Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Princeton Cyclovia

Last weekend Princeton held an event I bet most people did not even know happened: Cyclovia.

"Ooohhh.... what is cyclovia," you ask? Ciclovia or cyclovia is a Spanish word for "cycleway," or a path free of cars to ride a bike. It is also known as Open Streets. This started in Bogata, Cali, Medellin, Columbia. As of 1974, in these cities they have certain main streets blocked off to cars on Sunday mornings from 7 AM to 2 PM.

In Princeton's case, they closed a stretch of Quaker Road from 1 - 4 PM on Sunday, June 28. Next year's date has not been announced. Locals recognize this as a road that is closed so often due to flooding it has its own gate blocking access from Nassau Park Pavilion to Princeton Pike/Mercer Street. 

Here are some pictures from that day. The three of us rode out together. When we got to the halfway point at the Friends School there was a table from a couple of local bike safety groups. Don stopped by the Updike House where there was another table with another group. Unfortunately Ashley's rear tire popped (we suspect an over-inflation issue) and could not be patched on the spot. Don rode his bike home taking the short cut (along Princeton Pike) and got the car. Once he came back, he and Ashley drove home where he was able to fix the tire with a spare tube. Meanwhile I rode the 7 miles back home again.

As a new cyclist I am learning to appreciate wide bike lanes and riding without cars. I've always tried to give cyclists a wide berth in case the unexpected happens, but not everyone does. While waiting for Don I studied a map someone created trying to show which roads are safe, and which ones (like Route 1) to avoid. Even some of the "safe" ones seemed scary to me as a new rider and a mom. Hopefully events like this will show, just like in the movie "Field of Dreams," if we build it, they will come.

Monday, June 29, 2015


Don and I are both from fairly small families. He is one of four siblings. I am one of three. Knock on wood, we are from fairly healthy families, too. That is to say it has been over a decade since we have attended a family funeral. I realized this last week when I learned my Great-Aunt Lee passed away. We last saw her four years ago in her final home in Illinois. She was still enough of herself that our visit was enjoyable. Unfortunately as the years passed, she was overtaken by dementia, so her passing is really a blessing.

When Ashley was a baby we attended a bunch of funerals. Between family and people we knew from church, poor Ashley saw the inside of many funeral homes. There was Ta-ta's funeral when Ashley was 8 months old, followed two weeks later by Great-Uncle Russ's funeral (Aunt Lee's husband). I was really waiting for the "third" one as in, things happen in threes. Don's dad, Pop-pop died not long after Ashley turned two (about a year and a half after Ta-ta) to finish up the "three" for us, and ended the streak of family funerals. 

As we prepare ourselves to say good-bye to Aunt Lee, there is this part of me wondering "who will be next?" Now that the decade-long streak of family funerals has ended, who will I have to say good-bye to next?

Nothing like a funeral to put living into perspective. Nothing like hearing a good eulogy to make you want to become a better person. 

Live as you want your eulogy to read. At Uncle Russ's funeral the words that God was welcoming his "good and faithful servant" have echoed as an inspiration to me. Will God say the same when I go through the Pearly Gates or will I be reminded of the strangers I ignored and everything I could have, should have done better? 

What can I do to leave this world a better place? 

Make time for family. You don't know how much longer you'll get to spend time with them in this world. That is the message I am leaving you with today.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Art All Night - 2015

It was another fabulous year for Art All Night. Heavy thunderstorms that had been predicted for all day Sunday came through as a light rainstorm on Saturday night. Now with their 9th year of providing 24-hour art and music entertainment in a city that rolls up its streets as soon as the state workers go home for the night, or the weekend, Artworks is proving people are willing to come into the city of Trenton as long as there is a good reason.

I'm still waiting for the official numbers. I've heard 1,200 people submitted artwork (up from 1,000 last year). I don't know how many people attended, but I do know it was packed at 10:45 PM!

11 PM it was wall to wall people

9AM very, very quiet

4 PM (an hour after it ended) even more quiet

Art All Night is a 24-hour art show in the former Roebling Steel Works building in Trenton. The facility is fabulous, which makes me wonder why it is only used a few days a year (the other times are for the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market). The building has a lot of potential.

