Category Archives: family

I fell out of an airplane: More physical evidence

Yay! Raeford Parachute Center finally sent my skydiving video!

You can read about the experience here.

I fell out of an airplane once.

I’m scheduled to report to the skydiving facility at 10:00AM. A solid, low bank of clouds covers the entire sky. The call comes in at 8:30AM.

“The weather is looking bad today. Do you mind rescheduling your tandem skydive?”

“No problem. How does tomorrow morning sound?”

“That’s perfect. The weather is going to be excellent.”

I’m at my parents’ house with Kathryn and our kids, psyching myself up to jump out of a plane two miles above the solid earth. The cancellation instantly deflates my mounting anxiety. Tomorrow would work out well. The reprieve is nice, but it just means the anxiety will last much longer. It is like waiting your turn to give your report in front of the class, but having to listen to thirty other students go first.

We set in motion the less fearsome plan of taking the kids to Fun, Fun, Fun for arcade games and mini golf. Ten minutes before we head out the door, the phone rings again. Dad takes the call.

I look quickly outside. Sunny as hell. Before another word is said, the anxiety starts to creep back in.

“Hey, Dave; want to jump now? The weather’s good.”


Can’t put it off any more. The skydive is a birthday gift from my parents. It was a remote, fanciful idea until now. Suddenly, the distant idea began to materialize. The little peaks of anxiety arrive more quickly. Palms start to get sweaty.

Kathryn and I pile into the car with the girls, and follow my dad. We pass the Paraclete XP Sky Venture facility along the way, a tall building with a powerful, vertical wind tunnel. People float inside the tunnel, practicing free-fall maneuvers. Kathryn starts to get more excited about the idea of tandem skydiving. She wants to go next!

Wind tunnel inside the Paraclete XP Sky Venture facility

My brain attempts to process my anxiety along the way. For some reason I keep thinking of the title of the self-help book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, a book I’ve never even read. The title alone is enough to keep my mind on the goal.

We arrive at the Raeford Parachute Center, located only a few minutes away from my parents’ house. I had a lot of confidence in the facility. They’ve been in business for over forty years, and have long history of good experiences. The instructors at the facility have tens, if not hundreds of thousands of jumps among them. We park, unload the kids, and look around. There’s the little air strip with a handful of tiny airplanes. A smoky bar filling up with servicemen, bikers, and other thrill-seekers. Jumpers fiddling with their chutes in a covered picnic area.

Raeford Parachute Center logo

We head into the office to fill out the paperwork, and to watch a bizarre old video of a man with a ridiculous four-foot-long beard talking about the legal liability waiver document skydivers are required to sign. This was followed by footage of the same mega-bearded man going through a tandem skydive with Ron Reagan, son of President Reagan.

The paperwork is the scariest part, because you are legally accepting the risk of injury and death. Jumping out of an airplane has got to be easier than parsing legal language. I dutifully checked away my right to sue if I end up being pressure washed off the landing zone.

Nope. Still can’t sue for this.

Roy, the instructor, came in to give me the very brief training. We talk about the gear, safety, and what to expect. He’s probably gone over this training material thousands of times, so he runs through it very quickly. I absorbed as much as I could, while resigning myself to the fact that Roy will be taking care of 99% of the jump for me. I’ll just take on the challenging role of “dead weight newbie”. Roy gives some useful advice:

“Don’t walk into the propellers.”

“In freefall, be sure to smile to tense up your face muscles for the videographer. Otherwise, the wind will push the meat in your face all the way up. It won’t be pretty.”

“Don’t put your arms back here. See this pull? It cuts the main chute away. You DON’T want to do that.”

Roy hands me a jump suit, and a “frap hat” with attached goggles that fit over my glasses. I put it all on. The getup looks strange. I look like a novelty condom. Kathryn laughs at my appearance and takes photos along with my dad.

Tandem skydiving at the Raeford Parachute Center
The frap hat is awesome.

