Thursday, October 13, 2016

Get Lost

An impromptu phone call on Columbus Day led to Ashley and I getting out of the house and getting some much needed fresh air on a beautiful fall day. We grabbed a friend who lives on the way and met up with Debbi, Mike and their family. Pillsbury Press policy doesn't identify last names or kids names without permission.

We split up into two teams: the teenagers versus the rest of us.

This is the 20th anniversary of the Howell Living History Farm's corn maze. It is their biggest annual fundraiser, which brings in enough money to keep the farm free throughout the year. They only charge a nominal amount for certain events (almost always under $5 a
person). This year's theme was the mule barge that served as transportation for goods along the Delaware River. Throughout the three-mile hand-cut maze there are mailboxes with 10 puzzle pieces to help you find your way you, plus answers to fill-in the blanks. a crossword puzzle, mule barge matching, trivia, and the seemingly long list of rules, most of which we went through in orientation before starting.

Team A went one way while Team B went the other. Occasionally our paths would cross. At this confabs we learned they found pieces we did not find, and vice versa. It was fun seeing them. If we wanted to be efficient we would have grabbed two pieces and swapped information at these times. I suspect instead of calling the "efficient" Debbi would call it "cheating." Semantics. Mike and I had a chance to chat, which is rare, yet very pleasant. Debbi and youngest son did the hunting.

In the end the teens finished 15 minutes before us, but without getting all of the answers or puzzle pieces (each missing puzzle piece adds six minutes to the total time, missing or wrong answers also add time). Because Debbi was tenacious in getting EVERYTHING (and I mean EVERYTHING) our team had 30 minutes taken off. So they they got out of the maze first, we had a lower time.

From there we walked over to the aMAZing Pumpkin Carve. Some of the pumpkins were indeed quite amazing, others were eaten by raccoons (according to the sign), but seemed to have been eaten by deer based on their size and the number of deer we saw that day.

Voted Best at Night and my favorite


By local artist Leon Rainbow

Also by Leon Rainbow

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Black Lives Matter

My friend Heidi recently posted she has these black lives matter bumper magnets. She is a suburban mom who is fed up with constantly hearing about black men killed for doing things that would not get us white people killed. Before you type in an argument, I will be the first to say there are many sides to every story, and I do not fault the police in 100% of these situations, but the facts remain black men are killed at a much, much higher rate than anyone else in America.  It is an epidemic. I recently heard someone refer to it as genocide. Now that is a scary thought.

In the past three days I have heard speakers addressing issues that face black people more than white people. I'll share some of them with you.

1) Recidivism -- a fancy way of saying relapsing and falling back in prison after being released. Former prisoners have a 75% chance of ending up back in prison after being released because the system is set up for them to fail. Basically no support is provided to help them, and any support they received while in prison (such as mental health and other medical care) disappears. They have court fees to pay, and no easy legal way to earn money, so often they return to a life of crime. At least that way their basic needs will be taken care of, right? Seriously, is this how you would want someone in your family to live?

2) Reconciliation between Witherspoon Presbyterian Church and the Presbytery of New Brunswick. In 1900 the presbytery removed Reverend William Robeson (activist, author, and actor Paul Robeson's father) from the pulpit. Records do not really exist explaining WHY, but the speculation is he was a black man preaching and encouraging equality for the races in the post-Civil War era. He had served as their pastor for 21 years, and continued to minister to his congregation in his spare time. This past spring a communion service of reconciliation was held between Witherspoon Presbyterian Church and the Presbytery. The Presbytery recognized many hurt feelings happened because of their actions and they wanted to mend the past.

3) Gun violence. While at the church service talking about Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, Fred (a local icon) invited the congregation to a meeting on Tuesday night to discuss what we can do as a community to stop gun violence. I admit I left the meeting with wider eyes and greater sympathy, but there are no easy answers. There were a couple of teenage boys there telling us how they can't go into certain sections of town without fear of being jumped -- and these days being jumped often includes at least one gun. One teen said he was told either he had to shoot a friend of his or be killed. What kind of option is that? What kind of life is that? These teenagers have lost 45 friends to gun violence, yet there is no trauma support in the schools. Really? Many, many people are being killed for no apparent reason.  Which, of course, can circle back to my first point -- the high rate of black prisoners.

