Monday, September 29, 2014

Ocean City 5K (OCNJ)

 When Don signed up for the 2014 MS City to the Shore ride, I decided to join him at the halfway point in Ocean City, NJ. Ashley made plans with a friend,so it was date night.

We walked about 6-7 miles around Ocean City, mostly up and down the boardwalk, talking pictures and enjoying the perfect Indian Summer evening. After riding 100 miles, Don enjoyed the chance to stretch his legs.

As serendipity would have it, I noticed a guy carrying a plastic bag with a race bib and a t-shirt inside of it. I asked him if there was a race tomorrow. He said there would be a half marathon the next day. I asked if there were shorter distances (I wasn't mentally or physically ready to do a half marathon the next day, plus there was the issue of checking out of the hotel room by 11 AM -- a challenge with a 9 AM race start).

This would be a short story if his answer was no, or that they were sold out. Instead he told me to go to the Sneaker Shop on Asbury to sign up. In addition to the half marathon there was a non-competitive 10 miler (new that year, I'm guessing there were no prizes for that one) and a 5K. My plan had been to run 5K after Don left for the second leg of the ride, so for $25 I got a t-shirt, a medal, and a group of people to run with. Otherwise, I would have been running on a crowded boardwalk against the flow of traffic and wishing I was racing.

There have been two other times when I should have run a race, but didn't because I found out about it too late or did not have my running gear with me. The first time was in Osaka, Japan in June 2013. The second time was in Portland, Oregon in June 2014. In Osaka I saw them setting up for the race, but my sneakers, etc. were in Tokyo. In Portland, I searched for a weekend race on Friday night, 15 minutes after a race started down the hill from our hotel. I was extra excited that this time I found out about the race in time and I was prepared.

The race itself was easy peasy -- 1.55 miles south on the boardwalk, turn around, 1.55 miles back to the finish line. My time was much better than the 5K I ran in the Pole Farm the day before. The race was a bit warmer than should be at 9 AM in late September in New Jersey (60 degrees, with very little breeze). The sun was shining. People were happy.

Speaking of people, it felt like A LOT of people. Looking at their website, though, there were only 366 in the 5K, 921 in the half marathon, and only 52 for the 10 miler. Looking at the results, I would have placed and possibly won my age group. Again, they said it was non-competitive, so I suspect that means no separate awards.

There was also a separate category for those who did the first leg of the MS Ride then did the half marathon. They would then need a ride back to Cherry Hill to get their cars as the start time for the ride back was before 8 AM.

Next time I should pack a sparkle skirt "just in case." 

Super excited this included a really nice medal!

A Night in the Village (Lawrenceville's Main Street)

In 2012, Lawrenceville Main Street kicked of a new event -- call it a movable feast, a taste of local restaurants, a walking restaurant tour, or it's official name "A Night in the Village," you get the idea.

The event is the biggest annual fundraiser for Lawrenceville Main Street (LMS). LMS is most famous around here for their Music in the Park summer series of Thursday night concerts in Weeden Park.

For each of the three years they have been blessed with absolutely perfect outdoor dining weather. The other two years I walked home from church, saw everyone enjoying their meals and wished I could join them. This year I talked Nancy into joining me (she, too, had been thinking about going). 

We went to the second seating (at 6:30) in order that I could attend worship at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville. I really like their WiNK (Worship in a New Key) 5 PM service and did not want to miss it.

The event was extremely well organized. We were to visit 11 places within a two block radius in 3 hours. Each place was slotted for a 15 minute window, but we were the only ones enforcing that. We knew we would have to hustle to enjoy every last morsel.

Personally I feel we had the best schedule. We were walking group F, meaning five other groups left before us.

Our first stop was Chamber's Walk Cafe for butternut squash soup and some other tiny appetizer (I knew I should have written this a week ago when it was all still fresh in my mind!).

A quick turn around to Enzo's, which is not located on Main Street. They set up a station in front of Wealth Strategies, a business on Gordon Street. Enzo's served us tiny meatball, salad, and toast (all picture).

By 7 PM we were having tapas at Wildflour Bakery/Cafe. They are a gluten free and vegetarian dining establishment.

