Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Double Header

About a year and a half ago I thought decadence was seeing two Broadway shows in less than a week when Ashley and I saw "The Lion King" on a class trip, and then Don won tickets to see "Hamilton" four days later (and gave us the tickets). 

About two months ago I thought someone was crazy for seeing two Broadway shows in one day. 

About two weeks ago I had the brilliant idea to see two Broadway shows in one day.

Why the change of heart? you ask. It is a fair question. It was a combination of a couple of really good sales, the realization that by the time we get into New York City we have already spent a good amount of money (either on train tickets, or a combination of gas, tolls, and parking), plus Ashley identified two shows she really wanted to see before they closed.

Ashley and I took the 9:10 AM train in from Princeton Junction. It was an early start to the day, but the only way to score one of the five free parking spaces at the Princeton Junction lot that open up at 9 AM. Most of the lot is for people with parking passes, plus there is a day lot that fills up at 6:30 AM ($5 for the day). There is also a lot that works with an app that I am still trying to figure out. It shouldn't be this complicated.

Ashley and I had lunch at Schnippers -- a place we have been meaning to try for years. I had a great salad with beets and goat cheese.

A day in NYC would not be complete for Ashley without "stage dooring" it. She has known drawn the entire cast of "Hamilton" (including Chicago and touring, I believe) and "Come From Away," so even though we were not seeing those shows, we hung out near those stage doors.

The "Come From Away" actors started their day by being on Good Morning America at 6 AM.
They then had a 2 PM matinee, and an 8 PM evening show and still had the energy for fans.

Ashley did her braid by herself. I couldn't do that.

Jen is mighty talented and vert friendly.
Before taking this picture we saw her having an animated
conversation in sign language with another fan.
She also has great taste -- she loves Ashley's picture of her.

Meanwhile over at "Hamilton" the crowds were INSANE!

Ashley and I saw "Natasha and Pierre and The Great Comet" at 2 PM. The show is scheduled to close on September 3, 2017. We received an email offering tickets for $39 each. Even in 2017 prices, that is a steal.

The show is based on 70 pages of Tolstoy's "War and Peace." It is well known for its odd staging. It is billed as theater in the round, but that's not how I imagined theater in the round. There are sections of seats ON the stage -- some in small pods, others in stadium seating. We were in the cheap seats not on the stage, but where the actors came to us instead of us to them. Well, mostly the musicians. The actors and musicians interact with the audience. At one point one character "mails" a letter to another by sending it down the front row of seats. Audience members really have to keep on their toes.

The show is famous for the controversy surrounding the casting of Pierre. In the beginning of the Broadway run it was Josh Groban. Then it was Okierete "Oak" Onaodwan (who was in "Hamilton" before this). Then Mandy Patinkin. Then there was controversy surrounding the recasting of a young African American man with an older white man and suddenly the show was without a Pierre and announcing it would close. Whew! We ended up seeing David Malloy in the role -- the man who originated the role off-Broadway and who is the songwriter. He was excellent. 

I had troubles getting into the show. I didn't know where to look. I hadn't had a chance to listen to the music before the show and as a result had trouble following the plot -- which felt like an opera with people talking in the third person and singing EVERYTHING. My friends who saw the show before us loved it. I felt I needed to see it a couple of more times from different angles to fully appreciate it (something at $39 if it wasn't closing this weekend I would have been willing to do). Also, I kept waiting for the Great Comet, which didn't make an appearance or even a mention until the last five minutes as if the playwright realized he had an awesome title and needed the comet to appear in order for it to make any sense at all. I loved the costumes -- especially for the extra animated musicians. They hinted at being Steampunk and seemed a lot more vibrant that what peasants would have worn in 19th century Russia.

After the show we met up with Don for dinner at The Counter. As always, it was enjoyable.

Onto show #2: Bandstand

I wish this show wasn't closing. The plot was completely predictable, but we didn't care. It was reminiscent of a Rogers and Hammerstein musical. You know what is going to happen, so you sit back and enjoy the musical ride.

