Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Egg hunts

Easter weekend was quite busy. I went to 4 egg hunts -- two for Patch, one for the family and one for friends. They were each different, and each a lot of fun!

Township Egg Hunt
200 children -- 4 fields -- and one Easter Bunny. 

The morning started chilly, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. I covered the event for the Lawrenceville Patch:

I remember when Ashley was one of the little kids, we would go and see her township friends. It was a lot fun. Now, the only kids her age who do come, have little siblings. I saw my niece and nephew, and some other people I know, but it just wasn't the same as when I was one of the parents cheering for my little girl to find eggs.

McCormick Family Egg-stravaganza

A record number of the McCormick kids' classmates turned out for this hunt. That morning Debbi and Mike ran the Trenton Egg Hunt for the Kiwanis club. They took the 3,000 eggs out again and tossed them in their backyard. They also hide eggs with each child's name on it. The 30-35 kids had so much fun finding eggs, the McCormicks kept tossing them back out on the lawn. 

Venner-Hullfish Families Egg Hunt

The Venner and Hullfish families have been hosting an egg hunt in Lawrenceville since 1929. Even though families have moved out of the area, they return every year to dye 45 dozen eggs and hide them next to the Lawrenceville Swim Association. This year about 80 kids (including Ashley and a couple of her friends) hunted for these eggs. 50 of the eggs are identified with initials of family members. Kids who find those eggs receive a special prize. 

This year we helped them dye eggs on Good Friday. We loved the way they welcomed us into their family tradition and encouraged us to return next year to help again. Their goal is to keep this alive at least until the 100th egg hunt in 2028.

I love the tradition. I love the generosity of the families. We hope to help them again next year.

This was part of the same Patch article:


The last hunt had a lot less kids, but was a lot of fun. My parents, and Aunt Barbara hide a few dozen eggs around the yard and have the four grandchildren -- Aimee (almost 4), Daniel (4 1/2), Hayden (7) and Ashley (9) hunt for them. Ashley rehid some of her eggs so the little ones could find them and keep giggling. She is turning into such a big kid.

Easter 2012 -- He is Risen!

Easter 2012 was celebrated more than usual. It felt great!

Some parts were spirit-filled. Some were just fun. It is good in life to have a combination of the two.

For me, Easter is not complete without spending part of the day in church. 

Palm Sunday:
Taize Service at WINK. The focus was on the Passion story, instead of Palm Sunday (the church calendar allows for either scripture to be used on Palm Sunday). I still have troubles letting go and embracing the Taize style. 

We visited Miss Patti's church in Levittown, PA where their Signing Hands Praise Choir re-enacted the Passion Story using sign language interpreted contemporary Christian music. It was very moving and spirit-filled service.

Maundy Thursday:
For the first time, I attended a Maundy Thursday service and I am so glad that I did. We walked down to the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville. The service started at 8 PM. The music included a cellist, whose melodic tones enhanced the choir's singing. As the scripture readings get closer to the crucifixion, the lights become dimmer. The service is sometimes referred to as "the service of the shadows." Hopefully we'll go again next year.

Good Friday:
Again we returned to the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville. We were blessed to hear storyteller and pastor the Rev. Joanne Epply-Schmidt perform the Passion story. Despite hearing the same parts of scripture 3 other times that week, she brought new insights to it and made it come alive.

It was hard, but we made it to the 6:15 sunrise service. The benefit to having Easter in March is that the sunrise service is later. It is a short service where the few gather in the cemetery around a fire pit and hope the neighbors don't call the fire department. The assortment of dress styles is always interesting to study. It ranges from traditional Easter attire to PJs (or so it seems). We were doing good to wear clothes and not PJs and hope it was too dark for anyone to notice.

After a nap, we went to the 11 AM service at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church. Ashley sang with the children's choir as the new piano was debuted. It was great seeing the church packed and the flowers filling the apse filled with flowers. We changed for this service.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bugsy Malone

I cannot say enough nice things about the drama program at Ashley's school. The program is entirely run by parents, who volunteer many hours to make sure every child who wants to be in a play has that opportunity. After holding auditions, the core drama parents divide the students into two casts. This gives everyone a chance to shine on stage, while creating built in understudies. The parents work tirelessly to get the best performance out of each student. It is a lot of work, but everyone loves it.

I've become the official photographer for the show. They grant me full access to take pictures non-stop during the dress rehearsal. In exchange, I give them 300 of my best pictures for them to disseminate to the cast with a DVD of the show.

This year Don worked stage crew. With two casts, there are also two sets of parent volunteers. In theory he was backstage the nights Ashley was not in the show. It didn't quite work that way, but he was able to sneak out and see her whenever she was on stage.