The exhibit features a wide assortment of artwork from "refrigerator art" by pre-schoolers to art by local famous artists, such as J. Seward Johnson and Leon Rainbow. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is allowed to display ONE piece of artwork, though we saw a couple of "groupings" that seemed like multiple pieces, but was under the umbrella of ONE piece. It could be a drawing, a sketch, a painting, a photograph, sculptures, furniture, and I even saw a couple of framed original poems. All pieces are on display from 3 PM Saturday to 3 PM Sunday. 

The wall with our artwork
by local graffiti artist Leon Rainbow

A random wall to show the wide assortment of talent

In 2010, 2011, and 2012 we submitted artwork. We attended at least a year before submitting art just to see what it was all about. Two years ago we were in Japan during the show, and last year we were in California to see our friends get married. 

This year we started talking about what we were going to submit months in advance. Of course that still meant as we were walking out the door to deliver the artwork we were still putting them in frames. C'est la vie.

Ashley did not want to sell hers, so we returned on Sunday afternoon to pick it up.

 Don's sold within the first couple of hours (as evidenced by the red sticker). By the time my parents go there at 7:30, it was already sporting the red sticker.

Mine, alas, did not have a red sticker. We have learned in the past that does not mean a thing as I did receive an email from Art All Night nearing the end of the show that I need to return to pick up my artwork as it has sold.

The event is free to attend, and free to display. You have the option of selling your artwork and pocketing the money, or donating a portion to Artworks. We just do this for fun, so we donate 100% of our money to Artworks. Between our two pictures, and the $17 I found on a sidewalk near the show, Artworks is $62 richer thanks to us. We should find out soon how much money Artworks raised, and how many people attended the show. 

A side note, by selling our pictures we have been invited to a reception next Saturday night to meet our buyers. That, too, is always a thrill.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ava Anderson -- once you hear her message, you cannot unhear it

On Tuesday Ashley and I met an up and coming rock star -- Ava Anderson

When Ava was 14 and thinking about wearing make-up she watched a documentary aimed at teens and was shocked by the amount of chemicals involved. She was mortified! She looked into buying cosmetics at a health store, after all, that must be better, right? Wrong. She started researching what was going into items she was putting on her skin, and just how toxic they are. 

The more she looked into words such as "natural," "organic," "safe" and "pure," she realized how they are not regulated. By "knowing the backside" she saw many poisonous chemicals are hidden in the ingredients. She tossed out most of her mother and grandmother's products and not being able to replace them with items that were "Ava Approved," 
Ava Anderson Non-Toxic was born in 2009 when she was 15 years old. Yes, a high school student has launched a successful business. She is now a senior in college and her business continues to grow. On Tuesday night she spoke to a packed room in King of Prussia, PA.

Full disclosure: while I agree with her message and am in awe of what she has accomplished, I have not actually used any of her products. I need to sit down with Christine, my consultant, and try some of the products. For now I've decided to start with bug spray (is there anything out there more toxic than bug spray that we are supposed to use for our health?) and sunscreen (another horribly toxic program).

Still it is a message once you hear it, you cannot unhear it.

From her six piece line of AvaSKIN products, she has expanded to shampoo, toothpaste, baby care, pet care, cleaning supplies, and the aforementioned bug spray and sunscreen, and she is launching a line of products aimed at men.

I left the Ava Anderson meeting wondering if I should be a consultant. Certainly some people have the drive and can turn it into a 6-figure career. That is not my goal. With only 11,000 consultants (about 5 in Lawrenceville) it is still a ground-floor company. That and I could get their products at a discount rate and earn some much-needed money to help support my vacation fund.

If I do decide to become a consultant, will anyone buy from me? 

The reason behind going on Tuesday was to show Ashley that with a lot of passion and hard work someone her age could make a difference in the world. That is not just reserved for
octogenarian rock stars like the one we met a couple of years ago.

"A Voyage of Many" by Alina

In the fall of 2012 Ashley, Sharon, and I went on a PhotoWalk in Mercer County Park with Alina. We have since become FaceBook friends. Through a FaceBook invitation I learned Alina was having an art exhibit at her alma mater, Mercer County Community College.

The exhibit is entitled "A Voyage of Many." It is the story of 45 people who have immigrated to the United States from Cuba. It is more than that, though. Alina did a fabulous job of choosing a representation of those who left their lives behind in Cuba to start anew in the United States. It began with a desire to capture the histories of those who came in the 1960s -- people now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and whose stories mostly remain unrecorded. She did so much more, though, through this exhibit. Each of the photographs are a work of art. By themselves they are engaging. It is easy to want to climb into her pictures as they have a 3-D feel to them. 