When I first heard the Black Lives Matter movement I thought "how silly, we ALL matter." It took hearing a bunch of news stories, and first person stories, to appreciate that yes, we do all matter, and yes there is a lot of violence and injustice against many people (yes, even white suburban moms), but right now no one is being targeted with the same level of violence and hopelessness as black people -- especially men and boys.

I wish I had an easy answer. One "easy" suggestion was to re-open the four library branches that were closed, and for Trenton to join the Mercer County Library System. My librarian friends just read that and said "that's not easy." It feels easy compared with getting guns off of the streets, getting rid of bad "mentors," making streets safe, and other really big ideas. The group knows the problems took decades to get this bad, and that it will take time to repair. Unfortunately the youth of Trenton does not have years. I hope those youngsters survive long enough to open the eyes of white suburban moms and dads to engage us in ways we never thought possible.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Blessing of the Dragon

No photos today as I took Sandy Dragon to be blessed. Sandy is well known among St. Ann's School for being a cool dragon. For the past four years I have taken him to be blessed, after all he was 8 when we adopted him and they only live 8-10 years. He needs all the extra help he can get (but, then again, don't we all).

I thought I blogged about it each year, but can only find a post from 2012 and one from 2014.

The service is based in the liturgy of St. Francis of Assisi -- the patron saint of animals. There is usually too much barking to hear what is actually happening during the service. At St. Ann's they drop a bit of oil on his head. The service at Northstar is more personalized where they ask about the animal and lay hands on the animal and his caretakers while saying a personalized prayer. We plan to return to that on Thursday night.

Today I brought Sandy to the school. He has been really lethargic lately, I suspect shedding taking a ton of energy and he has been shedding for a month or two. Unlike snakes, bearded dragons shed bit by bit by bit by bit by bit in an agonizingly long process. When they are little they shed a lot in order to grow. At his age he is not growing, but he sheds anyway.

In the car ride over he decided to start moving. This is often followed by pooping. I did not put him in a carrier because he has been lethargic, and because it is only a 3 mile suburban drive. I wrapped him in a towel. He walked out of it. I tried again. He squiggled again.

We get to the school. People come up to us to see the dragon. Many have never seen a dragon before up close. They want to touch him. That's fine. He is a mighty lazy dude. This experience might turn them on or turn them off to all reptiles. Sandy is up for the challenge -- except.... except he really has to poop and he has to do it now. 

All the school kids go through the line. It is now time for the parishioners and members of the public to have their animals blessed. There are not many of us left. I put him on the cold driveway. This brings a class of 4th graders (I guess) to check him out. They respectfully stand away from him, but still some want to touch him. I explain he is about to poop. Cool! Says the boys. Eww! Says some other boys. 

He poops (but does not pee, which is the white part that comes out before the poop). He seems to have more in him. The secretary is asking me to have him blessed so Father Gerard can go inside again (it is a bit brisk out).

I scoop up the dragon, towel and all, and hope for the best. 

Yes! Sandy is blessed, and he does NOT "christen" the priest's vestments. 

I put him back in the car, where he does not squiggly, and take him back to his warm 95 degree tank. Must feel better than the 60 degree driveway.

Dorney 10K

This is the race that almost didn't happen. A week early I ran a half marathon in Paris. To be fair, I signed up for the Dorney race a couple of months before the one at Disneyland Paris, but it was still a lot for a week. Add to that, the forecast was calling for 50s and rain (brr..first cold snap of the year). On the other hand I signed up for it and did not want a DNS (Did Not Start) for this one. We cancelled the hotel and decided not to go (yes, we can be quite indecisive at time). We even asked Michelle to pick up our race packets. The next day we changed our mind (as the forecast improved) and find out most were sold out due to a track meet at Lehigh University bringing 6,000 people to town. 