Iris is getting excited as she looks at the walls which are completely covered in fantastic photographs of other skydivers. There are some photos of elderly people doing jumps, including a woman who did a tandem skydive on her 94th birthday. Dad is getting more excited about the jump. His first civilian jump was in 1970. He did a handful of static line jumps before joining the Army, then continued on to do several hundred jumps with the 82nd Airborne. He tells stories about various small mishaps during his jumps, such as landing on a snack bar, getting caught in a tree, and opening his chute too low at 1000 feet and getting grounded by the parachuting instructor. Surprisingly, none of his jumps were as high as the jump I was about to make at 13,500 feet.

Roy returns to help me put on and adjust my parachute harness. “You’ll want to make a ‘special adjustment’ so certain parts don’t get pureed on the way down.” He gives me a cheap altimeter to wear. I give hugs to Kathryn and the girls, and we’re off to the plane, a Pacific Aerospace P-750 XSTOL.

Tandem skydiving at the Raeford Parachute Center
“Insane people: Get inside, now!”

Mila smiles in her stroller, sucks on her feet, and I board the plane.

The plane is designed to bring 17 parachutists up to altitudes of 12 to 13 thousand feet, then return to land, all within 15-30 minutes. After a short wait, Roy and I and the remaining parachutists (all men except for one woman) climb into the low opening and pile into the cramped fuselage. We sit with our backs to the pilot. Roy is sitting behind me. The videographer sits to his right, and the pilot is behind them in the cockpit, working over his busy clusters of instruments. The engine fires up, and we taxi to the runway. We roll quickly under high throttle and the plane peels away from the runway, calming the shaking fuselage. I watch as the ground falls away, and I start to feel a wonderful sense of freedom. Which is kind of strange, considering I’m sealed in a metal tube, sitting nuts-to-butts with 14 other parachutists, doomed to jump out two miles above the ground.

As we continue the twenty-minute climb to 13,500 feet, I periodically glance at my altimeter. The needle creeps up slowly but noticeably. I feel some of the anxiety but a strong feeling of calm is also present. I was more nervous on the ground, thinking about the pending skydive. Perhaps this is an “acceptance” phase, combined with Roy’s efforts to put my mind at ease. No turning back now. Shut up and do it.

After some repeated safety checks, and a briefing on what to expect, Roy asks, “Any questions before we do this?”

I think for a moment. “Do the jumps get better and better after the first one?”

“Oh yeah. Every jump is different. You can do this thousands of times and it’s different each time.”

I can sense some of the other parachutists smiling. They are probably thinking of the unexpected things that come up during their jumps. On our way to board the plane, Roy and the videographer teased another skydiver about landing on the arrow instead of the big landing target the arrow was pointing to.

We hit 5,500 feet and two skydivers are already at the door. The red light turns yellow, and the door is opened. The yellow light turns green, and the two skydivers quickly exit the plane. All I can see of this from my seat in the back is one moment there are two helmeted heads near the door. And the next moment, they are gone.

Tandem skydiving at the Raeford Parachute Center
Having a face-to-face with ol’ Gravity.

The door closes, and we finish climbing to 13,500 feet. The door opens, letting in the roar of the wind, and the light goes green again. The parachutists ahead of us quickly perch on the edge of the doorway one-by-one, and jump away. In a short time, only the videographer, and Roy and I remain. Roy and I are already attached together, an awkward eight-limbed bundle, and we clumsily shuffle our way to the doorway. The videographer is already outside the plane, holding on to a rail. Roy and I set up at the threshold, an insignificant line between apparent safety and insanity. I squeeze my thumbs into my chest straps, and push my head back. The videographer jumps away. Roy rocks forward, then back, then forward again. We fall away in a rush.