The show received a lot of positive attention from veterans groups for how it portrays life after war. Each person in their seven person band had their lives changed during the war, including the lead singer whose husband was killed by "friendly fire." I could easily recommend this show to so many people -- including my parents and their friends (Baby Boomers, not WWII vets). Could certainly encourage veterans to see the show. Unfortunately it will be closing on September 17. A casual conversation with the usher and we learned she blames the super discounted tickets for shows closing. Ouch! With paying only $69 each, we were exactly the type of theatergoer she was referencing. If the tickets had been well over $100 each, we would not have gone. I suspect others feel the same way. I really hope "Bandstand" makes the rounds so more people can be inspired by it.

We had awesome seats -- front row mezzanine, nearly center with no heads blocking our view. Much better than when we saw "Great Comet" and missed a funny ad lib scene on the stage because our seats were so far to stage right.

Hopefully someday we'll do the double header again. We are really glad with the order we went with since we left "Bandstand" smiling and tapping our toes and left "Great Comet" confused and bewildered. Oddly enough we saw someone in the parking lot elevator who had just seen "Great Comet" (the 8 PM show, not the same 2 PM one we saw). She was also confused and bewildered by it. Don is really glad he only saw "Bandstand" since he enjoyed it, too.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Daisy, Daisy

Those of us of a certain age (read that as "old," if you want), have at least heard the song Daisy Bell, with its famous chorus:

Daisy, Daisy give me your heart to do
I'm half crazy, hopeful in love with you
It won't be a stylish marriage
I can't afford the carriage
But you look sweet upon the street
On a bicycle built for two

This weekend Don's wish of owning a tandem bicycle came true. As we took it for a ride through Mercer Meadows I kept humming Daisy, Daisy give me your heart to do to myself, all the while thinking this is harder than it looks. Why is it the Dapper Dans at Disneyland make this look super easy? 

Taken in May 2010

Don reminded me pre-Ashley we borrowed a tandem at the Caribbean Beach at Walt Disney World, and it was a challenge then, too.

Our first challenge was transporting it home from the family we purchased it from in Vineland, NJ. Even with the wheels off, the frame exceeds five feet and the back of our widest car is four and a half feet wide. Off came the wheels, and somehow the bicycle slid in allowing room for both of us to sit in the car, but not Ashley (who fortunately was swimming with Grammy and Papa John at the time). 

Came home and Don reassembled it. We took it out on the flat Lawrence-Hopewell Trail, which starts less than a mile from our house. It was a quick lesson in communication. The person in the lead (Don, in this case) had all the power, including pace, shifting, and where to turn. The person in the back (me in this case) had to adjust moment by moment. I quickly learned Don shifts a lot more than I do so I would go from a slow rotation to a quick rotation that my feet had troubles keeping up with. As with many things in life, it is a learning curve. 

Here are a couple of pictures of the bike in the park:

And a couple of us trying to ride it in front of our house:

We had Ashley give it a try. The plan is one day soon she and I will give it a spin. Hoping we get a lot of use out of this. I think it needs a bell -- and a name.

The Great Eclipse of 2017

After much hype, the moon passed in front of the earth on August 21 at 2:45 PM in Lawrenceville, NJ.

The hype was insane! People were in a panic because they did not have the official eclipse glasses -- and at the last minute there was no place to get them!! People made pinhole viewers that looked like something out of the 1950s -- and later said in a surprised tone they really worked. Eclipse stamps were sold at the post office. People had parties. Friends traveled around the country to get to the best spot to see it.

I asked my friends, which means I made a Facebook post, about why the hype. Reasons ranged from for this everyone in the 48 states will have a chance to see it to it takes place in the summer when a lot of people are off from work and can enjoy it. My favorite was in these crazy times, it is something we can all talk about without fighting. The friend went on to compare it to Woodstock happening in the midst of the Vietnam War (about a month before my birth). For whatever the reason, people were happy to get together.