By this point we've had many wonderful appetizers and were ready for our main course. That's why I feel we had the best tour! Our next stop was Leonardo's II. We love Leonardo's. Rob and Marta (Mary Magdelena) both greeted me as if I was returning home. I need to go back. Again, a restaurant not located on Main Street, so they set up shop in Melz Salon, a hair salon. We took our plate of chicken and butternut squash gnocchi outside and dined on their front porch. The idea of eating where hair is cut is a little gross to me (the place was spotless, more my hang up). I want to go back to Leonardo's for more butternut squash gnocchi. Fortunately the event came with a wine bag and coupon for most of the establishments involved.

The half-way point was Fedora Cafe -- my go to restaurant when meeting friends. Fedora's outdid themselves with table clothes and centerpieces. They dressed themselves up for us. We had the choice of butternut squash soup or salad with quinoa, apples, squash, walnuts, feta cheese, dried raspberries, roasted garlic and honey vinaigrette. The portion was enormous! It took us every bit of our fifteen minutes to finish it. ;) 

It was tough, but we pressed on (or is that waddled?) next door to Acacia. Acacia served us a sampling of mini meatball, kale and something else (pictured below the salad). Delicious!

Stop #8 was another favorite restaurant located temporarily in a hair salon: Amalfi's located in the Mane Design. Amalfi's had delicious chicken and pizza. Nancy and I dined in salon chairs. I should have taken a picture of that!

At 8:15 we walked up Philips Avenue to Vidalia's. It was the end of the night and they were cleaning up. They served a beet side dish, and two other side dishes (that if I wrote this when I should have, I would share with you). It as good, but we were stuffed and still had three more stops to make!

Cherry Grove Farm set up a cheese tasting in Bambu Yoga -- a yoga studio that opened earlier in the week. One of the cheeses was soaked in cider from Terhune Orchards. One of the cheese (maybe the same one) was paired with 3 Monkeys Mustard, which started a couple of blocks away in a neighborhood kitchen and has evolved to earn the World Mustard Award two years in a row. Having the cheese course just before dessert was perfect timing!

The evening ended with a scoop of pumpkin ice cream (my choice) from Purple Cow and a chocolate cupcake from the Gingered Peach, slated to open on October 18. The dessert was even more perfect by listening to Stringzville serenade us.

It was a perfect evening.

I then waddled my way 3/4 of a mile to my house.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


I have been fortunate to be able to see a lot of family in the past week. The first visit was for a happy reason. The second a sad one.

After completing the Roller Coaster 10K, Don, Ashley, Maia and I drove up to Boston to have lunch with 98-year young Aunt Elva and two of her children, Martin and Helen. Aunt Elva recently suffered a stroke, but is working hard to get stronger.

The get together turned into a impromptu birthday celebration for me, which was very sweet. Helen even provided my favorite cake -- chocolate ganoche. Mmm... it was good, and very thoughtful.

Boston was not at all on our way home from Springfield, MA. But, whenever possible, it is important to honor your elders and make time for them.

This became even more apparent when we learned my Uncle Tom's mother, Marge, passed away at age 86. Though I am not directly related to Marge, we consider her part of our extended family. whenever we gathered in Ohio to hang with the Smith family, Marge came along. Last December when I was in Ohio for the Christmas Story Race, I went to visit her in the nursing home. We chatted about how New Jersey will always be God's Country to her (take that, Sterling!). I don't remember what we talked about exactly. We used to talk about Janet Evanovich, and how her brothers went to Princeton University, and how she grew up in Montclair. It didn't matter what we talked about. She was always up for a good conversation and a visit.

When I learned of her passing, I looked online for a cheap airfare. I found one flying on Frontier Airlines from Ewing, NJ to Cleveland, OH for less than it would have cost me to drive. Of course flying to Cleveland meant renting a car, but it was still a bargain.

As a bonus, I was able to visit with Smiths ranging in age from under 2 weeks to 94 years old. The great thing about funerals is that normal life slows down so you can enjoy those who matter to you.

As an extra bonus, I was able to catch up with Heidi for lunch. This has been my third visit to Ohio in 12 months. While I am grateful for being able to go, I'd also welcome playing hostess and not putting so much wear and tear on my car. Hint, hint friends ... come and visit!

