Thursday, November 13, 2014

The ALS ice bucket challenge

I'm sure you have heard about the ALS ice bucket challenge. You may have even been challenged yourself. I know I was, but I opted out of it since I had just donated to ALS in memory of our next door neighbor, Tom, about a week before it became the "in" charity to donate money. 

To date (November 13, 2015) the ALS ice bucket challenge has received $115 million dollars in support. Money they were surprised to receive. On October 2, 2014 ALS announced $21.7 million (plus a $12.5 million matching donation) will be used "to support six programs and initiatives to expedite the search for treatments and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)"

While that is awesome, that is not the story I want to write about. I want to tell you about my awesome neighbor, Tom, and his family. I'm not going to share any secrets about them, only stories already published in the newspaper, and a couple of personal anecdotes.

Two years ago Tom saw us struggling with taking down our willow tree following Superstorm Sandy and offered us use of a tool. We both took one look at him and knew something was different about Tom, but could not place it. Turns out, he did not know what was wrong and would not know for another two months, though he was aggressively undergoing testing at the time.

Fast forward a few months. His wife, Karolina saw us doing yard work together (yes, again). Her first words were "oh, good, I wanted to talk to you together." We knew this was not going to be good news. I had already seen her talking to other neighbors, followed by tears and hugs. 

The diagnosis was official: Tom had ALS.

Other than hearing the name "Lou Gherig's disease," and knowing the mother of a friend from college had it, we knew nothing about it. We certainly did not know it was a death sentence. We certainly did not know how quickly it would take over their lives.

Every single day ALS made his life harder.

Every single time we saw them, we saw their love for each other grow.

The Lawrence Gazette ran this story about them in January 2014, highlighting the fund raising his daughters Emma (8) and Sophie (10) were doing for their father at school.

Inspired by them, Ashley organized a Dress-Down Day fundraiser at her school. Those dollars added up to over $200, we chipped in some, and sent ALS a check in honor of Tom.

When we stopped by to see them and to find out the right contact information at ALS, Tom was where he always was -- in the middle of their lives. He couldn't eat or communicate without a fancy computer, but he was with his family. He "typed" a message to me using his eyes. The timing was a bit off and his answer of "yes" to an earlier question came out when I asked his three-year old son Zach "Lulu (their tiny, cuddly dog) isn't afraid of me, is she?" We had a chuckle over that.

Ashley commented the family is full of life and love. They do not sit around feeling sorry for themselves, but instead embrace their love for each other.

Tom's brain was fully functioning up until the end, but nothing below his eyebrows worked. It is hard to imagine a worse fate than being trapped inside your own body.

Friends and neighbors tried to fill in best as we could -- shoveling snow, raking leaves, hugs, hanging Christmas lights, more hugs. We all felt so helpless we wanted to do anything we could to ease their burdens since we could not do the one thing they wanted most: cure Tom.

In June 2014, word came that Tom was nearing the end of his life. It happened while we were in California. The memorial service came a month later. His daughters played the piano. Karolina and his brother spoke with such eloquence. Just as they had been during Tom's illness, they showed a grace that is too rarely seen in our lives. It was an uplifting and inspirational service.

Again we donated to ALS, this time in Tom's memory.

Then ALS became huge news through the ice bucket challenge.

When we saw Karolina she told us about her experiences with the ice bucket challenge. She spread the challenge from the president of her alma mater at MIT to the president of the school where she is now teaching, and where Tom had been a faculty member years ago, The Hun School. They helped raise more money so that others may have a better outcome than Tom.

The family is such an inspiration for how to live in the face of the impossible.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The New Rossi's

We finally made it to the new Rossi's, nearly four months after they relocated to their new location in Hamilton next to the Golden Dawn Diner. I guess we forgot all about them (not what the Rossi family would want to hear). Then we went a different way to my parents' house and drove right by the new location. I decided that would be the perfect place to celebrate finishing the Princeton Half Marathon.

We last went to the former/original site of Rossi's in May to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary, and to introduce Ashley to a Rossi Burger. Within a month, they closed their doors to their Trenton location and reopened in the suburbs. 

