Friday, January 5, 2018

New Tradition: Luminaria in the Neighborhood

Last year Chris, one of our neighbors, asked if anyone would be interested in creating a luminaria path on Christmas Eve so Santa could see where to land. A couple of neighborhoods nearby have had this tradition for many years, so it was not too new of a concept, it was only new for us.

Chris limited participation to three streets: Nassau, Dustin, and Abby. We live at the corner of two of those streets. Turns out our immediate neighbors on both sides were two of the 26 families who participated. Based on a google maps image, there are 77 houses that could have participated. Not bad for the first real year (last year was a trial year).

It was cold! It rained! Fortunately we took pictures before we went to the 7 pm church service at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church. During worship the wind blew out many of candles. The rained dampened others. Our spirits are not dampened. We have thoughts on what to do differently next year (the big one is to fold over the bags to make them more wind resistant). We could fill the bags earlier. It was cold when we did it! The weather had been warm up through December 23 before beginning a two week arctic blast (which we are still slogging through). Lastly, we need to clear the leaves first. We were  concerned about them becoming fire hazards.

Here are a couple of pictures:

2017 Hogmanay

Once again we braved winter to toss our grievances from 2017 and our wishes for 2018 into the township's bonfire. Spurred on by Don's 2016 wish for a new job doing something he loves, with a short commute and fun co-workers, I wanted to risk the 13 degree temperatures to toss my wish into the air -- a part-time job doing something I love, something that offers a lot of day to day variety, one that I could make my own.

The bonfire seemed shorter this year. I think the firefighters and Boy Scouts used 5 foot pallets instead of ones twice as high. The crowd also seemed much smaller. Even near the fire, it was still frigid by New Jersey standards.

I met up with my friend Nancy. Her son, Nate, was waiting in the car so we couldn't visit long. We didn't stay long, either, because we left the Kappa New Year's Eve party at Kathy and Scott's house to continue our tradition. I also saw my sister, Melissa, there, but as she was going to the same party we didn't have to stay outside in order to catch up since their trip to Arizona. Other friends posted pictures, but most people did not linger long.

Here are a few pictures from New Year's Eve at the Brearley House:

My parent's calendars burning

I'm partial to the firemen walking in front of the flame photos. Gives a sense of height.

Here is a link to the 2016 bonfire.

Stay warm and may all of your wishes for 2018 come true.

2018 Resolutions

I share my resolutions for the New Year with the hope at least some of you will hold me to them. As I look back on my 2017 resolutions I am both pleased some of them came true, and dismayed others did not. As with everyone reading this, I am a work in progress and I have room for improvement.

I'm going to start with repeating a few of the goals that were not successes last year.

1) Join a parent group at Ashley's school and get to know more people at the school while helping out. She only has 2 1/2 years left for me to make a dent in this goal. High school really does go by quickly!

2) Add another country to my list of countries visited. Okay, this a cheat one since we have a North Sea cruise planned for August to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Since I failed in it last year, though, I feel compelled to add it to 2018.

3) Try new low-carb recipes. I did great with the vegetarian recipes, I believe, because my goal was concrete. This one was too vague to judge. Maybe a cute name like Wacky Wednesday (going low-carb in this country is wacky, right?). Accepting suggestions for the next week.

4) Continue to try to stop wasting time. I suppose I should add an app to keep me off of Facebook during the day.

New goals:

5) Host an exchange student (application already submitted).

6) Find a part-time job (applications submitted, ongoing I suppose).

7) Walk or run 2018 miles in 2018 (signed up for Run the Year).

8) Join a CSA: Community Supported Agriculture (Chose one, application due next month).

9) Reconnect to high school friends by helping to plan the 30 plus 1 reunion (already on the committee).

I might add a goal or two, but so far this list looks good. What are your resolutions?

Top 10 Posts of 2017

Happy New Year! This year's snow has helped me fall a little behind schedule this year. I like to do the final tally and write this post closer to January 1 to make it more accurate. The 11th place (Writing and Running) only missed tenth place by two clicks, so it merits an honorable mention. If you look at last year's list, this year I had nearly twice as many clicks on posts than I did in 2016. The first three months saw a lot of action on The Pillsbury Press, which died out by the end of March. Guess I should have cashed in on my popularity. Hot posts now are around 200 clicks instead of 600.

Based solely on clicks, here is my Top 10 List of most popular Pillsbury Press posts in 2017:

10. 572 clicks -- All Four 
9. 576 clicks -- 2017 Resolutions
8. 583 clicks -- Waning Optimism
7. 587 clicks -- What's next?
6. 621 clicks -- Prayer Vigil
5. 631 clicks -- Million Women's March
5 (tie). 631 clicks -- Inauguration Night
3. 671 clicks -- Countries Visited
2. 681 clicks -- 2016 Bonfire
1. 682 clicks -- Top 10 (11) posts of 2016

I see some irony in that the top post of the year was a list of top posts from the year before. 