We found a room. When we checked in we were told they were overbooked and it was first come, first serve. We were there before others, so we got a room. Stinks for those running later, so we avoided the lobby the rest of the night.

We had a lovely visit with Michelle and Marc. Marc and I founded Kappa Sigma Rho in college, a co-ed fraternity. The joke goes it is rare for to founders to be the same room at the same time because most of the founders have left the Mercer County area. I texted Michelle later and said Mark and I should have taken a photo for proof that it can happen.

The race was good. They three options: 5k, 10k, and half marathon. I opted for 10k, Don and Michelle both decided to do that distance, too. Michelle talked her friend Susan into joining us. Don was the fastest (59 minutes). I was second (1:11). Susan (BE) and Michelle (ST) ran together and beat their goal. They had 121 runners for 10k.

The night before the race, Michelle mentioned it is hilly. Oh, so unlike Marne-le-VALLEE, France, the Lehigh VALLEY is hilly??? Wow! Unlike the Princeton Half Marathon, though, the uphills were followed by lovely downhills. I walked through my intervals on the uphills, and ran through them on the downhills. Even with taking 25 pictures, I finished near my stretch goal of 1:10 (realistic goal 1:15). Okay, it helped a bit that my watch measured the 6.2 mile course as only being 6 miles long.

After four hilly miles going around the theme park, we came inside and were met by dinosaurs. You just can't make this stuff up. Later on Don, Ashley, and Maia went to check them out and found out that was an extra $5 fee. Way to go with the upcharges Dorney, um, no thanks.

Often races start with the theme park section, and end someplace really boring (like a lap or two around a parking lot). This was the opposite. It was nice to end on the fun part. The finish line itself was out of the park, but not by much.

Halloween is big at Dorney

I only saw one character. Don said he also saw Sally.

I like the 10k distance. It is a nice stretch for me. By the 4 mile mark I was hungry (fortunately this time I remembered my Sports Beans). By the 5 mile mark I was tired of doing this (but I was almost done). It was overcast, but not raining (maybe spritzing, we can't agree on that one). Don went into Dorney with Ashley and Maia. I went home to volunteer for Community Day. 

You did it! (Subtract 10 minutes because the half started earlier)
Feeling more human.

To me an odd thing ... the 5k, 10k, and half marathon medals link together. To me this would imply it is possible to earn all three medals. However, the half marathon started at 7 AM, the 10k, at 7:10, and the 5k at 8:30. You could do two out of three, but it would be impossible to do the "hat trick." The race organizers say you can do the races at different theme parks. This Run and Ride series also goes to Cedar Point, Kings Dominion, and Carolwoods -- nothing closer to home.  

Don has already said next year he might be interested in the half marathon distance. I said "no, thank you." The half marathon course was basically two loops of the 10k with a bit more tossed in to get from 12.4 miles to 13.1. If we can talk Ashley into the 5k (not at all likely) then maybe our medals could also link together.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Iceland in 3 1/2 hours

After years of traveling around the globe, it took until Monday's layover for me to truly feel like a world traveler. On Monday, rather than hang out in the airport during a 7 hour 40 minute layover, I took a bus into downtown Reykjavik. While looking at different airfares, the detour through Iceland appealed to me the most because we were there only six months earlier, therefore I could make the most out of the three and a half house I would have in the city before I had to catch a bus in time to catch my flight.

To maximize time I bought a bus ticket on the airplane. I knew where to catch the bus. I knew the bus would take about an hour. What I did not know was how close the bus station was to downtown Reykjavik (a 10 minute walk) or what the weather would be like once I landed (perfect -- about 48F, clear blue skies, no wind. I did not need the gloves or hat I packed).

With the perfect weather I modified my plans and first went to the top of Hallgrimskirkja church first for a panoramic view of the city. It was here I had another dose of "wow! I am a world traveler!" There were four different possibilities for paying (euros, krona, US dollars, or credit cards) and I had all four on me (I used euros). 