Tandem skydiving at the Raeford Parachute Center

The next few moments are chaotic. Strangely, falling out of a plane only feels like falling during those first moments. I get that “stomach in your throat” sensation for a few seconds, then it quickly disappears. Roy stabilizes us and deploys the drogue chute, a small semi-closed parachute, which brings our terminal velocity to 120 miles per hour. He taps my shoulder, which is my signal to spread out my arms and legs. We are now pushing through a thick blanket of air, which feels much more like floating than falling, especially since the ground is so distant and unmoving. It’s hard not to stare at the ground during free-fall. The videographer circles around, positioning himself in front of us, so I look up at him and mug for the camera. I move my hands around in the wind. The wind feels solid enough to push against. It is a lot like sticking your hands out the window of your car when you are speeding down a highway. I must be part dog, because I stick my tongue out, which gave me a small irrational fear that the powerful wind would rip it off. The wind leaks into my goggles, and my right eye starts pushing out tears, distracting me. Roy spins us around a few times, then gets us in position for the end of free-fall. I’ve lost track of time, and I can’t see what Roy’s doing, but he’s watching his altimeter and getting ready to deploy the main chute.

Tandem skydiving at the Raeford Parachute Center
Some dork tagged along for sloppy seconds.

About sixty seconds into free-fall, he pulls the rip cord and the chute unfurls about 5,500 feet above the ground. I’m so absorbed with the view of the ground, and the sensation of being pulled by the chute, that I didn’t think to look up to watch the canopy unfurl. It fills with air and I can feel myself being grabbed and pulled upward with great force. I’m glad this parachute harness can withstand all that force! Being held this high in the air with little more than a few straps feels a bit disconcerting. But I’m comforted by the knowledge that the straps, and the hooks holding me to Roy, are constructed to withstand thousands of pounds of force. The pulling forces come to an end and we settle into a gentle float.

Tandem skydiving at the Raeford Parachute Center
Hey! Who put on the brakes?

Roy gives me instructions; I can finally hear his voice now that the deafening wind is behind us. He hands me the toggles, webbed straps used to steer the parachute, and I fly the canopy for a few moments, enjoying the freedom of flight. The ground is like a tilting table top, pitching and yawing as we drift. Every feature of the ground seems like a small mark on a giant, flat sheet of paper. Slowly, the ground gets closer. Roy’s pointing hand appears and he describes features in the distance. “There’s Fort Bragg over there. There’s Fayetteville. And I think that’s Laurinburg. If you look over there, you can see the edge of the weather that was here this morning. Man, what a great, clear day we got today.”

I can see all the other jumpers glide their chutes ahead of us towards the drop zone. The canopy ride is supposed to last about five minutes. It goes by very quickly, and I’m surprised to hear Roy say he is beginning to position us for landing. We watch the plane that took us up come in for a landing. It looks very small off in the distance. I start to feel queasy, like I have in the past when riding on small planes. I suspect the apparent motion of the ground triggers it, like pitching on a boat does for me sometimes. But I want to enjoy the rest of the ride, so I take a few deep breaths to try to push away the discomfort. We glide past the observation area, and I wave at my family there, but they probably can’t see me since we’re still up high.

Tandem skydiving at the Raeford Parachute Center
Can you see me waving?

Roy circles us around the drop zone. I can see the landing target getting larger. We get closer and Roy says, “OK, now lift your legs and keep them up.” In the brief training, Roy explained that the last thing you want to do on tandem landings is let your feet contact first, dragging behind you, followed by your knees contacting, then your face. Ouch. I dutifully lift my legs and Roy brings us in for a landing. Roy contacts the ground first, then I bring my feet to the ground for the landing which is no faster than a brisk jog. Roy executes a perfect landing – we both remain standing.

Tandem skydiving at the Raeford Parachute Center
*Whew*! The safety of the ground… is an illusion. The drive home is more dangerous!

It is a bit of a relief to be on the ground, but disappointing that the ride is over. Echoes of queasiness chip small pieces of my exhilaration away. The videographer rushes towards us for a post-jump interview. “How was it?” I can think of little more to say than, “Awesome.” Roy disconnects our harnesses, helps me loosen mine, and I head back to my family while Roy deals with his chute. Iris is the first to greet me. She congratulates me on my “bravery” of jumping out of a plane. I give her a big hug, and we meet up with my dad, Kathryn and Mila. We head back to the office to return the gear, and Roy gives me the jump certificate. Back at my parents’ house, Dad finds the old certificate of his first jump. 1970. Almost 40 years before my first jump!

