Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo, How about You, You, You?

A decline in gas prices (under $2 a gallon), and a nice day in January encouraged us to drive down to DC for the day to see Bao Bao and her parents. Bao Bao is rapidly growing up. She was just a cub when we went to see her last year. In that time she went from being a cub who slept all the time, to a sledding rock star when the world watched her play in the snow for the first time. A few days before we went to DC, Bao Bao hit another milestone: she was separated from her mother. Bao Bao, Tian Tian, and Mei Xiang all have their own enclosures, since pandas tend to be solitary creatures in the wild.
When we arrived, Tian Tian was still outside, but just about to go in for lunch. The best time to visit the zoo is when it first opens because the animals are often outside at that point and just cute as can be. Driving 3-4 hours, and often leaving after rush hour, does not make that happen. We are happy when we do see them outside in a more natural environment.

The pandas are the star of our visit, but we also love seeing all of the animals. The elephants have a great new wide open space, but we still seem to catch them inside. We have yet to see orangutans fly overhead. As cool as that sounds, I suspect if I really saw it happen I would scream or run for cover (just from the poop, not from the animals that weigh more from me, right?). 

We had the pleasure of seeing the seals get fed and weighed. The zookeepers seem to have so much fun working with the animals. Lucky them!

Mostly we just walked up and down Olmsted way before heading back to the car for the 3-4 hour drive home. 

It was just nice to be able to spend the day as a family and not have any other obligations.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Keeping an open schedule

One of my goals this year is to spend more time with friends. The flip side to that, though, is not over-schedule our lives so we do have time for surprise visits.

I am eternally grateful whenever I go to Ohio, my friend Heidi finds a way to squeeze me into her busy schedule. Though we live far away, and our visits are not nearly as often as I would like, when they happen they are like magic. The same is true of seeing Don's cousins in Massachusetts. We always end up leaving later than we should as we try to squeeze in more laughs, smiles, and time together.

I've been working on my goal of having lunch with at least one friend each week. So far in 2015, I have had lunch with Debbi at Fedora's, Karen at Fedora's, met new cousins, rang in the New Year with friends from Kappa at George and Martha's new house, had lunch with RuthAnn in prison, hung out with Canadian Chris on his rare weekend stay in NJ, and have plans to see more friends in the near future.

The real excitement for me, though, came when I heard Holly was going to be in town for a funeral. It was bittersweet. Holly moved to Alabama (which us New Jersayans know is practically another planet) 8 1/2 years ago. She has not been back since, and faithful blog readers can surmise I have not been to Alabama, either. It was fun. She looks fabulous. We were all able to laugh and smile and visit for many hours. By 10 PM, though, our coach was starting to turn into a pumpkin, and we had to pick up Ashley from Grammy and Papa John's house, and get home. We had hardly taken a breath in the 8 hours we were visiting.

Keeping an open schedule doesn't mean never making any plans. It is no fun wallowing in self-pity because no one invites us to do fun things. On the contrary, it means making plans with friend and being flexible enough to change them when the unexpected pops up (which sometimes means a snow storm, and having to reschedule). It also helps us to appreciate those days when we don't have plans and we just want to sit at home, snuggle with our pets, and read books.

It also means when you bump into someone at Target or the grocery store, you take the time to chat and not always be in a race to get to the next place. Especially if that person is a faithful reader of the Pillsbury Press (yes, you Lynda) and will be reading this.

We'd love to spend more time with you, too. Drop us an email or FB message, or just add a comment to this blog post. Let's make it happen in 2015!

Mates Inn

One of my 2015 resolutions has been spend more time with friends. So when RuthAnn posted a link to the Mates Inn in Trenton, I asked her to go out to lunch there with me. 

That alone is a nice story. The real story, though, is about the Mates Inn itself. The Mates Inn is run by inmates (get it!). It is located at the minimal security facility called the Garden State Correction Center, a part of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, at the former site of the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital across the street from Cadwalader Park. The campus is filled with beautiful old brick buildings, including a church. It does not feel at all like a prison. It feels more like a college campus. When pass the security guard, he'll point you in the right direction. He guessed right away the three of us were there for lunch.

