Sunday, March 4, 2018

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Run 2018

Let me start by saying RunBucks does an awesome job organizing races. They tend to be not very expensive, and they cut out the junk, while having awesome food at the finish.

I also like this organization because I often bump into friends at the race.

Gabrielle and Sandra
At 4 miles, the distance is fun. It is a small stretch from my usual 5K (3.1 miles) training runs, but not such a stretch I have to do a bunch of extra training.

The race course is the same as it was in 2016 and 2017. One difference was this year Don did not run it with me. Last year the temperature was in the 20s. This year it was a seemingly 40 degrees at the start, but very windy (17 mph winds). On Friday we had a winter nor-easter, meaning lots of wind, but also some snow. Accumulation wasn't much, but the wind took down lots of trees, branches, power lines, etc. The organizers were kind enough to email us last night to say they checked the course. There were some small branches down (unlike the tree that blocked the 15K course last summer), and one puddle "that should be blow dried by the start," and indeed it was. 

My hope was the wind would be in my face for the "out" and at my back for the the "back." That was pretty true, except for the part on the canal was protected enough by the trees that I didn't notice the wind in my face, or at my back. When I did really notice the wind was during the last third of the last mile when we were pushing ourselves to the finish line. 

I set my personal goal of finishing sub-44 minutes. I passed the clock at the finish line and it said 43:50, but the official finish time was 43:55. My official chip time was 43:14, and my GPS said 43:20. The race sold out, but the day before the race they said they had a number of deferrals so people could buy a bib day of for $40 (cash). Hopefully soon they will post how many people actually ran it. Last year I was 43:40. I did not walk any part of the course this year, which is a small victory for me.

My biggest problem was I lost a glove on the course. Must have been on the way back because I would have noticed it if I ran over it on the way back. As I started to retrace my steps I asked a woman if she saw it. She said she did, and that she nearly picked it up but didn't. It was "less than a mile back." A mile back, then another mile back to my car, hmm... is it worth it for a "throw away glove?" Oh yes it is since one glove does no one any good, and since I hate to litter. 

As I found my glove, I also saw these beauties in the lake:

I was able to collect my glove and still make it home in time to take the girl to school in time for the matinee.

Unfortunately I also lost my Bondi band phone holder, but found two phone holders someone else left behind. I was encouraged to take one home. So if some reading this is looking for theirs, post a reply to this and I'll get it to you. If someone reading this found mine, I'd love to swap.

Three more comments:

1) The bathrooms, which have always been open, were not. The park ranger who drove by told us to "call maintenance" to see if they could turn it on. And how were we supposed to reach them on a Sunday morning? He then said they may have turned the water off because it was a really cold winter. Maybe? The race organizers thought the indoor plumbing would be open. At least there were port-a-potties.

2) A man trying to get on the Bucks County ticket for the next election was out collecting the 1,000 autographs he needed to get on the Democratic ballot. I thought that was a brilliant way to find lots of locals. Unfortunately he kept talking to people from New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Virginia.

3) The lack of water stops was odd. It was 40 out. I thought they had water last year when it was in the 20s, but I might be mixing up races. Seemed odd for them.

Get out there! It is definitely better than it was on Friday.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cooking the Old-Fashioned Way

When Ashley was little, especially during the years I homeschooled her, we visited Howell Living History Farm fairly often. Somehow we fell out of the habit. It would be easy to blame it on life. Part of it was their scheduled seemed to have the same events on the same weekends, which makes complete sense because, as their calendar says, their calendar "reflects the cycles of a fully functioning, working farm in Pleasant Valley, New Jersey during the years 1890-1910."

Last weekend they held an event I hadn't attended in the past, and Ashley had an all-day play practice, so we to the farm for their Winter Kitchen and Parlor event. Basically a cooking demonstration of how food was prepared using a circa 1785 open hearth versus am 1892 Glenwood stove. The farm recently acquired a late 18th century home located on the back road leading to Howell Farm (next door to the sugery (where they make maple syrup) and the one room schoolhouse. Up until quite recently someone lived in the home. Also fairly recently, the farm renovated the late 18th century farmhouse located next to the garden and barns. It now glistens.

We were lucky. The day we went they had enough staff to have the upstairs open to visitors. We could see how the bedrooms would have been decorated and appreciate their collection of photo albums, quilts, furniture, hair clips, and more.

Back to the cooking. We started our experience in the main farmhouse with Kim cooking using a cast iron stove. She had made a stew, and a beet and watermelon salad using ingredients the wife would have canned in the day. By the time we arrived, she was starting to make an apple pie/crisp for dessert so I peeled apples (which I never do when I make my own apple crisps). Making food leads to tasting food. Mmm... a good reason to mark the calendar for next year.

