Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gargoyles in Princeton -- oh my!

During a recent conversation with about moving out of expensive New Jersey to someplace cheaper, friends told us high on their priority list is living near a university. They want to continue to be able to enjoy the "town" part of the "Town and Gown" relationship. 

Their comment made me appreciate Lawrenceville in a new light. We live  within 10 miles of three universities (Princeton, Rider, Trenton State College), plus Mercer County Community College, and are walking distance to the Lawrenceville [Prep] School. Over the past couple of decades we have enjoyed activities at each of these institutions. I dare say if we were to move away from the area, we, too, would gravitate near a university town because we have come to appreciate the cultural activities and opportunities available at places of higher education.

While we have enjoyed activities at the other places, Princeton University is in a league of their own. When Ashley was a toddler we loved visiting Cotsen Children's Library inside Firestone Library. As she grew, we took her to Art for Families programs at the Princeton University Art Museum, here she would learn about the great masters.

I have taken Ashley to plays at the Princeton Summer Theater. The late Larry Beaber gave our church a private tour of the  sculptures. I've admired the flowers. We've been to women's hockey games and men's basketball games. With so much happening on campus, it is easy to forget that students actually go there to learn! 

A couple of weeks ago on a hot afternoon, Ashley and I went on a Gargoyle Tour, led by librarians from Princeton Public Library and Firestone Library. I have walked past these buildings over the years, but never stopped to admire the details in the architecture.

If he just keeps on running...he will score the winning goal! 

My favorite -- a monkey holding a camera, or as I like to think of it, Princeton University's first surveillance camera.

Ben Franklin is not a Princeton University alumnus. However, he did merit a gargoyle in one of the newer buildings on campus.

It was a hot day. Ashley convinced me to leave at the 45 minute mark, when we were halfway through the tour. Hopefully I will hear about it again and be able to catch the second half of the tour. It was quite a treat -- and free!

For more information about the gargoyles of Princeton University check out:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A De-cluttering we will go...

I hope my friend Darla of is proud of us. We have finally embarked on a mission to de-clutter our home. Trust me, if we can do it anyone can.

Don and I have been reading books, seeing movies and even going to committee meetings all about trash. In the past, we prided ourselves on just how little trash we generated. We have a township issued giant blue wheeled trash container that often takes us 3 weeks to fill enough to roll to the end of our driveway.

On the other hand, our recycling buckets (yes buckets) are numerous. Wish recycling was more often than trash pick up.

All good, right?

This week we embarked on renovating our circa 1980s powder puff blue bathroom.

The biggest issue (apart from the dated color) is that the shower is only 36" square. Trust me. It is just tight.

Back to the topic of de-cluttering.

Before our contractor came, it was up to us to take everything out of the bathroom: under the sink, cabinet above the toilet, medicine chest, etc. (we have lots of etc.). In doing so, I noticed 10 containers of hand lotion (6 of which were Eucerin), 9 bottles of shampoo, 8 boxes of band-aids, 7 bottles of conditioner, 6 deodorants, 5 toothbrushes, 4 thermometers, 3 packages of razors, 2 jumbo packages of 8-year old baby wipes, and an extra bottle of Drano (we bought one last week insisting we were out). Plus tons of hotel-size soaps and shampoos.

Quantities are approximate. None are exaggerated by much. I really should have taken a picture as this was happening. Some opened containers that were deemed "icky" over the years were tossed. Unopened ones deemed "not likely to ever use" were donated to Lawrence Road Church to go to Haiti, others items were saved, in some cases I condensed the packaging (especially true of the band-aids).

If anyone sees me in Target purchasing health product, take me to a meeting of Pack Rats Anonymous (I'm sure Darla can recommend a group).

With a contractor upstairs working to bring us up to the 21st century while he fixes the mistakes made by the builder, Don and I started tackling the garage. I should have taken a before picture. There is one spot in particular that is a dumping ground, but should be a storage area.