The inmates serve the public lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30-1:30, while earning high school credits and gaining skills they can take with them once they are released. They are also the cooks and dishwashers. The place has been around for at least a decade, based on this 2004 Christian Science Monitor article. It has been reviewed in such places at the New York Times, and Trenton Times.

The room was bright and cheery. The decor was dated, but quite functional. Click on the Trenton Times article link if you want to see pictures. For once I felt awkward taking pictures. 

The food was cheap. At $8.50, my cheeseburger, fries, and iced tea was the most expensive meal. My friends each had a salad and iced tea. From what our companion, David, told us, the burgers are all cooked well-done, so don't be afraid to ask for it rare. I asked for it medium-well and there was not even a hint of pink, but it was very moist and tasty.

The inmates are not allowed to handle cash, so we paid on our way out. Darlene (or is her name Charlene?) thanked us for coming, offered to divide the bill, and told us we were not allowed to leave a tip. They are just grateful we came out for lunch. She also offered to put us on their email list so we could receive the menu in advance. That was my only concern -- the menu changes every other week, but I could not find it on line. This solves that problem.

The week we went, the menu included Spring Mix House Salad (large: $4.50), Beef or Chicken Stir Fry ($6.25), Pork Roberts (Pork Chops in a wine, mustard, pan sauce, served with fresh vegetables du jour -- $6.50), and the Build Your Own Burger ($6.75). For dessert they offered carrot cake or apple crisp ($2.50 each). 

Anyone up for lunch at prison? Call me!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Peggy Sue

The RunDisney world lost a rock star on Monday when cancer took Peggy Sue's life from us. 

Many have written far more eloquently about what Peggy Sue meant to them. Her daughter, Jane, said it best. "Early in my life she was a single mom who took me along with her while she tried to finish her night classes. She worked full time so she could give me the childhood that most kids dream of. I'll never forget her pulling me out of school for Bloomies shopping sprees or day trips to Manhattan for carriage rides and Broadway shows. I was the apple of her eye and the center of her universe. As I got older, she encouraged me to chase every dream I had and participate in every club or activity...because she wanted me to know I do anything I set out to do. I never once thought I couldn't be a lawyer, farmer, actress, dancer, designer, buyer, international woman of mystery...because what I wanted to be, she made it so I could believe in myself and be."

Wow! What a fabulous tribute. I hope my daughter has similar thoughts about me, instead of remembering the times I made her go to school when her cat died. To many of us, Peggy Sue was the lady sitting in an ECV at the end of the race cheering EVERY LAST RUNNER with the sign "HELLO Complete Stranger, I am proud of you!" No matter the weather, she would show up before the crack of dawn to hang out with the runners in the staging area. In only a few short years she became a rock star in the PbRC (Pacebook Running Club) world, and also the greater RunDisney universe.

At some point Peggy moved from the NYC area to Florida. Jane took up running after her mother's 2005 diagnosis with "Polymyositis, a rare autoimmune disease that leads to severe muscle weakness and chronic inflammation." She was in a ton of pain.

In 2010 Jane ran the Wine N Dine half marathon at WDW. Rather than hanging in her hotel room that night (it is a nighttime race), Peggy came outside and sat outside her hotel watching the entire race. She told her daughter "she had the best time." The famous signs started appearing in 2011 during the WDW half marathon. She had some funny ones, but the complete stranger one was her favorite -- and what she became most famous for during the past four years. She came back for the Princess Half Marathon, even though Jane was not running.

Grab your tissues.. "throughout the years Mom has been at almost every Disney event I've run, and even some that I haven't. She was always trying to be at the best spots -- midway and clsoer to the end to keep people going. I would finish my races and tell her stories about the race and then she would tell me about all the wonderful people she met along the course, too. Cheering for runners brought her to life again. She could feel the love from the runners when they would run by, stop and take pictures with her, yell her name and bring her gifts. She became a one woman aid stop on the course: snacks, drinks, cold towels on hot days, safety pins, icy hot... her sole goal was to keep us all happy an moving. She was as much a part of the running community as the runners.