Don and I then ambled to the "new" farmhouse, which is really a hundred years older than the "old" farmhouse. It is so "new" it does have its own information page on Howell's website.

I did not catch our cook's name. I was too mesmerized by the facts she was sharing with us to interrupt her flow of conversation. I later learned her name is Margaret. Margaret has been doing a lot of research into studying the wills of people who lived in the area in the 18th century and died owning less than $100. In those days they itemized everything in the household -- plates, utensils, pots, pans, furniture, tools. Margaret has looked at least 300 of these wills, and presented her findings at a conference. Before we arrived she made a hearty lentil stew, some chicken "nuggets," pork, and was finishing up a dessert. She talked about "receipts," the 18th century term for recipes, where the directions included cooking by weight, by look, by feel, by any means other than what we look for in a 21st century cookbook. She spent trial and error changing them into recipes that would still use the same basic ingredients, but in a style more understandable to modern chefs. She clearly loved what she is doing.

We walked back to the first farmhouse to see if dessert was finished. It was. It was delicious.

We left promising Kim not to wait so long before our next visit. Our hope is to donate some of the pictures Honey Bunny made of Howell Farm for their auction this October. 

I need to note some dates on our calendar ... Barn Dances on March 9, July 6, and November 2. April 21 -- wash day (remind me how easy I have it with my late 20th century washer and dryer). May 12 -- vintage wedding dress display. And more.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Mandir: a place of paramount peace

As a result of most of my freelance work drying up recently, I am balancing having extra time with not wanting to spend any money. I am also trying to live in the present, not think about what I did wrong in the past or worry about what the future will bring, but enjoy the here and now.

I woke up one lovely day and decided to visit BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir located twenty minutes away in Robbinsville, New Jersey.

As I walked up to the front door I saw the dreaded sign, No Photography. Cringe. I took my big camera back to the car. I still had my little camera and my cell phone with me, but not my favorite camera.

The sign really meant No Photography inside the Temple, which is nested inside this rose stone building. 

Got it.

My journey actually started a few months earlier when I was having dinner at Debbi and Mike's house. Debbi and her mom, Pat, visited the mandir earlier that day and raved about it. It is this quiet Hindu place of worship tucked inside an industrial park in Robbinsville that once the entire complex is completed in a couple of more years is slated to become a World Heritage Site and will be mobbed with tourists. Until then, we have the place to ourselves.

A Mandir is defined as a Hindu place of worship. This one has services several times a day. The temple is open from 9 am to 7:30 pm seven days a week. Inside the temple the sacred shrines are open at set times each day. I was there for the 11:30 am to noon time slot. I arrived as they were closing after the 9 am to 10:30 am opening. When the sacred shrines are not open, my guide said they are "sleeping." Um...she does know they are statues, right? The website has pictures of them. 

I arrived about the same time as Dora. Dora is a college student about my age. Mina, one of the volunteers, thought we were together and insisted on giving us a joint tour. Mind you, I thought I would walk in there, look around, and leave within an hour. I was there two and a half hours and the time flew. 

The temple itself was carved from marble quarried in Italian that was brought to India to be carved 90% of the way using the ancient techniques and then shipped in pieces like a jigsaw puzzle to New Jersey. 

Some cool stats (taken from their publicity material, and repeated by Mina):

  • 13,499 pieces of carved stone comprise this mandir
  • 21,500 -- number of miles each piece traveled
  • 98 pillars depicting Hindu sages and devotees
  • 91 uniquely carved elephants
  • 236 stone peacocks in the "Mayur Dwar" (entrance gate)
The temple was built to last 1,000 years, but is already showing some signs of trouble, namely human hands touching things that are not meant to be touched. One of the pillars in the middle of the temple was surrounded by Plexiglas. Dora and I commented to ourselves we were glad we came when we did -- before the other pillars are similarly covered, which will hide some of their luster.

Inside the mandir are large images depicting the history of Hinduism. The first few were transformed into mosaics with tiny pieces of marble. There was one that was just a painting. Perhaps by the next time I go visit, this, too will be covered in stones.

At 11:30 there is a tiny service. The men sit on the floor in the front of the room. The women sit behind their circle, also on the floor. It is very quiet. The doors are open and the sacred shrines are on view. The sacred shrines are statues of their most important people in their faith. Mina did a wonderful job of explaining the same things to us over and over again, but I did not write anything down, and the words were too new to me. In essence, they did not stick.

