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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Back to the 90s

This past weekend I did a little bit of time traveling in that I retraced my 20-year-old self's steps in Paris. My original plan called for seeing the school I attended, then taking the train to the dorm where I stayed. Back in 1990 when I originally traveled from St. Cloud to St. Denis (both suburbs of Paris) I took an SCNF train to Gare St. Lazare in the center of Paris, then a train line near the university. Then a 15 minute walk to campus.

Flash forward 25 years. The metro station that was under construction when I was there now takes students to within meters of the front of the campus. The line "these kids are so spoiled" crossed my mind.

I actually have very little recollection of the campus. I went to my classes. I went back to St. Cloud (pronounced Sa(n) Clue). The trip must have taken me at least an hour each way, but it was my life so I did it for three months.

The biggest change I noticed is now everyone has to go through security when
they first enter the campus. There is a white wrought iron wall around the campus. Oddly enough, once I passed security I did feel calmer. The bustle of Paris was behind me (as well as the super packed metro) and I could relax. I walked around more than I probably did as a student. I definitely took more pictures. I had lunch in the cafeteria, which is when it dawned on me I don't remember ever eating out when I was living in Paris. I remember grocery shopping and making my own meals, but I don't remember having a "Cheers" kind of place where I hung out. Poor college student?

I practiced my selfie skills:




^^ A crepe truck? Kids these days are so spoiled!

After tripping through memory lane, I decided rather than hopping on at the new station, I would retrace my steps to the old station. How hard could that be? Obviously harder than I thought. I followed the signs for the Carrefour (sort of like a Super Walmart long before Sam Walton started building his stores), turns out it was a different Carrefour. I bought some sustenance (read: cheese and chocolate) and tried again. 

I passed a mosque. I don't remember noticing that 25 years ago (later I wondered if I went down the wrong street). I was most impressed by the number of people walking inside to pray at 1:45 PM. A couple of men saw me looking at them from across the street (and through the bushes -- I would not make a very good spy) and talked to me. They invited me inside, but in the other door with the women, not their end of the building on the first floor. I was not allowed to take any pictures. I said I didn't understand what they were saying. They said that's because it is in Arabic, but every so often they translate into French. Okay, I was game. I had to be cleared by a few other people. By now I was feeling white prejudice all the way. A secretary led me in past two rooms of praying women into her office so I could hear, but not be seen. After 15 minutes, and still no French, I thanked her and left. I felt awkward because she would not let me take off my shoes like everyone else and because I had nothing on me with which I could cover my head like everyone else. The prayers sounded beautiful, and I am of the mindset it is the same God. If we all understood each other better, maybe some of the world's problems would go away.

I continued my walk. I finally gave up on finding my metro stop and took a bus to a different metro stop. My handy Carte Navigo (which used to be called Carte Orange, back when they were orange) got me on all of my mass transportation for the few days. It only costs 22 euros (plus a 5 euro processing fee, but I can renew it up to 10 years before I need a new card) for a week of transportation, versus the tourist one that is over 50 euros for the week. The one difference is the tourist one is for any seven days, Carte Navigo always starts on Monday and ends on Sunday (or the 1st-31st of the month). I was leaving pretty early on Monday, so the Carte Navigo it was. It also made me feel like a local.

I ended up at the top of line 12, instead of on line 13, which took me to a different station in Paris. I found Gare St. Lazare. It has really grown in the past 25 years. I was intimidated by the long line for tickets, and wasn't sure if my Carte Navigo would work on it. I debated about pressing forward to St. Cloud (where all I would do is say "yup, that was my dorm") or returning to Marne la Vallee and Disneyland Paris. I opted for Disney, which meant finding the RER station and traipsing through crowds of people.

On the one hand, I was disappointed with myself for not spending another 2 hours tripping down memory lane. On the other hand, when I arrived at Disneyland and realized they were only open until 8:30 PM, and that was my only chance to see the fireworks, I was happy with my decision. Hopefully I'll return to Paris someday.