The new menu prominently features the Rossi Burger -- a 12-14 ounce ball of meat (about the size of a baseball) then flattened and cooked. You can even get a veggie burger on the new menu. 

The new menu has more options, including non-carnivorous ones. It has a larger bar, a much larger dining area, and a much larger suburban parking lot. The restaurant has several large pictures from their old place.

There is nothing wrong with the new location, but it didn't seem the same to us. The burgers were the same, but in the new location I didn't feel as compelled to order one (though I did for our first visit). Our lackluster appreciation for the new place could be because we were seated near the kitchen and the server seemed to ignore us. 

The new location is just enough off of our path that we probably won't visit it any more often than we visited the old location. I didn't even bother taking a picture of the outside. It lost its spark for us, which is too bad. 

They are now open 7 days a week from 11-11, which means no more trying to remember what time they shut down between lunch and dinner, and being disappointed on Sundays when we show up and they are closed. 

I wish them much success in their new location.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Trenton Half Marathon (2014)

For what it is worth, I am a legacy runner with the Trenton Half Marathon/10K. I am also legacy for the Princeton Half Marathon, and the Perfect 10 Miler. We'll see how long I can keep that up! It is awesome that we have three long distance races in Mercer County. They all started within a year of each other. Ideally, though, they would spread out a bit.

Legacy means I ran the Trenton Half Marathon in 2012, 2013, and now in 2014. 

Race packet pick up was super easy at the Wyndham Hotel (formerly the
Marriott). I scored a 15 minute free parking space across the street from the hotel -- perfect for the quick dash in and out. The swag bag had an ice/heat pouch I have already frozen and used on my achy ankle. The shirt was nice -- long-sleeved tech. Not thrilled about the grey, but that's just my personal preference. Love that it is women's cut. The little towel will go on my shoulder to heat my recovering shoulder.

My complaint with the race is the same complaint -- they just do not know how to start on time. Unlike the Princeton Half Marathon (which does start on time), the Trenton Half Marathon is run by a professional race organization. The first year it was 45 minutes late. Last year was 15 minutes late (we were excited about the improvement). This year it was 22 minutes late (we lost ground). It was also just above freezing. It did not feel all that great standing around waiting for the race to start.

Before the race started I listened to a fife and drum corps play. While hanging out Gabrielle spotted my orange sparkle skirt. We posed for a quick pre-race photo. 

Here is my complete outfit. Note the lovely color coordination with the grey headband and grey shirt, and the orange sparkle skirt matching the orange in the t-shirt. I hope to repeat this combination one day since it was too cold (32 when I drove to the car, but it did warm up to upper 30s before the star) to peel off my orange sweatshirt. I did warm up around mile 5 (of a 6.2 mile race), but didn't feel like wasting time switching the bib around. A zippered sweatshirt would have been a better option.

There is a lot about this race that I do love. I only signed up for it on Tuesday because I was dead set against racing four weekends in a row. Um, okay. In the end it was how bad I felt after doing the Princeton Half Marathon, and my twisted ankle during the Perfect 10 Miler that convinced me to do one more race to end on a good note. My girl reminded me, though, I might break my leg on this race. Fortunately that prediction did not come true. I did enjoy my race in Delaware.

Yesterday I loved not running a half marathon, yet still running a race and having fun. The 10K route still went over the two bridges, and still ended at Waterfront Park (I don't adjust well to name changes).

I missed the leg going through Mill Hill, though. That was my favorite addition last year. 

I found the people on this course friendlier than in my past couple of races. Less people seemed plugged into their iPhones, etc., and more in tune with their surroundings. If I said "you can do it" I got a smile instead of being ignored. Training is a solitary experience. It is nice to have people around me to share the moment.

My goal was to finish my 10K before the first half marathoner finished. That didn't happen. Instead he and his police escort pushed me out of the way as we all entered the chute at Waterfront Park -- he literally elbowed me. Gee, thanks. I don't even think he noticed it. I was trying to get out of the way of the motorcycle.