Found in the garage clean-up:
  • The clip to keep Ashley's stroller closed (stroller donated 3 years ago)
  • The broken strap to Ashley's umbrella stoller (also donated years ago)
  • A used air filter for a car (possibly one we no longer own)
  • Unsigned, and still in the bag, graduation and mother's day cards for me (I graduated from Rutgers in 2008)
All metal will be taken to the scrap metal place in Trenton and given to someone hoping to earn a few bucks (you need 100 pounds and it would take us years to collect that much metal).

Many items, though, are bound for the landfill.

After years of taking a few weeks to fill a trash container, this week we'll have a lot of trash.

It feels good to reclaim a tiny corner of the house. Hope to make more parts of the house clutter-free in the upcoming weeks.

Plays in the Park

Now celebrating their 50th anniversary, Plays in the Park has been creating high quality musicals each summer in Edison, NJ for only $7 a ticket ($5 for Senior Citizens, children under 12 are free).  The catch is, you have to bring your own chair, and it is outdoors so a lot depends on the weather.

Over the years we have seen some amazing productions. A couple of years ago we saw "Singing in the Rain" three times (once with my parents). I felt the star out-danced Gene Kelly. After all, Gene Kelly only had to perform a scene or two a day and had lots of opportunities for retakes, and these actors had to tap dance their hearts out each hot summer evening under the lights for two weeks (plus rehearsals).

A different year we saw "Thoroughly Modern Millie." I overheard someone in the audience say the costumes were straight from the recently closed Broadway show. Yes, it is that level of a production.

Last month we saw "My Fair Lady." I wish I had taken a picture of the set -- it was two stories high complete with a usable spiral staircase. They must have worked closely with a diction coach because the accents were each unique and consistent. The costumes at the horse race rivaled those seen in the movie with Rex Harrison. It was a top-notch production in every way -- and yes, still only $7.

Friday night's slight drizzle cancelled the production of "Damn Yankees." The conductor did not want to risk damaging the instruments or the rented music. Don and I will try to go later this week.

The season will close out with "Grease."

For as much as I bump into friends in Mercer County, that never happens to me in at Plays in the Park. I hope to see my theater loving friends there later this summer.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Don's Double Century

Don wrote a blog post about his experience riding 200 miles in one day. 

On Saturday, June 23, I completed my first double century. I was tired at the end but finished with a smile and really glad I did it. The day was a real blessing. The days before and after were super hot.

The northern half of the ride was most interesting and fun. Up through Frenchtown, the rolling country side leading to Round Valley Reservoir, riding through Whitehouse Station, down along the D&R Canal to Kingston out through Plainsboro to Windsor. The southern half was more monotonous. From Windsor I continued out to Millstone and then south through the Pine Barrens to Chatsworth west to Smithville and returning north via Columbus (NJ) back to Mercer County Park and finally home.
This was a solo venture. My SAG support was carrying a cell phone with Jacquie and Ashley at home “on stand-by alert.” There were no pre-defined rest stops with ample supplies of food and water. I was following a route someone posted to a website. The directions were amazingly good. But I was surprised by the lack of convenience stores and places to grab a bite to eat along the route. Fortunately, there happened to be two strategically placed stores that were real godsends. (I bought a gallon of water from each.)
The really remarkable aspect of the day is for something created by someone I’ve never met, the route provided a virtual scrap book tour of my 14 years of bike commuting. I ended up seeing a lot of new stuff while traversing familiar ground. The initial portion of the ride touched upon Anchor House training rides. The middle of the ride brought back memories of commuting along the towpath to New Brunswick. The trip was wrapped up by utilizing portions of my present commute.
When I discovered this route last August and set in motion plans to do it, I started with the grandest of intentions for training. That didn’t exactly happen. I did supplement my regular commute with hill training rides but the best thing I did was a week before the ride, on a whim, I did the northern half of the ride. This proved to be the best prep of all. First, it acquainted me with the route. But the best training came when my rear derailleur broke half way into the ride. Getting home with just the 3 front gears proved to be the most valuable lesson of all. Ascending any sort of incline required me to get out of the saddle and ride standing up. (Something I normally don’t do.) Drawing upon the extra strength provided by the additional leverage from standing on the pedals was the only resource that got me through the last 25 miles on June 23rd.
In case you want the details: I left at 3:15am, finished at 7:30pm, traveled 210 miles and took about an hour of breaks along the way.  I did not have any mechanical failures during the ride. Although my odometer did quit 20 miles before the end. Fortunately I was on familiar enough ground to be able to find my way home. Had it stopped working any earlier I would have been sunk. There were several intersections without street signs. Without knowing exactly how far since my last turn, I would not know where to turn and would have been lost.
The next day I did get back on the bike to join Ashley for a ride to the park (< ½ mile). She was faster than me.  – Don