Tandem skydiving at the Raeford Parachute Center
Father and son jump certificates. Took almost 40 years to catch up to him.

It was one hell of a birthday gift!

For Whom the Smell Tolls

I noticed some similarities between my baby daughter’s name, and the name of a famous band. And so this was born:

If the logo survives the vetting process, Spreadshirt will put one of these in the mail to me shortly:


Disney World trip photos

We recently took a vacation at Disney World. I was determined to get a decent camera before the trip, so I snagged a Canon EOS Rebel XS, an entry-level DSLR camera. The consequence of this is that I took way too many photographs during our trip:

I’m still a newbie when it comes to photography. But I did manage to scrape some decent shots off of the camera during our trip. Below are some of my favorites. Click the photo to see it on Flickr; there, you can click “All Sizes” to see larger versions.

Disney World trip - day 6 - Magic Kingdom

This shot of Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom has a postcard-like appeal.

Disney World trip - day 7 - Cinderella Castle floating in the clouds

Cinderella Castle appears to float amid the clouds.

Disney World trip - day 7 - Wilderness Lodge - Ferryboat at dusk

In the waning sun, our ferryboat from Wilderness Lodge to Magic Kingdom arrives.

Disney World trip - day 7 - Sunset over Magic Kingdom

Sunset imparts a golden hue to the Magic Kingdom.

Disney World trip - day 7 - Wishes fireworks show

I like this ominous silhouette of Cinderella Castle during the Wishes fireworks show.

Disney World trip - day 7 - Wishes fireworks show - Flying Spaghetti Monster

Is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster above the castle during the Wishes fireworks show.???

Disney World trip - day 8 - Epcot - Iris gets her face painted at Outpost pavilion

Kathryn took this wonderful shot of Iris getting her face painted at Outpost pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase.

Disney World trip - day 8 - Epcot - Spaceship Earth at night

Spaceship Earth at night. Ooh, shiny.

Disney World trip - Day 2 - Wilderness Lodge

Posing in our room at Wilderness Lodge before heading to Magic Kingdom.

Disney World trip - Day 2 - Wilderness Lodge

The magnificent lobby of Wilderness Lodge.

Disney World trip - day 3 - Hollywood Studios

Iris reacts to Catastrophe Canyon’s fires and floods on the Studio Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Disney World trip - day 3 - Hollywood Studios

Eris riding a pony at Hollywood Studios.

Disney World trip - day 3 - Disney's Beach Club Resort

Night view of Disney’s BoardWalk from Disney’s Beach Club Resort.

Disney World trip - day 4 - Epcot

Iris is happy to arrive at Epcot.

Disney World trip - day 4 - Epcot

Spaceship Earth. Best pentakis dodecahedron I saw that day.

Disney World trip - day 4 - Epcot

Iris and Princess Aurora. Princess Storybook Dining at Restaurant Akershus at Norway pavilion.

Disney World trip - day 4 - Epcot

Cinderella signs Eris’ book. Princess Storybook Dining at Restaurant Akershus at Norway pavilion.

Disney World trip - day 4 - Epcot

Eris at Restaurant Akershus enjoying one of several hundred of her birthday cupcakes.

Disney World trip - day 4 - Epcot

Spaceship Earth meeting resistance from the stubborn palmettos. “Take me to your leader.”

Disney World trip - day 4 - Epcot

Storm brewing over the glass pyramids at Imagination.

Disney World trip - day 4 - Epcot

Iris vs stars at ImageWorks: The What-If Labs.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

African percussionists putting on a great show at Animal Kingdom.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Upside-down tree (baobab tree) at Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Gazelle at the Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Giraffe and baobab tree at the Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Upside-down tree (baobab tree) at the Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Taking the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Iris and Pocahontas negotiate a sum of wampum at Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Iris chases and scrubs the goat simultaneously at Affection Section petting zoo.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Crazy cat lady on stilts at Mickey’s Jammin Jungle Parade.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

The Tree of Life, though fake, still seems naturally picturesque in this setting.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom Lodge

Incredible lobby of Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom Lodge

Incredible lobby of Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Expedition Everest roller coaster.