In addition to the pictures, she included a quick blurb about their stories, and slightly longer versions on a piece of paper available for viewing in the room. Alina Bliach has plans to turn this exhibit into a book. She has a wish that her exhibit travels in order to spread the story of Cuban immigrants even further. It is for this reason I'll break my rule about not publishing last names and include hers so someone searching on her may find this rave review and want to show her art work.

Alina was born in Havana in 1960 and immigrated here with her family She understands first-hand the problems faced by new immigrants. She has captured their history through photographs and stories. She has turned her passion into something that will preserve history.

Don and I attended the opening for her exhibit. One of the real joys was seeing some of the 45 people captured in the images posing with their own photograph -- and smiling. Through this exhibit, she has captured much more than a quick moment in time, she has captured their feelings, something which is hard to capture in a photograph. 

This exhibit only runs through June 24. It is much too short for such a powerful and engaging exhibit. If you live locally, I suggest you drive over to the campus and see it for yourself. Gaze into the eyes of the subjects. Take the time to read the captions by the photographs. Spend even more time reading their short biographies. Follow her photography on FaceBook to learn more about her book.

I often say everyone has a story. I'm glad she is capturing theirs. It is my hope to return to my idea for a business and join her in capturing more oral histories.

Mom's Wedding Dress

On Good Friday we traveled to Columbus, Ohio to see my grandmother's wedding dress on display. Perhaps inspired by my aunt donating her mother's wedding dress to a museum, or my mother's desire to clean house following the sale of their Florida condo (thus combining two households' worth of furniture into one), my mom decided to donate her wedding gown, and other items, to Kuser Mansion in Hamilton, NJ.

For us, Kuser is synonymous with long chats with Santa Claus. Kuser Mansion was built in 1892 as the the summer home of Fred Kuser, whose early 20th century interests included Fox Film Company (he showed movies in his dining room, a tradition that has continued), the Mercer Motor Car, and Lenox china.

Unlike my grandmother's dress which sat in storage for years, mom only had a couple of months to wait until her dress was on display. June is synonymous with brides (even though my mom was married in December), so Kuser decided to have a display of wedding gowns on Saturday and Sunday afternoons this month.

There were many gowns on display. The docents there that day had donated their gowns and those of their children (I'm not ready to part with mine just yet). Both ladies told us about their wedding days and their gowns. Alice Kuser's wedding gown was also on display (Kuser Mansion, Alice Kuser). 

In addition to wedding dresses, they also have other wedding related items on display including invitations, a bridesmaid and flower girl dress, and other ephemeral. 

Mom also showed us some of the items they have recently donated. The beds in this room used to be my grandparents' beds (complete with bedding) before becoming the guest beds in my parents' house. It is really funny to think of something I was allowed to sleep in a museum where I am not allowed to even touch it. Side note: the room has recently been painted and re-wallpapered. It looks stunning!

They also donated some glassware and the chair behind my mom's wedding dress. A beautiful chair, but not sturdy enough to sit on.

The exhibit runs through the end of June. Kuser Mansion is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11-3. Tours are free. If you miss it, the good news is it sounds like Kuser will repeat this exhibit again next June.

WWII Cosplay

One of my favorite parts of the World War II air show weekend in Reading was seeing all the cosplay.

I have enjoyed watching the cosplay movement flourish. Cosplay is simply defined as costume play, in other words adults wearing costumes. It is most popular at Comic Con and other conventions based on characters. It has spread to movements such as Disney Bounding. Most people do not believe they are that character, but are having fun.

I was surprised by how many people I saw dressing in WWII era clothing in Reading. As much of it was clothing from the time period (and not imitation, or seems-like clothing), it helped us step back 70 years in time. There were times you could not tell who were the official reenactors and who were paid guests who came in period attire. 

Here are a few pictures from the event. Maybe next time the three of us will also dress as if we are from the past.

Don: Learning to Unicycle

I've been trying to encourage Don to write some blog posts so everything is not just from my perspective. He finally took me up on it. The following are his adventures learning how to unicycle.