"Fast forward to Wine n Dine 2014 - it was cold and pouring. Mom had been ill since May -- she insisted on making it out for this race. I was injured and miserable because, let's face it, my makeup wasn't gonna hold up in that weather. I tweaked a muscle that night and my injury slowed me to a crawl and I decided to get up on the sweeper bus. It was the easiest decision of my life. I knew deep down that this was going to be my last chance to see a race by her side. So I stopped at mile 5 and went back to my momma. And we sat in the pouring rain and cheered on the runners. She smiled for hours and it was the most joy I had seen in months. It will be one of my favorite race memories for may years to come.

"The thing about Mom is she was an ordinary, extraordinary person. She was just a woman with a simple sign. Some marker on a free poster board that she picked up at a race ... but she touched the lives of so many because of her kindness and her spirit. She would selflessly get up at our 2am wakeup calls and head out to the races because we needed her. And what most racers didn't know was that she needed them too...because that's what kept her going.

"And so I hope that her legacy continues and we keep it simple. Be kind to each other. Be supportive, in life, on the course, anywhere and everywhere. You never know what one simple gesture can do for a perfect stranger, after all, strangers are just friends we haven't met yet."

Peggy Sue proves we can all make a difference. It doesn't take a lot of money to show you have a heart, and to share it with the world. Share a smile. Hold a door for someone. Listen to Ashley who says "Don't be mean in 2015." Find little ways to make a positive difference in the world. Those small ways might just grow as they did with Peggy Sue - it started with a handmade sign, and in four years turned into a legacy. You might not know how your small gesture helps someone else, but that is no reason not to share your kindness with the world.

I'm glad I met Peggy Sue, even if it was just while we were both waiting for a table at Mimi's before the 2013 Dumbo Double Dare. Reading the many testimonials and journal posts on Facebook, I can see she was inspirational.

Peggy Sue's FB fan page is HERE

BTW, Jane decided to make her post public so it can be shared. "So please feel free to share away." 

There were 5 ... then there were 4 ... now there are 3

Until November we had five pets -- a bearded dragon named Sandy, Betta fish named Phineas, and three cats named Ariel, Charlie, and Lucy. It was quite a menagerie.

Then in November Phineas died. He was a year and a half. Not that long for a Betta fish, but c'est la vie (or c'est la mort, in this case).

Four is still a lot of pets, so we chose not to find a replacement fish. Besides, it took Ashley days to even notice he was gone.

Back in July we realized Sandy was very sick. He is also very old. Bearded dragons live about 8 to 10 years. We figure he is about 11 (he was 8 when we adopted him 2 1/2 years ago). We've learned a lot about reptiles, but we still make mistakes with diet, tank conditions, etc. We do give him a lot of love. He is having kidney problems and was very dehydrated. The result is I inject medicine under his scales, and also squirt some in his mouth. Unlike other animals, bearded dragons cannot spit it back out, so what goes in stays in. I am hand feeding him veggies. Don is hand feeding him live crickets (yes, ick). He is old, but he is hanging in there.

Then there are the three cats. At 11 to 12 years of age, Charlie is the oldest one. He has been known to sing duets with the local fox. Best we can tell, the fox is singing a mating song. I don't think he (?) gets that Charlie is a neutered male cat, but so far it is just singing late at night. 

There is also Kitty Lucy (the black and white one), at 2 she is our youngest pet. She was born to my friend Kim's cat, Trouble, on September 9, 2012. She is settling down nicely and not knocking over trees any more. She is a chow hound, though. She is also very snuggly. She likes to hide under blankets. Lucy also tends to get into trouble and comes home with unexplained scratches.

Then there was Ariel. We adopted Ariel nearly 10 years ago when Ashley was 2, after we came home from Disney World to a mouse infestation. Our former cat, Pumpkin, kept the mice away with his aura only. Ariel actually kept the mice away by killing a few here and there and leaving them as presents. Once was on my birthday (how did she know?). As she got older, we suspect Lucy took over as resident mouser. 