Love finishing at home plate.

The medal also serves as a magnet and a bottle opener. Harking back to Trenton's roots as the home of Champale?

With this I call my 2014 long distance race season finished! A 5K or less might sneak in, but no plans for double-digit races in either metric or imperial units. 

A few more scenes:
Start of the race on Route 29
Enough with the speeches-- let us run!!
Morrisville, PA -- lots of cheering in the cold weather

Happy to see this sign around the 4.25 mile mark and be heading to the finish line, instead of heading to Cadwalader Park.

Pep Talk Time

I am so glad I got married before Pinterest. Others have commented they are so glad they made their youthful mistakes before Facebook came around. 

It seems no matter where you look and what you do, you can easily find someone out there doing it better, doing more of it, doing it harder. It is enough to make me want to retreat and become a complete couch potato.

On each of the past four weekends I ran a long-distance race -- two 10-milers, a half marathon, and a 10K. I'm proud of my accomplishment. I'm proud of myself for pushing through 9 1/2 miles of a 10 mile race on a twisted ankle (maybe not the smartest move, but I am walking without a limp). 

Then I lined up for the Trenton 10K race and meet Alicia, a woman who has set a personal goal of running 26 half marathons this year. She ran EIGHT in October. Oh. Betty, a recent FB friend older than me by about 20 years, ran the Trenton Half Marathon yesterday and today did a 10K race. Oh. Don told me about a parent from Ashley's school who was doing the Trenton Half Marathon in the morning, then flying to Orlando to do the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon that night. Oh. I saw another friend, Anne, was running a 60K around Princeton because she wanted to (and because she missed out on an official 60K race). Oh.

Just call me a slacker. 

Then I read the following Elizabeth Gilbert blog post on my sister Rebecca's FB wall: Don't Live Somebody Else's Dream. Elizabeth Gilbert is most famous for her book "Eat, Pray, Love." She recently wrote "The Signature of All Things," after spending three years doing a lot of research into obscure topics. She summed up all the things she has not done "because they are somebody else's dream." Things like not having children, not staying in Bali or Rome forever, not 'growing her brand.' Instead she focuses on what brings life to her.

I don't have a full-time job. Instead I work freelance and am home most days when my daughter comes home from school. Because that is my dream.

I'll never run under a 10 minute mile, but I still enjoy run/walking. Likewise, I don't think I'll ever run a marathon or an ultra or an ironman. That is somebody else's dream.

I enjoy taking pictures, but it is not my dream to become a professional photographer. That is somebody else's dream.

I like to write, but I am not ready to write a novel. That is somebody else's dream.

It is pretty awesome other people, including my friends, have huge dreams and huge goals. Rather than feeling down on myself because I am not as good as they are, I try to focus on how awesome we all are in our own ways. Not one of us is better than everyone else, nor are we worse than everyone else. 

The world is full of comparititis. Let's band together to support one another.

I am the best me, and so are you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Local Races

There are a lot of really cool things about running local races. First off, packet pick up is a breeze, there is no extra hurdles to jump through to when all you have to do is drive 10 minutes and pick it up a day or two ahead of time.

There is also a good chance you'll bump into running friends during the race. Even if they are faster than you, it is still a treat to see them. (The picture was taken in Cleveland, but they are still local running buddies, or bunnies, in Sharon's case.)

Along the route, I often hear my name being called by neighbors. In the case of the Nancy Schluter 5K (which they have not run in the past three years), local clergy and other Presbyterians were cheering me to the finish line. You feel like a rock star when someone says "Go, Jacquie!" It is nice nice to hear "love the skirt" (I almost always wear a sparkle skirt), but that much more special to hear my name called.

In Mercer County, NJ we have three awesome long-distance races: the Perfect 10 Miler, the Princeton Half Marathon, and the Trenton Half Marathon/10K. The problem is they happen one after the other after the other. Don pointed out, they could all happen on the same weekend, so I should be grateful for small favors.

Both the Princeton and Trenton races were slated to start two years ago (making this their third year), but Hurricane Sandy cancelled the Princeton Half that year. The Perfect 10 Miler started last year in mid-October, but moved to the end of October this year.