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Quebec: Site Traditionnel Huron

On most Sundays, Ashley is a junior tour guide at the Lenape Village at the Churchville Nature Center. Her knowledge of their pre-Colonial lives is vast. I specifically sought a Native American site for Ashley to visit. in order that we could compare the Lenape Culture with the Hurons.

My search yielded the Site Traditionnel Huron, located on the Huron-Wendat Reservation just outside of Quebec City.

The tour began with a native dance. It included several buildings including a long house, explanation of smoking food, a sweat lodge and a tepee with ritual masks inside of it. 

We had a private tour. The guide was able to help us work through how the Lenape and Huron cultures were the same and how they were different. They were both matriarchal, and they both had clans. The languages were different. Lenapes were more nomadic, hence the structures built by the Huron were more permanent. 

The tour was fine. It ended with an incredible gift shop filled with crafts made by First Nation people from all over Canada. It lacked the charm of Churchville Nature Center. I felt rushed through the tour, even though they said we could go back to any site afterwards, I still felt in the way.

Unless you have a strong love of Native American culture, I would not spend the 30 minutes driving to Wendat to visit this site. We had thought we would spend all day. However, the restaurant with lots of Native American food did not open until noon, and we were done with our tour by 11 AM. If you do decide to go, aim for later in the day in order to also feast on their delicacies. 

Local friends, if you have a free Sunday afternoon between April and October, check out one of Miss Patti's tours at Churchville Nature Center. With any luck (or coordinating in advance) Ashley will be there helping Patti. The tour is only $5 and lasts at least 90 minutes. It is very interactive.

Quebec: Place Royale

Our time in Quebec City was limited. I had hoped to visit the Museum of Civilization, but ran out of time. Also in the Old Port section of town is the charming Center of Interpretation of Place Royale, a low-budget museum about the 400-year history of Quebec City. Instead of a glossy brochure, the museum hands out a photo copy sheet with all the necessary information. Their website is not nearly a glitzy as others.

The museum has three main exhibits, plus a 3-D movie called "Facing Champlain" about Samuel de Champlain -- the man who discovered Quebec. The exhibits are hands-on. They are fun to play with, as well as educational. Fortunately (for us) everything is in English, as well as in French. 

The real treat with this museum is the enormous dress-up area in the basement. There are costumes along all four walls in sizes ranging from toddlers to grown men. They also had hats and bonnets (which we skipped due to fear of lice). Our only issue was that Ashley's size did not seem to exist. They had dresses for little girls, and for teenage girls, but some were way too short and others dragged on the ground. We spied a group of teenagers hanging out in there and having a blast. 

We each put on a costume. Then moved into the enormous play area. This section was designed like a house of a middle-class person -- or someone even more affluent. There was a master bedroom, eating area, play area. and large spaces in-between. For a while we had the space to ourselves (the teens had moved on to another part of the museum). We had fun taking pictures of each other. Fortunately an older couple came and took a couple of family pictures for us. The husband was deaf, and could only read lips in French. that added a small challenge for me. 

 After all that playing, it was time to hop in the car and head towards Montreal.

Quebec: St. Andrews Presbyterian Church

Conveniently located next door to the Morrin Center, and across the street from our hotel was St. Andrews Presbyterian Church -- an English speaking Presbyterian Church. Had we been in Quebec City on a Sunday, it would have been the perfect place for us to worship. Ahh... next time. 

The church is laid out in a semi-circle. Pastor Katherine told us from the top of the pulpit, she can see everyone. No one is safe from her on a Sunday morning! A typical service only has about 40 people, so today they sit a lot closer together than in past years.