Some more pictures from Paris VIII










At the end of the day I was left with an appreciation and awe for my younger self. How did I find the place the first time? This was in the days before the internet and smart phones. Who told me how to get from the train station to the school or did I just follow people? How did I know to get from St. Cloud to the school? How was I naive enough to go to Paris with hardly any money and no place to stay and be sure it would work out (and it did)? Where did that faith go? How do I reclaim that child-like faith in my life again? How do I regain that sense of passion and adventure? When can I do something big and new like that again?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Smallest Race I Have Ever Done



On September 10 Don and I participated in perhaps my smallest race ever. This picture shows most of the participants.



As you can probably surmise from the picture, it was a kilt race. Unlike the kilt race we ran in 2013 with 3,000 people registered, this race had 25 participants. 

The description was as follows:

All runners must wear a kilt to participate in the American Highlander Kilt Run!
This is a timed run with prizes for top finishers in each category and a fun run for anyone who wishes to make their way around the course, or complete any portion of it. Categories will be broken down by age for men, women, and children. Timed runners will start at 9AM and fun runners will start 15 minutes later. Since this is also a non-competitive run, participants can choose to run, job, walk, skip, or crawl through the course. This run takes place on grass and off-road trails. All runners and participants who register at least two weeks previous to the run will receive a Kilt Run commemorative t-shirt.

There were not enough people participating to have two different start times.

The description on Active.com goes on to say all participants must wear a kilt, specifically "the kilt must be a tartan or plaid kilt and must be closed by at least two kilt closing straps and buckles per the rules set by the Guinness Book of World Records."

Huh? Guinness? Seems they lifted the wording from the Kilt Run we did a couple of years ago. I heard that day (need to verify) that Irish kilts are a solid color, and Scottish ones have a tartan. This was an Irish event. Therefore if anything we should have all worn one color kilts.

The organizers took a lovely group shot of us before the race. I was hoping they would email it to us. If they do, I will insert it here.

The organizer (whose name escapes me) was the only non-runner to show up for the race. All of his volunteers couldn't make it at the last minute. The fine print said we should arrive an hour before the 9 AM race. I said we could leave our house an hour before, but there was no reason to arrive that early. After checking us in, the organizer walked the course and marked a one mile loop with white flags. He told us we could do as many loops as we wanted, but it was billed as a two-mile race.

The race started about 15 minutes late. The 15 minutes were the difference between the weather being pleasant and it being too hot to run in a kilt. Still Don and I did both laps, with him finishing before me (as usual).

There was no sign of bibs, a timer, or prizes (age category or otherwise). They did give us granola bars, bottles of water, and admission to the Celtic festival (which we had already paid for with our tickets).

Don is more up for doing this one again than I am. I can run around a field in Mercer County Park for free any day of the year. This was nothing special. I can even wear a kilt if I want to (though I prefer Sparkle Skirts). 

I did meet a woman (Lauren?) who did the same kilt race we did in Manasquan. She said the group did not want to pay the $10,000 to have Guinness appear, so basically they lied to us as they corralled us according to the rules of Guinness, and made their two-mile fun run take way longer than it should on a cold day.

Afterwards Don went shopping for his third kilt. A guy cannot have enough kilts.


Cat Chips

Last month we did something we probably should have done years ago: we had our cats microchipped.

As many of you know we have two cat. Kitty Lucy turned four last week. She is from my friend Kim's cat's litter. Her mama's name is Trouble. Hmm... The stories I could tell you about Lucy and her amazing powers of flight. She is an over the head cat. After being chipped, she tried to run away, but the vets anticipate this might happen and seal off the area prior to setting her free from the cage.












Charlie Cat is our 11 year old orange tabby cat. We adopted him through Freecycle, before sites like that banned getting rid of cats this way. He was described as having a "loud motor," which is true. He doesn't say much, but he does have a loud purr. He only wants to be pet on his terms -- mostly by Don as he is falling asleep at night (Don, not Charlie). He is an under the foot cat.