On the plus, I'm as trained as I'll ever be for these races. 

On the minus , there is no time to recover between each of them, especially
since I twisted my ankle on the first of the three. Between going to bed early the night before a race, waking up early for the race, running it, and recovering from the race, it takes up a chunk of time each weekend, as well as money.

I do enjoy it, which matters a lot. I just wish one of these three awesome races would move to the spring.

See some of you Saturday in Trenton!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

2014 Princeton Half Marathon

I've been procrastinating writing this post. This year's Princeton Half Marathon was a hard race for me. I signed up for the race months ago with the intention of carrying the HiTOPS GoPro camera and taking videos from the back of the pack. I didn't even carry my camera this time around, let alone carry their GoPro.

Last year I ran the Princeton Half Marathon with the intention of doing it one and only time. It is a hilly course. Unlike Disney and other races, this one is designed with the elite runner in mind. This was emphasized when they changed it from a 15 minute/mile requirement to a 14 minute/mile pace. As a committee member, I understand the reasoning behind it is so that roads can open faster and so the police stationed near the beginning of the race have a chance to shift to further in the race in order to close roads. As is, it is an all-hands-on-deck event for the local police forces (Princeton, West Windsor, Princeton University, and there might be another).

A week before this year's race I twisted my ankle during the Perfect 10 Miler. I spent the week nursing my ankle and not running. A kind friend called it my "taper." I knew it was recovery.

As race day neared, we learned the forecast was calling for 37 degrees at the start rising to 43 by the finish. That was the good news. The bad news was that winds would be 18 MPH at the start rising to over 20 MPH with wind gusts anticipated around 40 MPH. Princeton is filled with many old trees. Lots went down during Hurricane Sandy, but there are still more trees and branches that fall during every storm. Fortunately I have not heard about any trees or branches landing on anyone, but that was the fear my friends had prior to the race.

Speaking of friends, Gabrielle and Stacy raced with me. Okay, they were also running the Princeton Half Marathon. Okay, I didn't run it, I mostly walked it, but we were all moving our way through the same course on the same day. 

Cold start -- see we are all wearing long pants (I have on my wind resistant heavy duty winter running pants), sweatshirts, and gloves. I'm glad I grabbed Ashley's sweatshirt.

Once again Don was the "lead rabbit" - the cyclist leading the way so the runners do not get lost or have to worry about pesky details like where the course goes. Unfortunately the same service is not given for later racers and a couple ended up making a wrong turn, but that was not on his watch.

The course was the same as last year -- we started off on Wiggins (which was newly repaved, again, prior to this year's race), went past some huge homes on our way to Mercer Street and Einstein's house. We turned left into Battlefield Park, and passed Laura with her family cheering me on. She shouted "I look forward to your pictures!" Sorry to disappoint you and my other friends, but picture taking was not to happen.

The GoPro camera was offered to me as I passed the starting line. It was on a stick. I looked at the stick. Thought about the wind gusts. Thought about my sore ankle. Then politely declined the offer. It would have been too much.

After Battlefield Park we go on a trail behind the Institute for Advanced Study (where Einstein worked) and through a neighborhood, then back on a trail, then up Alexander. Yes, it felt like a lot of turns. Wearing my green sparkle skirt and doing my intervals, a girl pointed to me and said "see, mom, that's what I was doing yesterday!" I asked if she ran as part of Girls on the Run (I had heard they did their group 5K the day before in a cold rain storm) and she said "YES!" I called her a Superstar and said "Girls on the Run have so much FUN!" She cheered even louder.

I was doing great up until this point. I was maintaining a solid 12 min/mile (my goal). The first 3.1 miles flew by in euphoria. However, I also knew what was coming up -- Washington Road. I pushed my way up the hill making friends with a woman named Lauren who had just had a baby, and soon afterwards lost me in the wind (yup, feeling like an old lady at this point).

That feeling was replaced by feeling like a rock star as traffic on Nassau Street was held just so I could cross! By this point, the crowd was mighty thin, so I may have been the only person to cross.