Oxen Stampeding in Hopewell

Newsflash: Hopewell, NJ has been invaded by 68 oxen!

The 68 painted oxen are all part of the Hopewell Valley Stampede, the largest public works art exhibit in Hopewell. Their website includes links to pictures of the oxen, maps, and trails you can follow to see them. You can also vote for your favorite ox.

On a lovely, but warm, afternoon, Don and I saw about 20 of the oxen. We didn't love all of them, but we admired them, studied them, and took pictures of them.

The exhibit is reminiscent of the Cow Parade movement that was started in 1999 in Chicago (we saw it in NYC in 2000), and is now mooooving to Shanghai. In 2004, we saw giant sculptures of Frogs in Erie, PA. 

Local artists paint the animals. Each one is unique. Many are themed with their location -- such as the one in front of the elementary school has little drawings on it done by students. They are then on display for a couple of months. During that time, online bids are accepted. A few are held back to be auctioned off in person. 

Periodically some have had issues (mostly due to vandalism) and have been taken in for repair. Check the website for details.

In the meantime,they are out and about to be admired through October 19. Kate took her kids around to see 65 of the 68 in one day (three were out for repair or had not yet been installed), so, yes, it is possible to see them all in one day, but it makes for a long day. If you decided to go that route, be sure to visit one of the local restaurants for a snack and to show your support.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Little Free Library

Beauty and the Beast jokes aside, Don gave me a library for my birthday. A "Little Free Library" to be exact. My library was built by Art, a local retiree who enjoys taking on small woodworking projects. I admired the Little Free Libraries he built for Lawrenceville Main Street and placed in Weeden Park.

The idea behind the Little Free Library movement is to "take a book, return a book." Their initial goal was to create more than the 2,509 libraries than Andrew Carnegie built in the late 19th, early 20th century. Started in 2009, by January 2014 there were over 15,000 Little Free Libraries registered. Many others exist that have not been registered. Mine has been registered (or will be once we finish filling out the paperwork).

The library has already become a conversation piece with our neighbors. People stop me to ask about it. They smile as I explain the concept. They also add books to it. At least one person has borrowed books from it. 

To me the project is simply a book swap.

To the people at Little Free Library it is a mission. According to them I should alert the media about the box and have a team of volunteers at the ready to stock the box. I also need to have a suggestion book for comments. I should also put a flyer in everyone's mailbox explaining what is happening. I should join the Little Free Library groups on Facebook and other social media. Of course, I should only stock it with "good books" and figure out what types of books I want to specialize in swapping.

I want to keep it simple. Neighbors have already put books in the box. Today I picked up a bag of about 50 books for $3 at the Friends of Ewing Library books sale. I plan to print copies of this blog post and leave it in the box for people to read. Long term we are talking about putting a bench in front of the house to encourage people to sit and read.

Hopefully through this box I can get to know our neighbors. After living here for 14 years that should not be too much to ask.

Roller Coaster Race: the 10K

The day after participating in the Roller Coaster Ride challenge, Don and I participated in the 10K race option.

My friend, Anne Martin, announced the race on her blog a couple of months ago. I was intrigued, plus it was taking place over my birthday weekend, so I mentioned it to Don. He was in. We invited a friend of Ashley's along to keep her company. And we were off!

On Saturday, Don and Maia participated in the ride challenge and easily rode 5K worth of coasters in only a couple of hours. They billed the race as through the theme park (as noted by the red line), then "through local neighborhoods" for the 10K option. Looking at the map, the blue line mostly goes through the Six Flags parking lot. Ho hum. 

It was cool to run through the theme park before it opened. The neat thing about races that go through theme parks (such as Disney races) is that rather than use port-o-pots, they open up their bathrooms. With that said, a port-o-pot in the parking lot might have come in handy.