Disney World trip - day 5 - Animal Kingdom

Expedition Everest roller coaster.

Disney World trip - day 6 - Magic Kingdom

Eris and Iris with Piglet. Character Dining at the Crystal Palace.

Disney World trip - day 7 - Wilderness Lodge - Iris and cousin Danielle at Whispering Canyon Cafe

Iris showing her affection for my cousin Danielle.

Disney World trip - day 7 - Wilderness Lodge - posing with my uncle's family

Uncle Craig’s clan.

Disney World trip - day 7 - Walt and Mickey

Solid Walt and his little rodent pal stand over their creation in everlasting tribute.

Disney World trip - day 7 - massive crowd gathers for parade

Massive crowd gathers for the nightly parade and fireworks.

Disney World trip - day 7 - sunset at park docks

Sunset at the park docks.

Disney World trip - day 8 - Epcot - Family poses at World Showcase Lagoon

Kathryn and Iris pose in front of the lagoon. Is Iris trying to get water out of her ears?

Disney World trip - day 8 - Epcot

Mila wakes, sees photographer, kicks photographer.

Disney World trip - day 8 - Magic Kingdom - Cinderella Castle

Cinderella Castle jutting into the clear sky. How much bloodshed have those battlements been witness to?

Disney World trip - day 8 - Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Iris investigates the pool at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.

Disney World trip - day 8 - Character dining at 1900 Park Fare

Character dining at 1900 Park Fare. Cinderella takes a break from magical thinking to pose with Iris and Eris.

Disney World trip - day 8 - Disney's Polynesian Resort

Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Iris and Eris celebrate a successful day of fun.

Flagler Beach, Florida - Restaurant

Restaurant at Flagler Beach. Kathryn be describin’ the size of bilge rats on ye last voyage.

Flagler Beach, Florida - Restaurant

Restaurant at Flagler Beach. Joanie gets Mila to smile and laugh.

If you made it this far, your stamina is remarkable.

Welcome to the world, Mila!

(youtube link)

Here come the scary clowns

We took Iris to the Cole Brothers Circus performance on Sunday. It was a wild time in a blistering hot tent full of underpaid, fearsome-looking Russian and Hispanic performers.

Cole Brothers Circus at the Salem Civic Center from David Oranchak on Vimeo.

(video link)

Iris’ big day

She looked mildly pensive as the flashing bus squawked to a stop, door agape to accept new children. She climbed confidently on board and surveyed the busy seats. Moments later the bus bore her away to Kindergarten, to continue her great quest for knowledge.


Iris was on the Today Show!

Last month, we heard about a KIVA outing here in Roanoke to get families and their kids to come out for a short hike and bug hunt. Turns out the Today Show was filming a story about “nature deficit disorder”, the idea that kids just aren’t getting out and connecting with nature as much as they used to. Iris brought a little glass jar to collect bugs and other creatures she found on the hike, and she scored a small interview with the Today Show folks:

(youtube link)

We were pretty excited to see her on national TV!

Here is the entire news story:

(msnbc video link)

She has a small appearance at about 1:23 into the second video (she’s on the right, bending down to look and then moving away). Her little interview starts at 2:14. I’m very proud of her!

Aquaria Animalia

I got this funny email from Kathryn today:

I forgot to tell you about the weird dream I had last night – dreamt I was fishing at work (don’t ask) and caught several fish – they were “catfish” in the water, and then they turned to plain cats in the water. And then there was a large horse in the water, and other weird water creatures, and I caught and threw back several of those. For some reason I was here overnight, fishing with a lot of other staff.

I think it’s a sign of the apocalypse or something. Fishing for cats isn’t right.

Iris Vs. The Volcano

When I was a kid, I remember seeing many other children making the classic volcano experiment for science fairs. But I don’t remember ever getting around to making one myself. So it was fun for me and Kathryn to help Iris build one tonight:

(youtube link)