Ashley shined as the police officer who wanted to be a ventriloquist.

"Bugsy Malone" is not a very well-known show. It was a 1976 movie starring a very young Scott Baio and Jodie Foster as kids who were gangsters. Instead of killing people, they splurged them. No one dies. Everyone sings and dances and (in the end) gets along with each other. 

In many ways it was a lot of fun because it is an unknown show. The directors decided to have some fun with the plot and added vaudeville acts to keep it light. A stroke of genius was giving each showgirl a solo dance in which she held a sign announcing where the action was taking place next. The girls loved their solos and the stage crew appreciated a few extra moments to make sure the set was in place.

No more shows in the plans for now. We'll see what the future brings.

Art Teacher for the Day

Last month Ashley had the "BEST DAY of school ever," and one of the top 3 days in her life. She was the art teacher for the day.

Each year her school hosts a silent auction. I bid on art teacher for the day and won it for Ashley (it helped fulfill our fund-raising requirement for the year). I was glad we didn't have a bunch of children at the school and that I would have to win something like this for each of them. 

Ashley's teacher is part-time. She is at her school on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week. Ashley chose a Tuesday because that is the day her friends in other classes have art.

The day started with Mrs. Gladwell picking Ashley up in her classroom (the art room is in a separate building). First they had to prepare for the pre-schoolers, who were making hyacinths out of tissue paper. Ashley thought the pre-schoolers were very cute, but hard to keep focused. 

Next were the second-graders -- also hard to keep on track. It was fun for Ashley to see life from the teacher's perspective. I think she gained new appreciation for them.

Between classes Ashley worked on her own project.

After having pizza for lunch, the 8th graders came in to finish their drawings. Since they already knew what they were doing, Ashley was told she could encourage them to work harder. She knows a few of the 8th graders from drama club and had fun being the teacher.

The real fun came when the 5th graders came for art. Ashley is friends with many of them through drama club and riding the bus. Mrs. Gladwell told the classes that "Miss Ashley" was a new teacher and for them to show her a lot of respect. She had fun instilling "discipline" in a playful way with her friends, all the while everyone was giggling and creating art.

Time will tell if Ashley decides to become an art teacher when she grows up. I do know that she had a lot of fun and would love to spend another day with her art teacher.

Bag it! and other eco-friendly thoughts

This weekend was saw "Bag it" a 2010 movie where one man decides he's had enough with single-use plastic bags. 
A couple of months ago we saw "The Clean Bin Project" where an ordinary couple hold a contest to see which one of them can create the least amount of trash.
A few years ago I read "Not buying it: my year without shopping" about a couple who decided enough was enough and they were not going to buy more.

Detecting a theme, yet?

It is no surprise we consume too much in this country. If we want our children to be able to enjoy the planet, we each need to do our part to cut back.

In a 5-minute encounter with Jane Goodall I was convinced we all have the power to make changes to improve the planet. We won't all become household names, like Dr. Goodall, but we can call help save the planet.

What does saving the planet look like? It looks different for everyone, but for me I'll start with:
  • Not collecting more single-use bags (except for Halo bags, because we use them as trash bags)
  • Buying used plates to use at picnics rather than using paper plates
  • Cooking at least one meatless meal a week, and increasing that goal

It is easier to achieve a few small goals than many large ones.

Let's all work together to leave the planet a better place for the next generation.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Main Street, part 2

After an intense month of studying Main Streets, and interviewing unsuccessfully for the position of Executive Director of Lawrenceville Main Street, I've gathered some thoughts as to what I would need to have within a mile of my home to live car-light.

  • Library -- we go nearly everyday to our local branch
  • Church
  • Small grocery store -- something with more than junk food in it so I can pick up a few items
  • Ice cream shop
  • Card shop with small gifts
  • Schools -- growing up in Paramus I didn't realize the luxury of walking to the middle and high school, especially with after school activities
  • Park -- for Ashley to play in, for running, cycling
  • Entertainment -- community theater, art gallery
  • Locally owned restaurants that are reasonably priced
The ideal probably does not exist. Princeton is pretty close to perfect -- the high taxes, though, dampen its perfection.

Newtown, PA also has a lot to offer, but the high school is not near any homes.

Wish Media, PA had the high school closer to the middle school as their Main Street has a nice combination of businesses and services.

Of course as a Disney fan, the term "Main Street" makes me think of Disneyland. Main Street, USA has a town hall, opera house, bakery, restaurants, shops, mailboxes, and Ragtime Robert at Coke Corner. No schools, though, which probably adds to its feeling of perfection in the eyes of children.