The chipping event took place at EASEL, an animal shelter in Ewing. The chip is minuscule, it fits in a syringe which is stabbed into the cat's neck. It is a quick and fairly painless process. 

The cats are now registered with the microchipping company. In the event they go missing, or are brought to the shelter, we will be contacted. In the past Charlie has gone missing for up to 48 hours. I tell myself not to worry, but of course I do. This adds an extra layer of comfort. All for $25 each. A bargain. This is something that is now done regularly when cats are adopted from the shelter and is part of the adoption fee.


As for Sandy Dragon, he doesn't go far enough away from us to be microchipped, nor does he have much of a neck to stick the syringe into. We continue to love the old dude.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Birthday

In our household we like to celebrate birthday months, and not just birthdays, so hopefully most post is a little premature as we are only eight days into my birthday month. I can always add to this.

Last weekend my best friend Carin, whose birthday was a week earlier, suggested we take each other out to Panera. That was a nice treat! The next day my parents had the gang over for dinner.

The day before my birthday Don and Ashley cooked for me. Anyone who is the primary dinner maker in their household can immediately see how exciting this is to me. They did not just make me dinner, they made all three meals for me, and served me. The caveat was the meals had to all be low carb (under 30 grams of carbohydrates) in keeping with the diet I am following to control my blood sugar (which seems to be working).

For breakfast they made French toast using Ezekial bread. I was too hungry to take a picture.

They outdid themselves with lunch. They made a pizza with a cauliflower crust. They even ate the same meal as I did.


For dinner we had a salad while waiting for the quiche to finish cooking. Overall they used 17 eggs (Ashley also made her famous brownies). Fortunately I bought three dozen the day before.

The night of my actual birthday we went to Charlie Browns and relaxed around the table.

The day after my birthday Don and I saw Springsteen in concert. I'd call that a "bucket list" item, but I don't want to think of myself as old enough to need one. Let's just call it a dream concert -- and it was dreamy.

Let's see what the rest of the month brings.

Springsteen

With some recent celebrity deaths making big news this year, I realized the one performer I had not yet seen perform was Bruce Springsteen. While I like most of his music, I would not say I am a huge fan (or else I would have seen him perform years ago). I'm more of a Billy Joel and Elton John fan (and have seen them both live -- once together).


When I found out Bruce Springsteen would be performing in Philadelphia the week of my birthday I plunked down the money to buy two tickets to see him at Citizens Bank Park (where the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team plays). It was so worth it! (I'd probably pay at least as much to see "Hamiton," since you can't count on winning that lottery.)

NCB, a.k.a. New Cousin Barbara, is the biggest Springsteen fan I know. When she reads this and realizes how little I know of most of Springsteen's albums, she will be mortified to be related to me, even if it is the most tenuous of connections. Fortunately she loves me anyway. She educated me Springsteen's "The River" album (which the tour was based on before he and the E Street Band went to Europe). I listened to it. I was set for this concert. 

Then the rug was pulled out from me. I felt like a student walking into a final exam only to learn I studied the wrong material.

Springsteen decided to honor his long-time fans by singing selections from the 1973 "Greetings from Asbury Park" album and "The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle" (also from 1973). Click HERE for what the Philadelphia Inquirer had to say about his concert in terms I could never create. NCB sent me the SET LIST. Here is a different link to the SET LIST, which mentions which songs were played because of sign requests. She texted me at the end of the concert to say how jealous she was that Bruce played his longest US concert for me (4 hours 3 minutes and 56 seconds). He just didn't want to leave the Philadelphia stage. I told her when she sees him next week on the last night of his tour, he'll break that record, and probably the world record of 4 hours 6 minutes in Helsinki in 2012).