I don’t know what exactly prompted the desire to learn how to unicycle. I’m sure the seed of motivation has its roots in visiting Portland, Oregon, last summer. What could be more
No, Don is not unicycling in this picture
inspiring, watching unicycle polo or the world famous kilted flame spewing Darth Vader bagpiper (on a unicycle)? Either way, I had the thought in early January. (But I do remember it was not a New Year’s Eve resolution.) Lo and behold, a few days later, Jacquie pointed out Princeton Public Library was offering a new program – 65 Things @ 65 Witherspoon on January 10. The event was meant to help people start off the New Year by teaching how to do something new. Wouldn’t you know, unicycling was one of the skills. The three of us went. I was given a chance to practice unicycling with Kevin C. Carr in the library’s lobby. Kevin also let Ashley try and also spent time with her explaining how to juggle. I wasn’t off to the best start but I managed to do OK. Ashley definitely did better – as did a few of the other “students.”

Next came practicing at home. Fortunately a friend had an old unicycle in his garage he lent me. Ashley and I practiced in the basement almost every day for two months. We set up a line of items that we could lean on and practiced going from one end to the other. Eventually I felt the need for more room. As luck would have it, a friend at work had shown me a football field with a fence around it. It was part of his regular 4 mile jogging route. At lunchtime I brought the unicycle to the football field and leaned on the fence. 

On May 8 I could finally go about ½ the length of the football field without leaning on the fence. I thought I finally had it. I quickly learned that I wasn’t able to repeat that when I was away from the fence. It took a few more weeks of practice until I was finally confident enough to ride someplace else. 

On Friday, May 22, I was finally able to make it to the end of the street (1/4 mile) without leaning on anything. It took 3 attempts to make my way back; first leaning on the streetlight opposite the Mauer’s driveway, then relying on the light post at the bend, and finally used the street sign at corner of Dustin and Abby. (Got distracted by someone working in their yard at
the bend and at the corner I became worried about the mail truck.)

It’s funny. I initially assumed, as a regular cyclist, I would have an advantage. Turns out, unicycling is nothing like bicycling. This proved to be one of the hardest challenges I’ve ever undertaken. Progress came in the smallest of incremental baby steps. And each miniscule improvement provided just enough motivation to press on. Although by May 1st I was really tempted to quit. In my typical fashion, with each step, I over analyzed the situation and looked for multiple ways to make any sort of progress. The internet offers a plethora of ideas. One such suggestion was to use a cane to lean on. While in Columbus, Ohio, I purchased walking sticks and tried that. It might have been a good idea but it slowed me down too much to allow for the momentum needed for balance. At times I had flashback to learning how to swim. I think one of my hang ups was gaining enough confidence to ‘let go.’ It’s no small wonder that when I eventually did take flight, it was to the mantra of: “You can do it Dumbo!, You don’t need a magic feather. You can fly!” The taking flight
analogy is really the most apropos because progress was most forthcoming when I would repeat to myself: ‘Just keep flapping, just keep flapping.’ (There is an overabundance of upper body arm movement for me to maintain my balance.) It really does feel like I’m flapping my wings and when it began to click, there really was the sensation of flight.

What I found most interesting was the encouragement received from random strangers. Some people were really enthusiastic about me making an attempt. Two regular dog walkers at the park seemed to take delight in noting my progress. A few people I met were most curious about what prompted such an undertaking – but genuinely supportive. I only met one person that was downright dour on my ability.

What I found most surprising is how quickly I get tired on the unicycle. I think you would be surprised by how much time is spent coasting on a bike – downhill, going into a turn, when you get tired, or when you slow down a little to study something. That’s called “freewheeling” and is available because of the internal construction of the wheel’s hub. That is not an option on a unicycle. The pedals are linked directly to the hub; the pedals go around with each rotation of the wheel. Conversely, unlike the bicycle, pedaling backwards results in the wheel rolling in reverse.

At this point there is still a lot for me to learn. Beginning with the very basics, I currently struggle with turning left and I still need to learn how to “free mount.” (Get started without leaning on anything.) Once I master that I want to work on distance. My original goal was to ride through the park. At this point that is still a distant dream.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Inside a B-17 Bomber

As promised, and update to our adventures at the 25th annual World War II weekend in Reading, PA.

Ashley stayed with a friend and Don and I went by ourselves. It felt like a real date -- quite a treat after 22 years of marriage.