The race started early. Not insane early, like at Disney, but still when the sun was still waking up. This made for some good photo opportunities. It also allowed us to finish before they opened the park to the general public.
When I signed up for the race I planned to go at Anne's pace -- a gentle 13-14 minute mile, 1 minute running:1 minute walking. When I read the race documentation that said we had to finish in 75 minutes I started to worry -- that is more like a 12 minute pace. I can do a 12 minute pace, so I went ahead with my usual pace just in case. I spent most of the race nearly catching up to April (she ended up finishing 16 seconds before me). When I met up with April at the end, she said she made it her goal to not let me beat her. Too bad, we could have spent the time chatting with each other and continuing to maintain our 2:1 pace. Don found a racing buddy, Ben, and had a great time chatting with him throughout the race. Lesson learned: next time find a running buddy and the race will be more enjoyable, even in the boring parking lot.

I finished in 78 minutes. Don was cool and relaxed when I finished as he finished in 70 minutes. 
Don and Anne both came in first place for their age groups. Okay, they also came in last place for their age groups. They were both happy to go home with awards. The ride and the run each had different ribbons, but the same medal. In the future I hope they change that, if for no other reason than to encourage people to do both. 

As with most inaugural races, this one did some things really right, and left room for improvement in other areas.

We were among the first to pick up our packets at 10 AM. They were very confused. They were having troubles assigning bibs. They let us leave without the extra theme park ticket we purchased. We were told it was free parking, but when we went to the gate they insisted we had to pay $20 to park. When Anne went later, they seemed to have the bumps figured out.

On the plus, they started right on time. It was a small race -- 54 5K racers, and 52 10 K racers. They did stay until the end when Anne and Deirdre finished to loud cheers.

On the downside, the 5K race was a double loop through the park. The 10K race added a few miles through the parking lot. This gives you a sense of how big the parking lot is versus the rest of the theme park.

On the side of leaving room for improvement, Six Flags has characters. Have Tweety, Bugs, Porky Pig, Scooby Doo and others cheer on the runners.

So far there are no plans to host a similar event by this company at Six Flags Great Adventure. They hope that changes. I've heard Great Adventure sponsors a triathlon, so maybe they feel that is enough.

I don't know if I would do it again, after all it is still not Disney.

Roller Coast Race: the ride

Six Flags recognizes not everyone wants to run a 5K race, so they devised an alternative: ride 5K worth of roller coasters. They even provided a chart to help figure out how to reach that distance (16,405 feet).

Roller Coaster 
Minimum Height

Batman: The Dark Knight 2,620 ft 54”
Bizarro 5,400 ft 54″
Catwoman’s Whip 1,180 ft 48” (41″ w/adult)
Flashback 886 ft 48″
Goliath 1,203 ft 54″
Gotham City Gauntlet 1,213 ft 54″ (46″ w/adult)
Great Chase 337 ft NA
Mind Eraser 2,100 ft 52″
Pandemonium 1,345 ft 47″ (43″ w/adult)
Thunderbolt 2,170 ft 48″

As a rule of thumb, I stick to the rides with the shortest height restrictions, not because I am short, but because I have become a roller coaster wimp over the years (especially after having Ashley).

I knew Batman, Bizarro, Goliath, and Mind Eraser would definitely be out. Adding up the rest, I was not coming up with 16,405 feet. 

Don (and Ashley's friend Maia) hit their goal within 2 hours. They started on Thunderbolt (2,170 feet), two trips on Bizarro (10,800 feet total), Gotham City Gauntlet (1,213 feet), Catwoman's Whip (1,180 feet), and another spin on Thunderbolt (2,170 feet). Don collected his medal. Maia was not registered, but we were able to get her a medal later.

Ashley and I rode Thunderbolt with them. It is a classic wooden coaster. I was in the last row. Just this quick spin reminded me why I am not as big a fan of being bounced about in a coaster as I once was. During the ride, Ashley was not happy about it, but later asked to ride it again.

We then sat and waited while our coaster enthusiasts worked on their challenge. As storms were threatening to shut down rides, and the lines were getting longer, we knew that was our best strategy. 

Maia won the award for being the bravest. She has not met a ride she did not like. 

It was hot and I was tired, so we left for some lunch. Before we made it on another ride, though, those storm clouds arrived. We saw a flash of lightning, heard some thunder, and felt two rain drops apiece. It was enough to shut down the rides. The answer to "what is the policy on reopening the rides" was less than helpful. It boiled down to the shorter rides would open first, then the medium sized ones, then the tall ones once it was declared that the storm was out of the area. Umm...okay?