My friend Nancy actually planned ahead and bought the right glasses at least a month in advance in preparation for their family vacation to the shore, before the price spikes. She lovingly gave me two pairs. Leading up to the event, I still wasn't getting into it.

Lawrenceville, NJ was slated for 73% totality, which sounded good enough to me. Having heard from friends who traveled to 100% totality zone, I'll admit that sounds pretty awesome. On April 8, 2024 the United States is slated for another total eclipse of the sun. Maybe I should start making my plans for that? If I wanted to be really cool I'd start making plans for July 2, 2019 or December 14, 2020 when Argentina and Chile will be in the line. As much as I would like to get to that part of the globe, I don't really see it happening in line with an eclipse.

Ashley and I used Nancy's nifty glasses and walked to Village Park, about a half mile walk from home. We kept peeking at the sun with and without the glasses. The glasses made it look really fake -- as if there was a microchip inside the glasses projecting the textbook image for us. It did not match up AT ALL with what we saw in person during those quick peeks. 

At the park we only encountered a few people. There was a family of three looking through pinhole viewers, and a family with small kids mostly playing. No one paid any attention to us. That was actually kind of disappointing. While I didn't want to be around masses of people, I did want to be part of a communal event. 

As time got closer to the actual eclipse I tried to pay attention to our surroundings. I did not notice it getting discernibly darker or cooler -- which at 73% darkness I did expect. I still heard birds chirping (I was told they get quiet during an eclipse because they think it is nighttime, I only heard one or two birds). However, I did hear an increase in cicadas -- a sound I equate with nighttime. If we hadn't heard there was an eclipse happening, we would not have noticed it.

Cool picture of us taken on the absolutely wrong setting.

Saw lots of clouds

Taken at peak -- I just don't see it

Ashley trying to take pictures with her phone

The view through the nifty glasses

Even though it was his first day back from Canada, Don popped outside for a look. Unfortunately he did not have glasses, nor did anyone with him. Had we known, we could have driven over to share the experience with him.

My parents went to a viewing party over at my niece's elementary school. We should have coordinated better. Princeton Public Library had a viewing event where they announced they would have 400 pairs of glasses available for free. Remember the hype I started this post with? 5,000 people showed up to claim PPL's 400 glasses.

The other problem was the clouds kept playing peek-a-boo with the eclipse. Just when you could see something really cool, the clouds would hide it. All the more reason I was grateful to Nancy for the two pairs (though we would have made out fine with one).

In the end, Ashley was not impressed.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Gratitude and Blessings

Following the death of Sandy Claws Dragon, I reached out to our cat sitter and hopped in the car to go to Canada. That's the short story. The longer version is that Ashley and Don were already planning to go to Canada -- Ashley to stay with her friend Lauren at her farm in Ontario, and Don to stay with his friend Chris in Quebec. I planned to stay home, be productive, and take care of Sandy.

With passport in hand, I went with them, only to return home the next day. Again, the short version since the long version would just confuse this already confusing post.

In my brief time in Canada I had two long conversations with people I didn't know. The first was Lauren's father (a farmer), the other the husband of the owner of a cafe where we ate lunch. Both small business owners. Both white males, one almost 50 the other in his 50s (as a guess). Both told me how blessed they feel. 

That's the word they used: blessed.

As they said that, in both cases I wished they paused long enough to let that feeling bounce around my brain like a ping pong ball. Neither life is easy. The farmer talked about just how wet it has been and how that has affected his crops. The husband of the cafe owner said they only opened the cafe 9 weeks ago in that sleepy town -- they seemed to already be doing a good business, and I wrote them a Trip Adviser review hoping they get more business.

They named their restaurant Gratitude in honor of the
blessings they feel they have received from God.

The conversations continued with talking about how they were not blessed financially, but still felt God blessed their lives.