As a committee member, I was well aware of when the sweeper van would come and take me away. The last one was at mile 12.1, but there were a couple sooner. That 12.1 mile marker was my push as I slogged up Herrontown Road. By this point Don had found me. The fastest person finished at 1:18 and change, just as I was passing the half-way point. By the time I was passing Westminster Choir College (mile marker 7-ish), Don was cheering me on. 

Don left to check on other runners. I saw a lady on the side of the road looking d-o-n-e DONE. She was with a police officer and Ivy, another roving cyclist, but I stopped to offer her a friend to walk the rest of the way to the finish line. After a couple of minutes (moments) of discussion, we parted. Her knee, or hamstring was bothering her too much to continue. By this point I was starting to fear I would not finish in time unless I hustled.

Don found me again at mile 9.56. By that point I was spent. I had done two 10-mile races the weekends before. I'm thinking that is my limit for the time being. I did not train enough for Princeton, and it showed.

Last year I felt I took the same race at more a relaxed pace, I made friends with
another woman, and finished at 2:52. This year I did not take pictures, walked a lot more, and felt like I pushed myself more, yet finished at 2:56:32. On the one hand, it was only 4 minutes slower. On the other hand, the course limit changed from 3:20 to 3:04. I was 1112/1135 (13:28 min/mile pace). My friends gave up on waiting for me because they figured they must have missed me (no one believes I am as slow as I am).

After the race I listed to Darla, Bo and friend play with Bossa Nova in Hinds Plaza (that area next to the library no one seems to know has a real name). I huddled next to the heat lamp while waiting for Don to wrap up his volunteer duties. 

It was 43 degrees at the finish, but "felt like" 33 degrees. It took me a couple of hours to finish warming up.

Back to that half-way point ... as we turned right on Wiggins, I wished I could turn left instead and turn the half-marathon into a 10-ish K. Any takers?

Huge shout out to all the volunteers, and volun-tolds (police, EMTs, HiTOPS staff) who encouraged us through the race. I hardly ever went more than a tenth of a mile without seeing a friendly face, someone who could help me if need be, which I appreciated more after the Caffee Gelato race in Delaware. The crowd support was awesome! Rather than being annoyed with having roads closed, people turned it into block parties. I grabbed a cup of OJ along the route and a party (mile 7.5?) to help sustain me for a bit.

Somehow during the past year a church sprang up on the route at the bend on Herrontown Road (?). The church members manned a much-appreciated water stop. I hope they were praying for us as they worshiped! 

Greatly appreciated, also, were the awesome runners shirts. Rather than staying in bed on a windy day, I went out and ran (walked) the course. I finished before the cut off and earned the right to proudly wear my shirt -- hopefully with the orange sparkle skirt that arrived a day too late to wear for the race. I'd say "next year," but I've given Don permission to make sure I don't sign up for it again. Well, unless they offer a 10K option. A girl can dream, right?

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Chances are good you have never heard of NaNoWriMo and you only opened this link to see why I am writing gibberish. While writing gibberish, per se, is not the goal of NaNoWriMo, writing is the goal.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is 30 days set aside to encourage writers of all stages in their writing career to write every day. That's it!

Through their website, you can get encouragement and track your progress, or you can just do it on your own. Writing is a lonely experience, but that doesn't mean that writers don't appreciate cheerleading and support to help them reach their goals.

The deal is, by writing 500 words a day, at the end of 30 days you will have 15,000 word written, which is a good chunk of the way closer to a book. Many New Year's Resolutions including writing a book this year, NaNoWriMo helps you wrap up that goal before the end of the year, or at least have a solid dent in the process.

I've decided for 2014, keeping up with my stated resolutions are enough -- I've taken a photo every day so far, I've run in states new to me, I've cooked Meatless Mondays, that I've decided to table NaNoWriMo until 2015. 

No matter what your goals are in life, keep this in mind:
Inch by inch is a cinch
Yard by yard is hard
Mile by mile is a trial

Keep working on your goals!