Since it seemed to have stopped, we hung out. Ashley and Maia discovered the kiddie rides were running so they went on a couple of them. Then we saw the bigger rides were doing test runs, so we hightailed it to the back of the park to ride Sky Screamer -- at 400 feet the World's Tallest swing ride (yes, this includes the flags on top). Ashley and Maia rode together. I rode alone. Don took pictures of us having fun. Great views of the area. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures on the ride (bummer).

We rode Pandemonium together - a ride that felt like Gadgets Go Coaster meets Alice's Tea Cups. Even that description might not do it justice. Let's just say three of us laughed our way through it and Ashley tolerated it.

For future record, Six Flags New England has a water park that is part of the theme park admission. At my insistence, we left our bathing suits at home. We always pack them (they don't take up THAT much space), but I was trying to pack as lightly as possible. I learned my lesson.

In the end, I had about 6,000 feet of coasters. Yes, I could have ridden rides up to 9 times each, but when I saw the medal was the same for both riding and running, I was glad I stuck with just the foot race. Maybe next time I would be brave enough to do both -- just as long as I could skip Bizarro. 

Six Flags: so not Disney

Last weekend as part of my birthday celebrations (which included getting my own library), we spent the weekend at Six Flags New England, or as I "affectionately" call the place: Not Disney.

Driving up to Agawam, MA Don and I recalled once we started visiting Disneyland so often, we stopped going to Six Flags because we spent so much time wishing we were at Disneyland. When we heard about the Roller Coaster Race, though, we thought we'd give it a try. The Roller Coaster Race weekend has a riding coaster 5K challenge, and/or a running 5K or 10K race challenge. More about the event in a future blog post.

Six Flags does have characters. I think we saw about 6 of them. They do not have face characters. I only saw them in one spot and only two at a time.  The girls were good sports about posing with them. Well, this is the only picture I have of them posing with characters.

Six Flags seemed to be all about the rides. Which is great if you are really into the rides, not so great if you are not. I was interested in seeing a show and finding shade to escape from the heat.

Six Flags only prints one map a year listing all of the special events for that year. Disney prints new ones weekly. I was bummed to learn I missed shows by one week and was in that lull between summer and Halloween.

Six Flags doesn't try very hard to help you find lost items. Don's hat flew off on a ride. We could see it from the fence. Other hats were in the same area. I get that they can't pick it up while coasters are swooshing overhead, but they couldn't pick it up and contact us in the week following filling out the form?

Sounds like it will be a while before we visit another Six Flags.

UPDATE: 10 days later the hat we could see from the fence has not shown up, but the camera we thought was missing forever just arrived in the mail today -- complete with the missing pictures. :)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

New School Year

 It seems every other year has been a good year academically and socially for Ashley. The even years are "meh" and the odd years are pretty darn good. This was even true with homeschooling -- the first year was great, the second year we were squabbling a lot.

End of Kindergarten

2nd grade

3rd grade
4th grade
5th grade

6th grade
Third grade was a good year. Fourth grade was one we all had to bite our tongues through. Fifth grade was awesome. Sixth grade was too crowded, but we loved her teachers.

Now she is off to 7th grade. We have high aspirations for this year. She is one of the older kids. 

If we can only move past the coconut incident on the second day of school, hopefully this really and truly will be a good year.
7th grade

2014 Red, White and Bang Kids Triathlon

The same weekend I completed my first duathlon, my niece and nephew completed their first triathlon: Red, White & Bang in Lawrenceville.

The Red, White & Bang was started five years ago when Lawrence Township announced they would no longer fund the fireworks out of the town budget. This was the first fundraiser announced. Other fundraisers include nights at Captain Paul's, cans, selling glow sticks at the fireworks, and anything else they come up with. Through these efforts, they raise around $30,000 a year.
Last year, they opened the race up to Special Olympics NJ, which has their headquarters in Lawrenceville. This meant they could form teams, rather than having to do all three legs by themselves.