The church was only a couple of blocks from where we stayed, so I popped in there to see if they had the electric converter I left behind (they have over a hundred, so she gave me a random one). From there I went to the Bonus grocery store to buy six bars of Icelandic chocolate and black current tea bags (as per requests from Don and Ashley).

Along the street I noticed parts were temporarily closed to turn it into a pedestrian friendly zone. On the same street was a book store recommended to us by John. The owner (Svenson?) is very friendly and would not let me leave until I had a book in my hand. It didn't matter that the book is in Icelandic, it is a souvenir of our brief visit. Later I realized I should have left it in the airport for someone who reads Icelandic to enjoy.

By this point I am feeling mighty productive, and grinning from ear to ear about how well the day is progressing. I have only been in Reykjavik for an hour and have accomplished four big things on my long wish list. Fortunately the rest of the trip went just as well.

Next stop: an Icelandic hot dog. Trust me on this one. I don't eat hot dogs anywhere else. At about $4 each, this is the only affordable food in Iceland. I enjoyed it.

My next destination was across a busy street: The Harpa. The Harpa is a performing arts center that is less than ten years old. After our last trip I learned you can walk around the inside of it (we didn't even try on our last trip). With the brilliant blue sky, I went inside and was rewarded with stained glass reflections on the floor.

Back across the busy street to my last destination -- Settlement Exhibition Reykjavik 871 +/- 2. It is called that because it was founded in 871, plus or minus two years. The inside of the museum has the remains of a hall excavated in 2001. As a fan of archaeology, that was neat, but I was still expecting something more. I got more out of the computers in the lobby that talked about the historical documents used in their research then I did in the exhibit. Oh well. Glad all three of us did not go there in March.

I still had some time to spare so I walked along the ocean before heading to the bus station. I smiled the entire time I played tourist, happy to have not spent the day in an airport. I look forward to more adventures.

Disneyland Paris Semi Marathon

Part of me is tempted to sum up the race with these two pictures, but anyone who knows me knows I'm too verbose to do that, plus I want to share more of the 160 pictures I took along the course.

The Disneyland Paris Semi Marathon (and yes, we chuckled over the word "semi" instead of "demi") started at 7 AM -- a very civilized time, especially for a Disney race. I still left the Airbnb at 5:30 AM because my host was driving me to the start and the roads were supposed to be closed early.

By a mistake on my part, I ended up in Corral A. Instead of noting an anticipated 2:35 finish time (which would have still been a stretch in a normal half marathon) I put down a 1:35 time and they believed me. 

There were only four corrals for 16,000 runners. Each was subdivided into 300 people based on who made to the start line the earliest (as opposed to who was the fastest). Therefore, not only was I in Corral A, I was in the first of possibly 9 Corral As, each with a minute start over the one before. First and last time that will ever happen, so I relished the moments.
And after a 7-10 minute delay so they could close the roads (really?) we were off! I let the other 299 people speed on and tried not to get swept up in their pace. There were a few people even slower than I was in that first bunch of 300. 

I stopped for every photo spot, and even created some of my own. I took pictures of all of the entertainment (mostly high school bands and cheerleaders) and of interesting scenery. I knew there was no chance the Balloon Ladies would ever catch up to me, or me to them. I was really happy with how I felt overall, which is not at all reflected in my overall time of 3:22 (for once I didn't have to subtract out the time it took me to get to the starting line). I only walked through a couple of my intervals. I was smiling and talking to people along the route. I tried to savor every minute of the experience, and in the end I'm going to say it was my favorite race to date.

Back to the actual race.