Three leaders went up to the shrine, which was behind three separate pairs of doors, and waved a small candelabra inside their section. This is when I was glad to be behind the men. One leader then took his candelabra to each worshiper and the person waved some of the smoke onto himself. Each one had a different technique. Then the candelabra was passed to Mina who did the same with the women. 

After the service Mina continued to explain some of the details in the room. Each elephant was different. I know I said that already in the above list, but it bears repeating. Each one was about the same size and shape, but has a different present in his trunk, or a different pose with his legs, or somehow looks completely different from the others.

Mustached men appearing in the carvings are "family men," not their clergy who are shaved bare of body hair. Each carving has a story.

This is only the third such temple in the world, and the only one not in India. The Swaminarayan Akshardham are in New Delhi and Gandhinagar. This is the only one that will be protected from the elements by the pink building, whose official name is a "red stone parikrama." Picture Notre Dame cathedral covered by a giant warehouse shaped building. That is the parikrama. It completely covers the mandir. It was designed this way because the weather in New Jersey is not kind to carved marble, but to me it caused a second sacred zone before the primary sacred zone. Basically once you enter the parikrama you have left the secular world of cars and other distractions behind and are a step closer to peace and tranquility. Once I entered the mandir an even deeper sense of peace enveloped me. The interior of the parikrama is painted plaster. It is vibrant and colorful, yet a hush still fills the air. The mandir is all white -- inside and out. Yes, there are colorful statues and mosaics, but the carved pillars and ceiling is all white, and most of the tiles on the floor are also white, or at least very pale in color. I felt my blood pressure drop as I walked into the temple. It was very relaxing.

Instead of leaving with a sense of how Hinduism is so vastly different from Christianity. I left with a sense of how similar it is. The marble pillars rival anything I have seen in St. Patrick's Cathedral or Chartres or Notre Dame. There are images of the leaders holding what look like rosary beads. It is patriarchal. They have rituals and symbols. They have a head leader, their "pope" is Mahant Swami Maharaj. He is the sixth spiritual successor of Bhagwam Swaminarayan. His predecessor, Pramukh Maharaj, had the vision to bring this to New Jersey and visited the site when he was in his 90s. He passed away in 2016.

If we could all sit back and see our similarities instead of our differences, maybe we could all learn to get along with each other instead of asserting we are the only ones who know what is right.


College was easy.

Graduate school was even easier.

Job hunting is not easy.

College was easy because on the first day of class professors hand you a slip of paper, or a packet, outlining their expectations for the next few months. Assignments are due on these dates. They are to be done in this format. If they are late, this is the penalty. If you have questions or just want to chat, you can find me here at these times. 

Ahh... bliss.

Graduate school was even easier because not only did you receive the same information it was in a subject you really cared about and really wanted to learn more about. 

In those stages of my life, I had hoops. I knew what was expected of me. I knew where to go for help.

In short, bliss.

To be fair, the work was not always easy, nor was it always fun, but I knew what I had to do.

Job hunting after nearly 16 years of leaving the normal routine of working a full-time, Monday to Friday job with benefits I am trying to ease back into the workforce. I know others have successfully made the leap. 

But ... how?

In the month since I started looking I have interviewed with three different companies for three completely different positions. That shows my my resume is in decent shape.

It also shows me my interview skills are possibly lacking. Or it shows I am not applying for the right types of positions.

One question I have been asked is "what kind of job do I want?" It is quite telling that I have no idea what kind of job I want. I feel I will know it when I see it. How can I fit that into an online job search? 

Things I enjoy:

Libraries and books
Using social media to spread the word
Wearing different hats, figuratively speaking
Talking to people
Diving into a solo project so deeply hours can pass
Taking pictures
Hearing people's stories
Organizing information

All of this would qualify as having fun at work. Which leads me to the question, are we allowed to have fun at work? I hope so. We are there for so many hours, life is too short to not have fun as much as possible.

I see another job I want to apply for. Wish me luck. Send me good vibes. Most of all, pray. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

2017 Medals

At the end of the year I was surprised by my overall medal haul. I even had my first placement awards -- yes, TWO. In addition to these races, I ran a few that do not give out medals. 

Most are from Disneyland Paris, and a couple are races I run each year. The newest surprise were the medals on the right from competing in my first triathlon.

I thought it would make a pretty picture.

Pet Update

My last pet update was in August when Sandy Dragon died in my hands. At the time we were left with three cats: Charlie Cat, Kitty Lucy, and Max Cat. The arrangement was not working out for us, but what can you do? When Honey Bunny (Don's mom) moved into assisted living her cat had to go someplace. She suggested returning him to EASEL, the animal shelter she had adopted him from, but Don insisted he move in with us.