On the long car ride home I had a couple of thoughts. One was how rare it is to have a similar conversation closer to home. I remember an older black man recently telling me he felt blessed, even as he recovered from knee surgery and could hardly walk, and felt he had a lot of weight still to lose in order to feel healthy again. That made me realize how blessed I feel to be able to get out and run/walk/crawl half marathons.

The other thought was how would my life be if I acted, believed, and professed to complete strangers, friends, and family how blessed I feel. 

Lately I'm not feeling blessed. I'm drained by Sandy's death, by cleaning out my in-law's house, by dealing with Don's side of the family, by the humidity, with freelance clients who drag their feet on replying to me but then want an immediate response, by playing taxi service for the teen, by life in general. 

Instead of focusing on all that, though, what if I focused on my blessings. In my most recent post I wrote about beating last year's 15K time by 13 minutes. I have a 200+ day streak of walking at least 10,000 steps a day. My latest A1C was 6.1, without going on medicine (it was 8 a couple of years ago). I am blessed I am healthy and active.

I am blessed I am able to travel. I could escape to Canada for a couple of days and the world did not stop. Next month I plan to go to Paris. I'd love to do more traveling, but need to focus on what I can do and that I can dream about future places to visit.

I am blessed with family and friends who care for me, and who support and encourage me. Rather than focusing on the family members who are not being helpful, I should focus on my mom who took a bunch of my in-law's treasures to a local museum rather than putting them in a dumpster, and on the friends who have helped me by giving me boxes, and filling them, and helping me find people who would truly appreciate my in-laws' vast collections. 

If I sat down and thought about it, I'm sure I could create a much longer list, as could you if you wrote your list of blessings.  More important for me than creating a list, though, is creating a mindset where I feel blessed from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head and that I tell everyone from those I know to complete strangers that I feel blessed. Pray for me as I continue to work on that goal.

2017 Washington Crossing 15K

As with last year, the Washington Crossing 15K, happens at a time of year when training becomes hard because of the heat and the distances I must do to prepare for the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon. It is so much more fun getting out and running when there are other people around, there are multiple water stations, and at the finish line a medal and a buffet are waiting.

Last year it was nearly 100 degrees at the starting line, so they altered the course to make sure an ambulance could reach runners at every point of the 15k (9.3 mile) route. We went out and back and out and back. Sounds boring, but the upside was the three water stations became 12 water stations, then somehow they added another 7 for a total of 19 water stations, or more than one per kilometer. Pretty neat trick! They also added ice cold washcloths, and really kept an eye on the runners. This year felt a lot longer before water stops.

Getting ready to roll
This year they returned to their normal route, with one tiny hitch. There was a tree down on the towpath and we had to leap (bounce, step) over it. The tree was only about 3 inches wide in diameter, and though they tried, they could not remove it before the race. It happened to be near the mule, so we had a landmark.

I went into the race with the goal of beating my time from 2016, which I erroneously thought was 1:50. I went out a bit fast for me (a 10:30 pace) because I was running with Katie, a 30 year old marathoner with a fantastic smile and attitude. I was on track for a 1:39 finish. Totally unsustainable given the humidity and my mindset.

I ran a good bit of the "out," and walked much of the "back," but was strong enough to pick up and run more than I normally can when I resign myself to walking. I'm really working on the mental part of running. I was disappointed when 1:50 came and I was still on the course. And annoyed when the course measured 9.5 miles instead of 9.33, but that is what it measured last year so I just have to set my Nike app to anticipate it being a 9.5 mile course in 2018.

I crossed the finish line at 1:56.11, just as they were announcing the award winners. Oh well, I must have missed that one, again, I thought. I went to eat dinner and chat with the runners. Agnes, someone I met in 2016, came in after me. She decided tonight was going to be a 2 hour cardio workout instead of a race, and walked most of it. She felt good because at the finish line she was stronger and happier than the year before. She and her husband, Colm, told me about the winter runner series of 11 races sponsored by the Bucks County Road Runners. I thought about doing it last year, but bailed. I think I'll do it this year.