Swim at the Lawrenceville Swim Association, then 
Bike through Village Park, then
Run around Lawrenceville Elementary School
Total time will be recorded with no splits
6-9 years old:
50 meter swim, 2 mile bike, 0.75 mile run
10-12 years old:
100 meter swim, 2 mile bike, 1.5 mile run
13-16 years old:
200 meter swim, 2 mile bike, 1.5 mile run

As Aimee is part of Special Olympics, they were able to form a team. Swimming happened first:

Then Hayden took out his bike. The last time he biked he fell off and broke his arm, so a bike without pedals was provided to help him regain his confidence. Don biked alongside him offering encouragement.

Aimee and Hayden both did the last leg of the race -- which ended in a run up Craven Lane. I find this hill a challenge when I'm training.

We are very proud of our niece and nephew. May they keep on running and biking, and learn to swim.

2014 Bucks County Duathlon

For those of you wondering the answer to Can I do it? is YES!

For those of you too lazy to click on the link, I'll fill you in on the details.

About a month ago I got the itch to move beyond a running race towards a triathlon. Since I don't know how to swim, the next choice was combining running and biking. When I mentioned it to Don, he said he wanted to do it, too.

Now we could have done this the easy way. I could have ran the two miles, Don could have biked the ten miles, and I could have ran the two miles. Or we could have done it the medium way and he could have run, and I could have biked. But, no, we did it the hard way. We both ran and biked.

The Bucks County Duathlon starts in three waves -- the younger men (under 45), all women, and the older men plus teams. This meant I had a three minute head start on Don.

First we put our bikes in the transition area. Despite this being a USAT certified event, there were no guidelines given on how to do this. Fortunately Gabrielle was there to tell us how to set things up.

Ahh... Gabrielle. With me at the event, she was not the only one wearing a Sparkle Skirt.

Another note on clothing -- I wore running clothes. Don wore biking clothes. Gabrielle wore her tri suit.

Time for the race. The race started on-time. Always a plus in my book. The men ran ahead. Three minutes later we started. Gabrielle and most of the women ran together in a pack. Despite running a little faster than usual, I was left in their dust. Three minutes later I heard the horn blow signaling the start of the next wave. A few minutes later, they blew by me, too. Many were courteous. I left the course and went on the grass as they blew by me three abreast at times. I get that I am slow, but I have a right to be on the course, too. At one point I had to get back on the course (or run through a tree). I just said loudly "I'll wait for you," since they were not allowing room for me. I finished with an 11:45 pace, a little slower than normal for me, but not terrible.

There are some pluses to being super slow. By the time I go to the transition area, there were only a couple of bikes left and no one was pushing me out of the way. Don took my bike down for me, and we were off. I was pleased with my 12 MPH pace (remember, I just started biking about 3 weeks earlier and I was riding Ashley's bike). Don's pace of 16 MPH was much more in line with the rest of the racers. He even managed to take pictures of me riding (hoping to post some later).

I went 2.5 miles up past the river. Back again. And back again. And back again and completed all 10 miles, though I did think about cutting it short and only doing 5 miles. My parents and Ashley were there cheering me on. 

Another benefit to being super slow is that Don and my parents got some nice shots of me alone. (Hope to add them in later.) I did not have to worry about people passing too close on my last five miles.

I made it back to the transition area. Hung up the bike. Had a swig of water and left again. My poor legs had no interest in continuing! I managed to do the last two miles at a 12:23 pace. If I had to guess at the time, I would have said it was a 15 minute pace.

As I passed each volunteer I told them there were two people behind me -- about 2 minutes behind me. Unfortunately one of the volunteers did not hear me at the turn around and picked up his cone and left. The two women behind me ended up going pretty far before they realized they went way too far. I waited at the end for them and sent someone to check on the last lady.

I finished in 1:40:57 (about 15 minutes faster than I estimated beforehand).

Don finished in 1:20:03. 

Next time I'll identify myself as an "Athena," and will likely place.  

My support team had a good time. With only 143 participants, this race was a lot quieter than many others they have attended. They could spread out and secure prime spots in the shade while I sweated.

Unfortunately this is my third official race in a row without a medal. We each received lovely unisex shirts. Someday race organizers will realize many race participants are women and will offer shirts that fit us, too. In the meantime, Don can wear mine since the shirt he ordered is too big on him. I enjoyed the race, and if we are in town again next Labor Day weekend, I would probably do it again.