I notice many of the top posts are political in nature, but a few are purely personal. I wonder what I will write about in 2018 that will catch your interest. Feel free to chime in and let me know when you are reading something of interest. Maybe that will spur me to write another post on that topic. Or not. As always this started as a way to share our family news with our friends. It started as a Christmas newsletter and has grown into a means of communication throughout the year.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

12K O'Christmas Run

RunBucks created another fun race this year -- 12K O'Christmas Run in Tyler State Park. I've enjoyed several RunBucks events, such as their 15K race in August, the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup 4 mile run, their 10 mile run, and the Canal O-Ween 4 miler, but these have been closer to home in Washington Crossing State Park. Tyler State Park is about 25 minutes away from home. It is also very hilly. 

Race organizers promised their Christmas present to us would be that the big hills would all be downhills. They lied. In my mind I called this the Pinocchio Race. There was a hill that lasted over a mile (from miles 5 to 6.2). Another runner referred to it as The Big Beast.

I signed up for the race partially because the Saturday before Christmas was empty on my calendar (later I learned I could have had breakfast with Santa at Fedoras with Don and Ashley), but more because of the odd distance. Twelve kilometers works out to about 7.45 miles -- a distance I have never run before in a race, therefor a guaranteed distance and course PR. 

The race was marked in kilometers, which as I've said before make the race seem faster.

About two weeks before the race I saw my neighbor Lucy and told her I was running this race. She immediately signed up to do it with me. It is the first time we have run together, though we often see each other on the trails.

Race day weather was miserable. The forecast called for a high of 56 (nice for December in New Jersey), but raining. They moved parking from the field near the start line to a paved lot about a half mile away. Thirty minutes should have been enough time to get to the start, pick up our bibs and shirts, go back to the car, make final wardrobe decisions, and get back to the start in time. There were no signs and we had troubles finding the starting line. Ugh.

By the time we did the running around we made it to the start line 8 minutes late, which coincidentally was when the race started. Normally they are very good about starting on time, so I suspect enough others had troubles with the moved parking lot that it merited them starting late. 

It was only misting when we were at the car deciding what to wear. Lucy felt her rain gear was overkill. I ditched my sweatshirt. Within the first kilometer the skies opened up and it rained the rest of the race. Visibility was only about 10 feet. What I could see looked nice.

Lucy stayed with me the whole race. My legs were not feeling the hills. I am a much stronger power walker on the hills than a runner. Lucy struggled to keep up with my walking (for her walking is to rest, for me it is to pick up my pace). When it came to the downhills she ran with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. I laughed and smiled at her expressions of pure joy. She gave me some running tips. which were hard to implement in the moment.

 A little hard to see in this picture, but the mile markers were simple images from the song the 12 Days of Christmas. We lost time taking this picture as the few people near us kept ending up in my picture.

After conquering The Big Beast we though we were done with the hills. We were past the 6 mile point. About a quarter of a mile from the finish line another small hill appeared and we both let out a groan. It wasn't a major incline -- but it was a sign we were both DONE. We were by no means the last people to finish. When we left 10 minutes later some people we had seen on the course early on were finishing. 

There were some course volunteers, but not many. It was Christmas weekend. There were enough that we did not get lost, which is what matters. Unlike many routes, this was not an out-and-back, but a couple of large loops. As a result, I have no idea how many people were participating in the race. I mostly saw the same few people around us.

We finished around 1:33. Neither of us placed. It wasn't even close for me. Lucy sprinted to the finish line. I tried to give it my all, but with carrying an extra 10 pounds of wet clothes, there was not much "all." I wore a cotton shirt from the Christmas Story 5k/10k race, and a sparkly Santa hat, neither of which repelled water. Both of which looked cute.

As is typical with RunBucks events, the post-race food was fantastic! They had a Thanksgiving Dinner-style spread. Yes, I should have taken a picture. They had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and cranberry sauce. They also had a lot of leftovers, probably because it was too wet to mill around afterwards.

Lucy is enthusiastically looking forward to doing the race again next year (um...with me). I am trying to figure out when and how often I should visit Tyler State Park and work on my hill training. Running 10K in Mercer Meadows was nowhere near the preparation I needed for a 12K hilly run. Another group has a winter running series that mostly takes place in Tyler State Park on Sunday mornings. I should really consider joining them. 

The rest of the day was spent wearing my new green hoodie, sitting on the coach reading a book near the fireplace and trying to warm up. It was nearly 60 degrees out, but I still struggled to warm up. Perhaps that is what my post-race picture should be, an easy image to recreate.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

NYC Window Displays

Each year we seem to travel to less window displays, and each year there seems to be less department stores with window displays. This year we only went to Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylors, and Macy's -- the ones that typically are our favorites, and most in the area of where we are going. Bloomingdale's we usually deem too far to hike to.

HERE is a link to doing a walking tour of all six sets of windows. It is a two mile loop.

After the obligatory picture in front of The Tree, we walked around the block to Saks Fifth Avenue (no way were we walking through Rockefeller Center if we could avoid it).