The church has a museum, which Pastor Katherine insisted on showing us. They are very proud of their Scottish heritage. Bagpipers meet there on Thursday for rehearsals (not sure how we missed hearing that from our hotel room!). 

The church, and the Morrin Center were both featured in Louise Penny's book "Bury Your Dead." The book is on my to read list. I'm looking forward to reading the book after having visited the places cited in it.

Quebec: Morrin Center

Wishing I could go to Quebec, somehow failed to translate into "what would I do if I went to Quebec?" A couple of weeks before we left I started searching websites, and asking friends for advice. After subtracting time for the drive, we were only going to be in Quebec City for two days.

I looked for something to interest each of us -- First Nation (Native American) site for Ashley, biking for Don, history for me. 

The Morrin Center quickly floated the top of the list of places I wanted to visit. We were lucky in two ways. One, the Morrin Center is located down the stairs from out hotel (yes, stairs to cross streets), and two the  Morrin Center started up tours on the our full-day in Quebec. A week earlier and we would not have been able to go on a tour.

Our tour guide, Ben, lead us through the Morrin Center's unique history. It started off as a military barracks (1712-1808) the the prison for the city of Quebec (1813-1868). They held the worst criminals of the day -- people who stole tea (which came from China), a horse thief, an indentured servant who ran away from his master, as well as the lesser criminals. They adhered to the most modern prison reforms of the day -- including separating inmates based on the severity of their crimes and prisoners bathed on a regular basis. Some of the criminals were hung out front off of a balcony that no longer exists. It was a pretty scary place to be sentenced.  Unfortunately as the city grew, they outgrew their space.

A few years later (1862-1902), it was converted into the city's first English-language college. In 1885 they started admitting women to the program. The rooms that exist are stunning. In the far back corner of the science lab is a dark room that was donated by Mr. Eastman (of Eastman Kodak). 
 Today it is the only English-speaking library in Quebec City. Rather than waiting at our hotel room for our tour in English, Don and Ashley sat in the children's section of the library and read books.

This is the first collection I have ever seen that uses the Cutter System. They are quite proud of the fact that their entire fiction collected is sorted by author, and not by genre. I'd be interested to see how this kind of system could work on a much larger scale. I'm always curious as to how places organize their collections. 

The tour was fascinating. I am glad it worked out so we could see the place, and have a tour in English. Don and Ashley were happy for a little bit of quiet time to sit and read. A win for everyone.

Quebec City

A weekend of bike tours in Montreal prompted us to go to Canada. After years of drooling over images of Quebec City, we decided to drive the extra three hours and also visit Quebec City.

Quebec was everything I heard it was -- more French than France (stop signs say ARRET instead of STOP), "Old World" charm in a relatively new city, and old walls to walk around. It was easy to pretend we were in Paris.

We stayed in the center of the Old City at the Jardin de St. Anne (Ashley cannot seem to avoid St. Anne wherever she goes we find Mary's mother haunting us). It was a quirky hotel with a spinning wheel decorating a hallway and lots of exposed stone walls. In addition to being downtown, one of its best features was that it had a dining room on the first floor where you could bring a meal and eat it at "home." 

It is a wonderful city for walking, and a miserable city for driving -- which suits us perfectly. Once we parked the car, we did not need it until we left town.

 It is also a very hilly city. Our first clue of how hilly it is should have been when we learned about the funicular and saw stairs and elevators linking streets together. Between the stairs and the cobblestones, it is not the most bike friendly city. I did see a lot of people out running, so it is a good place to go for hill training.

My favorite part of the city was just walking around and soaking up French. I chuckled when when I saw an "Ecoliers" bus. I rolled my eyes at phrases such as "fin de la semaine" instead of "le weekend," which the French use. I think I could have spent days just sitting on benches eavesdropping on conversations in French. In some ways, a foreign language is like riding a bicycle -- you might not use the skill for a few years, but it comes back to you.

Eating was another big treat. Lots of restaurants. We left our eating comfort zone and had crepes instead of sandwiches (so it wasn't a big stretch). 

Beautiful weather also helps, and we had picture perfect days.