Ariel was very skittish. We suspect she was feral a little too long. Over the past 3 years Don has made huge progress with her. She got to the point where she was willing to be around us, and even snuggle with us. She would not go upstairs very often, and if she did it was only to hang out at the top of the stairs and spy on the other cats. Still, up until her last few days if you walked in the room while  she was eating she would have to leave until we stopped moving. She would then sneak back in and finish eating. She had a very nervous personality.

On the other hand, she was very cautious and seemed very healthy. We would have voted her the pet most likely to live (or least likely to die, depending on where you put the emphasis). 

We were shocked when we came home after being out for 11 hours to find her dead.

The night before she snuggled with Don as he slept. Her snuggles were always on her terms -- she would decide if she wanted to snuggle with you, it was never the other way around. If she chose you, it was your job to stay as still as possible, or else she would get up and leave only to return when you stopped moving (if you were lucky).

Monday morning she ate breakfast. She even asked for seconds.

Monday morning Ashley scratched her and she purred.

Her fur was soft. No signs of discomfort or pain. Nothing different.

Monday night we came home at 9:30 PM. Don put out the food dishes. Only one cat (Lucy) came. Hmm..that's odd. I looked at the back door and immediately found Charlie. Hmm...where is Ariel? I glanced down the basement steps (one of her hiding place) and saw a shadow. I turned on the light and saw the shadow was a cat. I saw the shadow was not moving. I said something to Don, then told Ashley.

She was gone. Died mid-yawn. We are guessing she had a heart attack since her eyes were open (as opposed to dying in her sleep).

If there are any silver linings during situations like this they are: 
1) when she asked to go out for the day I said no (she liked to go outside, make sure the world was still there and come back in, we were about to leave and didn't have time for the 'come back inside' part)

2) we were home this weekend. In the past we have gone away during MLK weekend and leave the cats with a cat sitter. I'm so glad they did not find her dead. In either situation we would have had a ton more questions than the half a ton we already have.

The hardest part about owning a pet is knowing they will someday die, most likely before us. However, the same can be said about making friends and falling in love. Without putting our hearts on the line we won't really live.

UPDATE: A memorial service was held between snowstorms for Ariel in the back yard. Don, Ashley, and Kitty Lucy were in attendance. No photos were taken.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Adventures in Cooking: reviving an old favorite recipe

First host family
Back in 1987 I left the familiar and moved to Belgium for a year as a Rotary Exchange Student. This is something most of my friends know about me. I had just turned 18 and did a "Gap Year" before the term Gap Year was popular. I had already been accepted to Trenton State College.
Me, 18 years old, on the rooftop of the opera house in Liege, Belgium

Sorry these pictures are so bad. I did not take a lot of pictures in those days. They are all quite horrible. I rarely saw the sun that year, which did not help. 

Back to the story of dinner. In the beginning I was homesick for my family, my language, and my food. My host mother was very sweet, but her first language was Dutch (Flamon), her second French, and there was not a third language. Meals were spent with a well-worn dictionary on the table.

We had a few misses with meals. I seem to recall thumbing my nose up at seafood. I know she was trying hard. My 45-year old self wishes she could scold my 18-year old self and remind her she is having the time of her life, even if she is frustrated and hungry.

She struck pay dirt on a very simple meal. She called it Potée Liégeoise. It combined green beans, bacon, tomatoes, and small potatoes mixed with a red wine vinegar sauce. Made with fresh veggies, it was heavenly. My second host mother tried to make the same food for me in the winter, but it was not nearly as good  with canned veggies. 

I modified the recipe by changing the slabs of bacon to ham, and made the recipe some when we were newly married. We liked it enough. As with many meals, it fell out of rotation. 

I rediscovered it when my friend Carin turned me onto the cookbook Everybody Eats Well in Belgium. In that book they call it "Warm Green Bean and Potato Salad from Liege." Same basic recipe, but with a different story. Basically it is a salad and not a main course. You eat enough of it and it becomes a main course.

We were trying to spice up our rotation of meals, which we did a lot last year with Meatless Mondays, and Don suggested this old favorite. I remember making it years ago when I first got the cookbook. Ashley was a lot younger and had no problems picking out the good stuff (mostly the ham) and leaving the rest behind. 

