, because the recital had just begun. I can be a crybaby sometimes, given the situation. Life is cruel sometimes.

“Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!”

She ended gracefully, her first song in a foreign tongue of many that evening. Everyone had been holding their breath, and finally the tension released. The clapping filled the room as I stood there. I couldn’t look at her, because I knew I’d start crying. Some moments are so sacred that you nearly forget how to handle yourself.