When he was at EASEL, his name was Leo. When he moved in with Honey Bunny she called him Kitty. In our house, I called him Max because that is the sound he makes with his meow.

While Max was a great match for Honey Bunny, he was an awful match for us. As long as she was alive and asking about him, I was willing to put up with it. When she died in October I asked EASEL what would be involved with returning him. We decided to give it a little more time and patience. I decided we needed a 100% family agreement before returning him to EASEL.

Last week the patience wore out. Kitty Lucy was already insisting her meals be delivered to her in Ashley's bedroom, mind you Ashley does not eat in her bedroom. She was also taking a short cut through the hole between rooms (where we sometimes keep cameras and other breakables) to bypass Max to get to the food dish. Charlie was hiding in far corners of the house. He was clearly losing weight. Max meanwhile was enjoying the life of royalty. He took over Charlie's favorite spots, and glared at both cats until they left the food dish for him. Max continued to get larger.

They are using his old information.
It was a tough decision, but we returned him to EASEL. I have a feeling they will 
never let us adopt another cat, but it was worth it. With some guidance from Ashley, Charlie returned to his once favorite spot. He even came out of hiding when my parents were visiting. I've heard him purr more in the past week than I did in the past 8 months. Lucy is eating downstairs. I have to open the door much less often because Max is not insisting on going outside for three minutes at a time, warming up, then repeating. We are also going through much less cat food (somehow three cats ate at least twice as much as two cats).

Yes, I feel guilty. I hope he finds his forever home. Maybe with another senior who would enjoy being followed everywhere (including the bathroom), and who would like to be talked to all day long. Now it is easier to enjoy the other two.

Max/Leo update: Max had the luck of the Irish and was adopted into his "furever" home on St. Patrick's Day. At the same time the Wagner family also adopted Destiny, a one and a half year old cat whose family surrendered her when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. 

I can't tell you what a relief it is to me that Max has a home. I heard while at EASEL he was a free roamer who greeted everyone as they came into the cat room. That sounds like him. Hoping he and Destiny get along.

Friday, January 19, 2018

New Year, New Challenge

Last year without intending to I ended up walking 10,000 steps every day. In an effort for full disclosure, I was sick for a couple of days in January so my challenge did not really start until January 28, therefore I have nine days left in last year's challenge.

I decided to up the ante this year. 10,000 steps a day was fairly easy for me (I did miss one day while crossing time zones), but with running a couple of half marathons and going to Disneyland Paris, I also had some days well over 30,000 steps. That got me to thinking. This year I wanted a different challenge. I did not want to have to walk 10,000 steps every. single. day.Trust me, with snow and ice, I don't always want to walk that much. Plus sometimes my legs are just plum tired.

Friends were posting they were going for the Run the Year Challenge -- 2,018 miles over the course of 365 days. Blindly calculating 10,000 steps a day into 5 miles (thinking 2,000 steps equals one mile) I thought this one would be a slam dunk. What I wasn't counting on was that my phone is smarter than I am. It uses GPS to figure out how far I have traveled that day. On the surface that sounds fair, but in reality many days I am stepping in place in order to reach goal.

Let's use the past two days as an example. Thursday I had 10,273 steps, which it calculated to 3.8 miles. Today I have 10,002 steps (thus far) at 4.7 miles. Huh? Today's steps included a 3.1 mile run (around 5,500 steps). I need an average of 5.5 miles a day to be successful with this challenge. The plan is once the snow melts, and I go on longer runs, I will make up for the distances I have not been achieving so far, but it is hard to be starting a challenge like this in the hole.

My last year-long challenge was the photo challenge. By the end of the year, I did not care if I ever saw a camera again.

Organizers are quick to point out this is a personal challenge. Some do it by running all 2,018 miles (*gasp*), while others do it by creating a team of four people and making it a group event. Walking and running are allowed, but this is a foot challenge, so cycling and swimming miles don't count. Some say it has to be miles with the intention of getting exercise (as opposed to running errands or walking around the house). It is completely on the honor system, though.

My goal is a combination of running and walking, just like my goal for finishing a race.

My prize for completing this challenge already came in the mail.

I think the logic behind mailing the bling early was to make it easier on the organizers -- one big mailing instead of lots of tiny mailings. To make runners feel a sense of accomplishment, the medal has a flip up tab to show we were successful (stating Finisher). I'm still hopeful I will be able to flip that tab by December 31, but it will be close.

84.9 miles down. An average of 4.7 miles a day. Too many to go! Come on Spring!! Come back!!