A couple of years ago I answered an ad on Craigs List for a writer. There are times in your life you just have to follow your gut and hope for the best. This turned out to be one of those times. I met John in his dad's assisted living place in Princeton. John recognized that he wanted to preserve his father's story, especially his time in World War II. By that point his father, Andy, was suffering from short-term memory loss, and Andy's wife, Lorraine, had passed away from a long illness. John also recognized he was not preserving Andy's story. He heard the stories, but did not write them down or otherwise record them. 

This is where I came in. Along with a couple of dozen other people I answered the ad. He chose mine not because I had the most experience writing memoirs (I probably had the least)  but because I mentioned I worked with pre-schoolers. My mom often says you are a combination of all of your experiences. This was certainly only of those times.

I met with Andy from Thanksgiving through Christmas, with the plan to continue after Christmas break and try to extract more from him. Unfortunately Andy died on January 8 and we did not finish the story. Most of our conversations were moments long, before he would interject and ask who was I and what I was I doing there. Fortunately Andy was an 89 year flirt and would jump right back into talking about his past. 

John and his sister had lots of ephemeral for me to sift through -- his wife's book entitled "My Soldier" and a photo album. Unfortunately he could not find the many letters they wrote daily to each other. Andy served in the Army Air Corps (the precursor to the Air Force) in Italy in 1944, only a few weeks before the end of World War II. He flew several missions in a B-17.

This brings me up to 2015 and the air show. I brought Andy's story with me and shared it with some people. One of them was Pete, a pilot who was flying the Yankee Lady -- one of less than a dozen B-17s still flying (I heard numbers between 8 and 11). The Yankee Lady was built in 1945, after the end of WWII, but it was very similar to Baby, the plane Andy served in during the war.

The B-17 people were charging around $500 for a flight. I did not want to fly in it, I wanted to see where Andy sat and what it would have been like for him. Pete understood. He invited me back to tour the Yankee Lady when the last passengers left, while the plane was being refueled. How could I turn down that opportunity?!

Pete showed Don and I around the plane. He is an excellent and patient teacher. He explained the significance of the images on the side (relates to bombing missions).

He let me sit in the cockpit. He explained back in the day there would have been less instruments, but as this plane continues to fly, they need to be able to radio the tower and maintain FAA standards.

The really neat part, though, was went I went below to where the Bombardier Navigator would have sat -- in other words, Andy's spot. I was told just how cold it would have been once they were up in the air -- hard to believe since it was super hot inside the plane that day. They would have worn extra layers, layers they could plug into the airplane for extra warmth. The flight out was about 5 hours. They had a 15 minute mission. Then a return flight of 5 hours. Oh, and along the way, they were trying not to be shot at. As Pilot Pete said, he is a commercial pilot for an airline. He faces similar situations, but he is grateful he never has to worry about being shot at as he flies. His job is tough enough without that element.

Andy would have sat in the nose of the plane. Once the pilot got to the right spot according to the calculations, he would use his headset to talk to Andy and tell him the plane is now in his control. The plane was on autopilot (a new feature of the day). It was Andy's job to push the button at precisely the right moment. Then they turned around and tried to get out of there without getting shot down. 

Norden Bombsignt
There were  a lot of calculations involved, and no real computers. They did have a  Norden Bombsight (pictured) as a guide. I remember Andy telling me about it. As I was not taking notes, but instead taking pictures, I can't say that I really understand it. The B-17 had guns that were fixed, which was a big improvement for the time and made the Germans afraid to get too close to them.

Once the tour was over, we were given the choice of returning upstairs to take the ladder out, or "go the way Andy would have gone." Well, put it that way and of course I'll take a simple four foot drop out of the bottom of the plane. Wish they had told me the four foot drop was a six foot drop, or about an inch longer than me and my arms combined (I was told to hang onto the opening to help brace my fall). 

Alls well that ends well. The refueling crew was a little concerned when we popped out of the plane ("where did you come from?"), but Pete assured them it was okay. We still had to get away from the plane, oh and find my purse which I left on a golf cart that moved away. Remember what I said earlier about following your gut? This was one of them. My gut said leave the purse in the golf cart with strangers rather than carry it around the B-17. How many soldiers carried purses with them? Still, I was relieved when I was reunited with my bag. It had my car keys in it.

Thanks, Pete, for the adventure of a lifetime.