When they asked me to try it again last week I was skeptical, but I did it. After all, how can I ask them for dinner ideas and poo poo their ideas? Eventually they'll stop making suggestions and I'll be the only one coming up with ideas. 

Lo and behold I made it and it was a success! Ashley ate every part of it. They both asked me to make it again this week. I made some minor changes. I used grape tomatoes because that's what looked best in Wegmans in January. I also used a red wine salad dressing, because that is what I had on hand. This week I bought a different kind of ham -- spiral cut from the deli that the person behind the counter said "tastes just like Easter dinner ham." We'll see how it goes this week.

I know it doesn't look like much, but it is simple to make --cook the potatoes until they are softer, same with the green beans, broil the ham a few minutes to taste, toss in the tomatoes, put on the dressing, give it a few minutes to soak in and eat. I don't fuss over measurements (which makes me a lousy baker). Not much of a recipe, but if you google Potee Liegeoise you can find something more specific. Of course you might also have to translate the webpage, but it is worth it.

Bon appetit!

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 Best of the Pillsbury Press

Here we go with our own Top 10 List, based strictly on entry point clicks. there was a tie for #10, so really top 11 list.

135 Librarian Shoulder
126 Home Again Farm
101 Little Free Library
83 Meatless "Mondays"
57 Disney Bounding
54 Six Flags: so not Disney
52 Upper Canada Village Time Traveler's Camp
48 Downsizing
46 Caffee Gelato race
44 Aladdin on Broadway
44 Let it go

The all-time record for hits us Kyoto, Part 1 published in June 2013. Someone must have linked to it (I don't know who) because it now has a whopping 9,697 hits. Makes you realize just how public your life is when nearly 10,000 people are reading about it. Most of my other stories only interest a dozen of my friends.

The thoughts I posted last year about the 2013 Best of the Pillsbury Press still hold true. I don't say anything I would be embarrassed to have others read. I keep people's last names and major identifiers off of my blog. I you want to write about your life, that is great, but it is not my job to make it easy for future employers to get any dirt on you.

Last year my lapsed membership to yielded a couple of pleasant surprises.

First a collector of unpublished manuscripts contacted me about publishing Horace B. Fyfe's works. John Betancourt of Wildside Press sent me a random message asking if we had any of his works and could he publish them. As luck would have it, mom had a trove of his books sitting under her guest bed for nearly a decade since Horace's second (?) wife passed away. Many of his books were in the public domain, but others had not yet been published. He died without heirs, so my grandmother (who died in 2001), her sister (who died before that), my Great-Aunt (still alive), and Cousin Diane (still alive, but I keep forgetting her tie) are the closest family members he has left. Mom is happy to have his books see the light of day. John is happy they were not thrown out. It is John's calling to bring science fiction works back to life, especially estate books.

Ironically my parents found a copy of a rejection slip from Wildside Press from the mid-20th century. She gave a copy of that to John, too, along with some other materials she thought he would enjoy. The plan is this will be published in time for his 100th birthday in 2018.

The more recent find was of new cousins. Now known as New Cousin Barbara (NCB for short, since we have two other Cousin Barbaras and an Aunt Barbara), Barbara contacted us to learn more about her great-great grandmother, who was siblings with my great-great grandfather. The story is far more complicated than that. Since all I care about is we have have new cousins, and not how they connect to branches on our tree, I zoned out on the details. Turns out Barbara lived a town away from us in North Jersey. She went to high school with a friend of mine. Her family is buried in the same cemetery as my family members. Total Small World moment.

Last week we met Barbara and her boys. I felt like we had known them our entire lives. She has two boys. One the same age as Ashley, and a huge Gamer who hung with 7 year old Danny. The other closer to Hayden's age with an infectious laugh and smile who seemed to enjoy being with us. We love having new family members. Through the magic of Facebook we have been able to keep in touch and learn more about each other.

Happy New Year! May all your surprises be pleasant ones.

Don't be Mean in 2015

About a week ago the three of us were chatting during the dinner. I brought up the topic "what are your New Year's resolutions." Ashley thought about it for a minute and came up with "don't be mean in 2015." She was looking for something to rhyme with "fifteen," which means she can easily carry this goal over to 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. I like it. Just think of how amazing the world would be if we all kept that simple resolution.
Last year I listed my resolutions. I broke them down into professional, running, relaxation, and environmental categories. Overall, I did pretty well with them. Always room for improvement, of course.