I decided to see just how close was I to medalling, last year I missed it by one spot (I was fourth in my age group, but by a long distance). Turns out I was second in my age group!! Even more remarkable, there were three women in my age group. Even more remarkable than that, I only missed winning my age group by less than two minutes.

Remember how disappointed I was by my finish? Turns out in 2016 I finished at 2:09.18, meaning I was 13 MINUTES faster this year. Yay me!

Coordinated swag

This is the second race in a long time
where I have accepted the free shirt,
and the second time I have placed. Is there a connection?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

RIP Sandy Dragon

This is probably the toughest blog post I have written to date. On Sunday, August 13 our geriatric dragon, Sandy Claws, died. He was 13 1/2. He lived with us for 5 years and two months.

That day he ate a bunch of crickets, tried to escape out the back corner, hung out in his soaking dish, crawled out again on his own, crawled into his cave, came out, pooped, and crawled back in again. He was in the process of shedding. At some point we took him out so he could look out the  back door and I was able to capture this picture of him looking at Max.
Yes, truly, this was taken on his very last day. With Max Cat.
All in all it was a good day for him. The only reason we disturbed his sleep that night was so Don could feed him more crickets before he and Ashley left for Canada. I was outside with Ashley when Don called to me in a panic. Sandy did not look right. When he lifted the cave, he noticed a lot of drool coming out of his mouth. Sandy has had a problem with dehydration, which manifested in "strings" of saliva when he opened his mouth, but he had never seen anything like this. We were pretty convinced he was gone, or at least almost gone. I cuddled him. I think we saw his eyes move a little, and his mouth started to close, but not much movement. I didn't notice him take another breath. As a last ditch effort I put him in the bathtub (he hated being in the tub). The three of us sat around him crying for the longest time. 

He was my buddy. We spent many evenings snuggling while I read a book. Yes, dragons can be snuggly. He showed people the spikes are not pointy, they are designed to scare away enemies. Don claims he "helped him read," which really means with Sandy on his 
chest, Don would relax and fall sound asleep.

The cats knew he ruled, and gave him space. 

My friends Carin, Nancy, and Lisa enjoyed dragon sitting for him, and often asked for updates.

We are struck by awe at how this all played out. Don and Ashley were scheduled to go to Canada in the morning. I was going to stay home. For some reason I wasn't comfortable leaving him for five days (we did leave him with a friend in June for three days, so I don't know why I felt this way this time).

He died on our watch with all three of us home to say our good-byes, not a day later when Don and Ashley were in Canada. Not while being watched by a friend who would have felt awful. In the summer when Ashley didn't then have to go to school in the morning, or Don to work. At one point we said when Sandy goes, we will declare a day of mourning.

Three years ago he was near death, and never recovered to his youthful state. At the time he was 10 1/2 years old. We were told they live 8-10 years. With our love and hand-feeding, he lived another three years. Ironically three years ago we took him with us to Canada because we didn't want him to die on someone else's watch. Seemed to make sense he would die as we approached the annual trip to Canada.

With his death, I lined up our cat sitter and joined them in Canada for a couple of days. I wasn't ready to face the empty windowsill. I still find myself looking for him. Sandy was the source of much entertainment. People ask about him (the older he became the more cautiously they asked). I would send Don updates about him. We often had to set him right when he flipped over and couldn't flip back. 

The kitchen window went from this:

To this:

It looks so empty! I keep looking in the window to see how he is doing.

Some Sandy pictures. I can't find one of me snuggling with him. The downside of being behind the camera.

With Kitty Lucy

Napping with Charlie Cat.

Sandy had a lot of problems staying upright.
Then his beard would get all black.

Favorite food was crickets, not red pellets.

Blessing of the animals. We felt he could use all the help we could give him.

An oldie -- with Ariel Cat.

His first night with us in 2012.

We say he was a gift from Santa because she asked Santa for him, I said no,
and several months later he ended up living with us.

He was a good sport while we tried to see how many balloons it would take to get him to fly
(more than the 9 we tied to his tiny body).

I miss him so much!