I have a friend, Lindsey, who was in The Pit. I'm hoping she takes me up on my offer to guest blog. Don and I were seated in the far opposite extreme -- second to last row in the top tier (section 425 -- behind home plate). It was still a great spot to see him perform. Probably a better spot for me since we had stadium seats, with no one blocking our view and a lovely breeze. She was very excited to be only 100 feet away from him, and a speck in my photographs. 

We were so far away, Springsteen shined the spotlight on our section and waved to us. He even pointed to someone wearing a pink top. I was wearing a pink top. I'd like to think he saw me (how cool is that, NCB!).

We were treated to two Philadelphia songs: Fever and Thundercrack, which made fans go wild. I loved the "Jungleland" tribute to the late Clarence Clemons, as played by his nephew Jake Clemons. Even I choked up. Earlier I could see why his death was such a blow to the band. I hadn't appreciated the importance of the saxophonist until I saw Jake play his solos.

My favorite was when he told his life story as a 14 year old getting started. He used a story telling format to "Growin' Up." Loved the bit about after working all summer doing odd jobs for his dad and his neighbors for 50 cents an hour (back in the 1960s) in order to save up enough money to buy an $18 acoustic guitar, he "never did an honest day's living ever since." The memoir writer in me fell in love with his style right then and there. I also loved "Jack of All Trades," both for the story he told beforehand and because that is what I have often considered myself. I also loved his playful version of "Hungry Heart." Before he played a fan in front of me said artists love Philly because "we know our music." Fans sing along and have fun, which feeds into the musicians and they, too, have fun.

A few pictures from the concert. Obviously the really close up ones are from the jumbo tron taken with my point and shoot camera. Still not bad.







I'll be lambasted for saying what I am about to say, but here it is. I though he looked tired for the first 3 1/2 hours. After hearing about his nearly 4 hour concerts I thought he would quit really early on us. His eyes were closed (probably due to too much glare from the spotlights).

Then he played "Born to Run" at 11:30 PM and the place went wild! The lights
came up. The energy was ratcheted up many degrees. He really came alive. Then I didn't want it to ever end.

Around the 3 hour 53 minute mark, during "Shout," he put on a jacket saying "The Boss" and it was announced he had exited the building, only to see him in the stairwell not ready to commit to leaving. It didn't take much to encourage him to come back out again for some encores. Here is is pointing to his wrist and saying "But it is a school night. A work night." That didn't fly with anyone. We knew we'd be spending another hour just trying to leave the parking lot and would rather spend more time listening to him play.
He finished up with "Bobby Jean" and fireworks. What a fabulous way to continue celebrating my birthday. I'm looking forward to reading his biography ("Born to Run") that comes out later this month.




For friends reading this and planning on going tomorrow night, security was a mess. The show started 30 minutes late as a result, and the professional reviewer missed the first song (which featured a string ensemble playing "New York City Serenade"). Friday's concert coincides with Adele's concert on the other side of the parking lot, so get there super early. The gate open at 6 PM. Outside food (including water bottles) will be confiscated.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Six Flags Office Party

I've said it before and I know I'll say it again, Six Flags is not Disney.


It has been years since we went to Six Flags Great Adventure, probably not long after since we started taking to Disney. At first little things at Six Flags would grate on me, such as the piles of bubblegum (which I did not notice this time). Then it was more an issue of practicality -- we don't like the super big thrill rides, and that is where Six Flags excels. They don't have the tons of characters, or many rides on the scale of Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road, but they will take you to the brink of death (or so it seems to me now).

Don's office party on the second day of school provided the perfect opportunity to try it again. Ashley dislikes scary roller coasters more than the two of us combined, so she was happy to stay home. 