This year I want new goals. This might be a start, or it might be the end list. We'll see how my thoughts shape up this week.

1) Spend more time with friends and family. My plan is make it a point to spend at least one meal a week with a friend and focus on that person/people -- i.e., no cell phones or other distractions, just make that person a priority while we are together. Likewise, people who cannot give me the same respect, I will not spend much time with this year.

2) Be nice to people and treat them the way I want to be treated -- i.e., cut back on complaining.

3) Tell people what I really think of them. No, this not a contradiction to the second resolution. Instead tell people why I like them, and what makes them awesome. I hope this is reciprocated as we all need to hear how fabulous we are.

4) Spend time with people who want to spend time with me. I have spent too much time with people who don't think I am terrific as I think they are. It is a drain. Life is too short for that kind of work -- especially when I am not paid for it.

5) Give God my first 5-10 minutes each day with the Upper Room devotional. It is not much, but I have to start someplace. Through God's grace, that time will grow and flourish.

6) Purge. Purge. Purge. Our goal is to move into a house half this size by September 2016. That will only happen with getting rid of a lot of stuff. 

7) Buy a new bike and get out and ride it. I'm eyeing up an Electra from Bruno's Bicycles: One Sweet Ride, a local company I wrote a story about last month. Yes, being a freelance writer sometimes means I spend more at a business than I earn from writing the story, but by writing stories I have a little extra money to spend, so it balances out in the end.

There are some other changes I am thinking about implementing, but I am not ready to turn them into resolutions. This might be the year I learn to swim, or yoga, or a new exercise program (in addition to bicycling). It seems every five years, or so, I start some new exercise program -- walking transformed into rollerblading which turned into running. My body is aching for a change.

I am also not ready to make a professional goal. I would really like focus on my memoir business, and by business I mean land my first post-Andy client. I know there is a huge market for it, I don't know how to tap into it. I've been burned my non-paying clients in the past, and can't afford to keep doing business that way.

As my goals are more vague than last year, I will not be posting monthly updates. Wish me well on my voyage to become a better me.

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy 2015

A year ago I blogged about my 2014 resolutions and my 2014 predictions. So, how did I do? Overall, not too bad.

I hosted a large party for Don and my dad's milestone birthdays. I flopped on running or power walking 520 miles last year -- between the cold weather in the beginning of the year and the twisted ankle at the end, it was not a goal meant to happen. I'm not even ready to see how badly I missed that goal!

I did better with my reading goal (no shocker there!). I read over 130 books, but did not log most them into Goodreads. Happily I have found good book recommendations from my friends Goodread postings, so I suppose fair is fair.

While the Meatless Monday goal only went through November, I consider it a success because I am more likely to make meatless meals. There were too many weeks when I had meat-filled leftovers I wanted to finish up on a Monday before they spoiled that practicality took over that resolution. I have new recipes, and a family willing to try them. That is a success in my mind.

I ran in new (to me) states this year including Delaware, Massachusetts, and New York. I also added a country to my list. It is not my goal to race in all 50 states as it is not even my goal to visit all 50 states. I do regret, though, not racing in Oregon since our hotel room was only a mile from the start line of a nighttime 5K, a fact a realized as the race was starting.

I succeeded in having a 5K under 35 minutes. See the Canadian race link above.

I took a picture every day for the 365 photo challenge and swore off of 365 challenges. I'm not sure if I'm a better photographer, but I certainly spent a lot of time last year looking for photo subjects.

For a few months I had a job with the benefit of a steady paycheck, and paid days off, but chose not to continue with it. We'll see what 2015 brings.

My environmental goals did not really happen. The township still needs 100 families to sign up for the curbside organic waste pick up. They have stalled. We do walk our compost down the street to a friend's house, so I suppose it is a step. We are hoping for a major purge this year.

As for the predictions, they all came true but one -- none of us have a smart phone. 

Happy 2015!