Saks themed their windows in honor of the 80th anniversary of Snow White.

We had dinner at The Counter -- a restaurant we frequent when we go into NYC because we are creatures of habit, and because we all always leave full and happy.

Continued our stroll to Lord & Taylors. Typically the windows at L&T are my favorites because they are so classic. This year I was not as enamored by them. They were images from inside a snow globe, I think. Don liked the unicycle barely visible in the second window we saw (we went backwards, which may not have helped with the story telling aspect of it). It is in the center of the image that is mostly in red.

I really like the touch of the taxis carrying Christmas trees.

Finally we went to Macy's. In recent years their windows have been too high tech for me, but they seem to have toned that down this year so you could enjoy it without the bonus electronics.

Made me think of the start of our day when we rode the subway.

A little marketing plug in front of a department store, go figure.

As they say in Santaland, Merry Christmas.

NYC Subway Holiday Train

After a false start, the stars were in alignment for us on Sunday. A couple of years ago I heard New York City's MTA pulls out vintage subway cars on Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is usually a busy time of year, but seeing a gap in our calendar this year, and temperatures in the 50s, I filled it with a day trip to New York City.

For those of you not in NYC, subway tickets currently cost $2.75 a ride. A ride is as long as you stay underground, so for us we could ride the train from 10 AM until 5 PM if we wanted for the same $2.75 each. We rode for about two hours, that was long enough.

HERE is a nice post with great pictures taken Thanksgiving Weekend.

The basics are the past few years the holiday train has run from 10 AM to 5 PM on the Sundays during Christmastime. They run between 2nd Avenue and 96th Street. Here is where it gets tricky -- it starts on the F line on 2nd Street, and ends up on the Q line at 9th Street. It is not a regular subway line, instead it is on the S line. When it reaches 2nd Avenue, riders can stay on the train or mingle on the platform. At the other end (96th Street) riders must disembark and wait. In each direction the ride is about 35 minutes long, meaning there is an additional 25 minutes of hanging out time at the ends.

The train leaves the 2nd Avenue station at 10 AM, 12 noon, 2 PM, and 4 PM. 

The train leaves the 96th Street station at 11 AM, 1 PM, 3 PM, and 5 PM.

What did we do? We waited at the 42nd Street (Bryant Park) station for the F train. The information on the MTA website talks about trains going Uptown and Downtown. The station talks about trains going North and South. Really? We waited on the wrong side of the platform, and in this case you had to go up a flight of stairs and back down again in order to catch the train in the opposite direction. Don saw it out of the corner of his eye and we raced breathlessly to the correct side.

We caught the train at 12:15 PM. It was on its second round trip for the day. The train was festively comfortably filled. We had space to walk between the different cars (though perhaps not the best idea since in those days the space between cars was was mighty exposed).

A number of people dressed in period attire, ranging from the 1930s to the 1970s. Enough dressed up that Ashley declared she wants to do this again next year, but next time we should dress up, too. some of the costumes were amazing. I thought of Brianna and friends who cosplay Disney, and Stacy and friends who cosplay 1940s. The event looked even more fun with a costume.

Views of the cars:

We also enjoyed looking at the old ads and signs.

Filtered cigarettes are better for your health!

Miss Subway? How long did that contest last?

Not even sure what Lipton is trying to say with this ad.

The man on the right is tired.
He takes a potion and not only is he now alert, he has a goatee and mustache.
Ashley is wary of this product.

Only a nickle to send a letter overseas? Sign me up!

Ashley was a bit apprehensive to ride something this old. I said I would agree with her if we were flying in an airplane that old (though I would still do it given the opportunity at an affordable price), but here the worst problem we would face is getting stuck on ground level. Then I saw this man, and his co-workers having to manually open and close doors. Hmm... maybe she does have a valid concern after all.

A little maintenance work while we wait.

In addition to those working, and those in period attire, there were plenty of people taking pictures (with much fancier equipment than mine) for the media, or (like us) for themselves. 

On two of the eight cars were musicians. Their cars were understandably even more crowded.

The return trip (leaving at 1 PM) was much more crowded than our original ride. On the first part of our trip we could sit and walk between cars. After 1 we could only change cars by exchanging cars at a station. Normally not something I would advise, but this train was moving pretty slowly, and it took a lot of effort to close the doors. We had plenty of time to jump between cars this way.

While hanging out at the 2nd Avenue station we met photographer David C Falco. He was dressed in period attire and taking pictures of people using a 1930s/1940s style camera fitted with a Polaroid camera. I saw his picture on the internet and heard from a friend of a friend that he is a nice guy. When he said he takes Polaroid souvenirs for $20 I decided it would be a fun memento. 

A parting shot. There were 8 cars. Two classics from the 30s and 40s, and one from the 1970s.

I see this turning into a family tradition. From here we walked around NYC, saw The Tree, visited Santaland at Macy's, saw the windows, and enjoyed Christmastime in the City before the City became too crowded. All in all a good day.