The first change since our last visit is now the safari is inside the park. Well, sort of. You take a shuttle from behind the log flume and do the drive while someone
tells you fun facts about the animals, which seemed to mostly be about their gestation periods. Someone later told me they were sitting in the back and could not hear a thing. My complaint was the diesel fumes. They can't be good for the animals. In small print they warn you the ride takes about an hour -- something we didn't notice before starting our journey. I think my favorite animals were the baby zebras. Second favorite were the cute one and two month old lion cubs. 
I did not appreciate the upselling. Once an hour they feed the giraffes (coincidentally, just as we were getting to that drop off zone). For an additional $6 each (or $5 if you are an annual pass holder) you can also feed them. Before boarding the bus they took a picture of us, which they were willing to sell us at this point. Then there was the dollar locker rental near all of the big rides (similar lockers are free at Disney and Universal Studios). It was a bit much.


After spending an hour on the bleak safari lands we rode some coasters before the group lunch. Our favorite was the woody El Toro -- even with the 18 story drop, and speeds that were trying to tear off my clothes (hey, this is a family park). Don went on Joker and deemed it a bit much. Meanwhile I was texting Ashley whose bus was taking a grand central tour of South Lawrence.

This ride was more my speed. 

The dark clouds were coming closer, so close it poured on our ride home. We had a good time, but are in no rush to return, or to get a season pass.







Monday, August 29, 2016

Donkeys Invade Philadelphia

Earlier this summer Philadelphia was host to the Democratic National Convention. To celebrate that many Democrats coming to town, the decided to erect 57 donkey statues -- one for each delegate (50 states, plus territories, and a catch-all for ex-pat Democrats).

HERE is a website to the different donkeys and where to find them. I don't know how long the link will be viable since the donkeys were only up from July 1 to August 23, but as of September 2, the website is still up and running.

On August 21 we realized time was running out and if we wanted to see them, we had to dash into Philly. Trouble is by the time we came home from church, ate lunch, and drove into Philly we only had a couple of hours left before a big storm was heading into Philadelphia. Did I mention there were 57 of them and they were spread ALL OVER the city?

We looked at the map and decided to park near the Kimmel Center and see as many as we could see in two hours. What really saved us is I downloaded the app. Last May Ashley and I moved into the 2000s and bought our first Smart Phones (iPhone 6S). Don does not have one, but does pay our bills. The app was an invaluable resource for finding the donkeys.

I have photo proof we found 22 of them (I won't put all of their pictures here), plus we found the locations of at least four more (Delaware, New Jersey, Alabama, and Pennsylvania) that were already taken down before our trip. Story has it New Jersey's came with a broken face, which needed to be repaired before it was auctioned off. Not bad for the two hours we spent on this quest.

As we walked past each one we thought of friends and family living in those
places. Democrats Abroad made us think of Wendy and Dave as they move from Fiji to Indonesia. California reminded us of our many friends from Disneyland, and Dave and Lisa. Ohio certainly made us think of the Smith Family and their strong ties to the Democratic Party. Even when we saw ones from states where our Republican friends live, we thought of them fondly.

Most were outdoors, visible all the time. A few were indoors, such as Wisconsin is inside the former Wanamakers (now a Macy's). Most were alone, but in some cases there were two next to each other. No idea how they chose which state went where. 

California's donkey had to be moved for the safety of the donkey. It had been out in the open, but was moved closer to a hotel so the bell hop could keep an eye on it (and take pictures of tourists with it). Seems too many adults were trying to ride the donkey statues. Yes, adults.

Each donkey is unique. Each one highlights something about that place. Both sides of the donkey are painted (something we did not notice with the first one we saw because it was up against a building). Wishing we had spent more time with each donkey. It really could have turned into great lessons on states and what makes each one special.


We walked out near the Liberty Bell and up to Franklin Park. On our walk back to the car we started to get wet. Then it poured and we got drenched. We looked at the map and made a quick detour to see Ohio's donkey, after all my Ohio family are among the most politically active people I know. It was worth the detour, plus I got to see dinosaurs (no, I am not delusional). I only wish they were out longer in order to have a better shot at seeing them all.