Here is the course:

 We started in Disney Village. Between the parks, I heard Princess Debbie calling my name (I call her that because she is a Perfect Disney Princess Half Marathoner). It was good to see her. The first four miles went through the two theme parks

The day before they had a family 5K with tons of characters, and character lines of almost 30 minutes each. Yes, people waited a half an hour during a 5K for pictures. I did not do that race. One woman said her 5K time with her daughter was going to be longer than her half marathon time alone. I believed her. We did not have a lot of characters in the half marathon. Unlike at the 5K, they kept these lines moving -- the PhotoPass photographer took a picture, and we were allowed only one photo each (a selfie, but later people took pictures with each others' cameras), good thing since my selfie skills lead a lot to be desired.

I saw the March Hare and White Rabbit hop away.
I heard if I waited 15 minutes I could pose with the Cheshire Cat -- tempting, but too long to wait.
Always happy to see Mr. Hatter.

The Genie didn't get the posing memo.

We left Disneyland Paris out a back entrance to, what my Airbnb host called "l'entrance des artistes," the backstage area. Some women were posing with the firefighters, so I did, too.

Then I was off again. The day before the race I walked from my Airbnb room towards Disneyland Paris inside a local park behind their house, past a chateau (that is now an office building), a high school, and a modern office complex before taking a bus for the last mile or two to Disneyland. I retraced those steps on this course. It was relaxing seeing something familiar.

A few comments, then more pictures. 
  • Time seems to pass quicker when marked in kilometers instead of miles because the markers appear that much more often.
  • I thought this part was going to drag on forever because we were off-property, but Disney did an awesome job of providing lots of entertainment.
  • I told myself the course would be hilly because it took place in Marne-le-VALLEE, but it was remarkably flat.
  • The weather was perfect! About 50F at the start, going up to 70F -- no need for a jacket to keep warm while waiting, nor did I get too hot while running. I did not feel any humidity.
  • They had lots and lots of water and nutrition stations. The map showed six water stops (one every two miles or so), but they seemed to be a lot more.

Neat tidbits to read along the course.

Running on a high school track. At one point Prince Charming
got ahead of Cinderella. She called "Hey Prince -- wait up!" 

Lots of local bands along the route

I was there the day before

Races seem faster when marked in kilometers instead of miles

I know exactly where I am -- I was lost there the day before.

The driver kept beeping his klaxon-y sounding horn to cheer us on

The next big chunk happened on-property as we ran through the hotels and resorts. The cheerleaders shouted: ALLEZ, ALLEZ, GO, GO, GO! I might use that the next time I cheer my friends on at races.

Only 5k to go! Just like a regular training run.
At one point there was talk that each runner would have to go through Disney's metal detectors and security checkpoint before being allowed to re-enter Disney Village. Can you imagine the reaction of the elite runners losing precious minutes due to security in the middle of the race? Fortunately they decided to trust there was little we could hide in our clothes, or pick up along the route, that we did not already have in our clothes when we went through security before the start of the race.

Around this point I heard Princess Debbie shout JACQUIE! Prior to that when people cheered for me they said JACQUELYN -- the name on my bib. The familiar voice and word made me turn around. Our friend Julie was still on the course. Their husbands had already finished.

The end was a bit anticlimactic. I wish I had paused to take a picture of someone's sign saying they were proud of all of the strangers. It was not the exact message Peggy Sue always had on her sign, but it still made me think of her, and miss seeing her at that point. She always aimed for around the 12 mile mark to give encouragement to the slower runners. I know she was there in spirit. 

We finished by looping through Disney Village and into an area not far from where we started and where we dropped our bags before daylight.

I can do it!

Great cheering squad at the finish line

Love the medals!

As always the runners' costumes were SUPERBE! Here is a small sampling:

As the buses were still not running by this point, but the theme parks were open, I changed into clean, dry clothes and went to Disney.

THE GOOD: Too much to list, but I'll go with crowd support, especially from the Cast Members.

THE BAD: The guidebook was all in French. I mean ALL IN FRENCH. I met very few French people doing this race, but many from the States, England, and Americans living in Germany.

THE UGLY: Absolutely nothing. Especially since they scrapped their plan to have us go through security towards the end of the race. This race exceeded all of my expectations. 

A bientot! Or Allez, Allez, Go, Go, Go! Whichever you prefer.