Main Street

I try to keep our blog very upbeat and fun. I have some thoughts that I want to share that deviate from my normal pattern. This is the first of the blogs where I will address social issues rather than fun things to do in our area. It also answer the "elephant in the room" question of "you haven't been updating your blog, so what have you been doing lately?"

Earlier in the year I interviewed for the position of Executive Director of the Lawrenceville Main Street. Sadly, I did not get the position. Perhaps even worse, the position went to a friend, hence the reason for bottling up my feelings and only sharing them with people who nearby when it happened. A couple of months later, it still hurts.

When I learned the former director was retiring, I wasn't even looking for a job. I was writing a couple of articles a week for the Lawrenceville Patch, volunteering a bit and keeping everything running smoothly at home. The more I interviewed for the position the more I fell in love with it. Unfortunately it took until after the final interview before I could articulate to myself what I loved about the position. Yeah, bad timing as I did not sell myself well enough to get the position. Also bad because I've idealized that position and it makes it harder to find a new one that is nearly as good.

The experience made me think a lot about what I want in a Main Street. Specifically what would need to be walking distance from my house in order for me to be able to leave my car at home. For my purposes, walking distance is within a mile, ideally with sidewalks or wide shoulders.

The topic became a little more timely today as I read the following NPR article:

Americans do not walk and that's a GROWING problem -- get the pun? 

I have a pedometer. I often walk 10,000 steps a day, including runs. Yesterday I walked and ran 17,185 steps. The day before it was only 4,024 (we took a road trip to Delaware). To walk in suburbia often means exercising. How much better would life be if we could walk to more errands? If our walks had a purpose? If we could leave our cars at home and get out and walk?

When most people don't get a dream job they continue their job search to find an even better one. We used the rejection to look into moving someplace cheaper -- just about any place is cheaper than NJ. Don is fortunate in that he can transfer to a different office within Comcast, so as long as our search was within a commutable distance to Mount Laurel, NJ or West Chester, PA we were fine. The dream began with "if we could sell our house in Lawrenceville and buy a new home without a mortgage, what would that be like?"

The search took us to two states: Delaware and Pennsylvania. The search ended with us deciding to stay in Lawrenceville at least a little longer.

Wilmington, DE -- we focused on the Brandywine section of town, not downtown
PROS: cheap property taxes ($2,000 a year), nice communities, no sales tax, highly rated school district, an active Roots and Shoots program for Ashley, one hour from our parents, a wonderful church (we attended a service in Wilmington), excellent library system

CONS: no Main Street area near the schools, no chance of Don biking to work -- even though the distance is shorter, no Wegmans, most of my life would still be in the car to run errands

Media, PA -- my favorite town
PROS: fabulous downtown area complete with a trolley to Philadelphia, excellent schools, possibly bike-able for Don, still within that hour to where our parents live, vibrant downtown

CONS: no houses for sale, taxes not as low as Wilmington, could not live in one house and be able to walk to both the middle and the high schools

West Chester, PA 
PROS: excellent schools, bustling downtown, college town, friends live nearby, Don's office is in the town

CONS: farther from parents, not much parking, not pedestrian or car-friendly, grocery store separated from town by giant signs saying "do not cross street," higher taxes

Wayne, PA
PROS: excellent schools, friends live in town and rave about it

CONS: Main Street has a four-lane highway going through it, I felt like I was in a mall with a bunch of cars (about half the places seemed to be corporate America stores and restaurants and half were individually owned), the houses we saw were pricier than other towns, higher taxes.

Phoenixville, PA:
PROS: new middle school being built next to a new high school (one house = walking distance to both for Ashley), terrific free charter school in town

CONS: 90 minutes from parents, only way to get to Phoenixville from Mercer County is via the PA Turnpike, could not tell if town was on the way up or the way down

Kennett Square, PA
PROS: mushroom capital of the world (just kidding!), vibrant downtown with lots of activities, near Delaware (no shopping tax)

CONS: mixed reviews on the school system, still not bike-able for Don's commute, we had troubles finding a reasonably priced lunch, it is 75-minutes from family

If you really did read all of my ramblings, a lot of it came down to how un-bike friendly Pennsylvania is in general. New Jersey and Delaware toggle between being 10th and 11th in the country for bike friendliness. Pennsylvania ranks in the middle. The roads are too narrow. There are No Crossing, and other pedestrian un-friendly signs. As much as I loved some of the downtowns (especially Media) we still would not be able to live without a car.

We want to live someplace where we could live car-light, yet still have a garage and a driveway (i.e., not ready to move to a city). A smaller yard and a smaller home would be great.

Who knows what the future will bring. For now we are proudly living in Lawrenceville.