Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tour de Fat - Chicago

When Don suggested we take a road trip to Chicago to go to the Tour de Fat (a festival sponsored by New Belgium Brewing Company) I had no idea what to expect. I'm willing to admit I jumped into this one a bit blind. I did ask if it was open to people of all ages (it was sponsored by a beer company). Assured that it was (based more on the 10AM -4 PM schedule, being in a public park, and absence of being told it was only open to those legal drinking age) I said sure, why not.

The festival is a celebration of all things bicycle related. An early highlight was seeing synchronized bicycle dancing by the Racketeers -- a local group. Prior to the trip, we saw a different group of women performing similar stunts in the documentary Veer ( Think of Ethel Williams' group hopping out of the water and riding bicycles and you ahve a good idea of what we saw. It was quite entertaining.

One of the anticipated highlights was that the event was kicked off by a bicycle ride through the section of Chicago near Palmer Square. We hadn't expected to see people in costumes. This has renewed my interest in creating a costume for the Disneyland Half Marathon. My favorite was seeing The Flintstones. The dads even toted "Pebbles" and "Bamm Bamm" behind them. Very clever!

 I had not anticipated being able to ride novelty bicycles. This one was clearly Ashley's favorite since the wheels are made out of shoes. Unfortunately she was a little too short for it. In this area they conformed bicycles into all different shapes -- there were three bicycles put into a triangle shape that went around in circles, a unicycle with training wheels, and hinges put in place so the bicycle could not steer strait. Remember -- this is a beer festival so you have that added dimension to bike riding. Helmets were a requirement.

Ashely rode a bicycle "all around the world." I think she went about 7 times before getting "too tired." (a little bicycle humor for you)

Don sampled some beers he really liked. Unfortunately New Belgium is not in our part of the country, and the beer he liked most is only available in bars.

One note about the festival, it ran "off the grid" using panels that were pedalled around the park. Hence they call themselves a "Pedal Powered FUNdraiser of Sustainable Folly."
Next month New Belgium is breaking into the Washington, DC /Maryland market. Maybe next year's Tour de Fat will have a stop on the East Coast.

Children's Garden at Michigan State University

Another highlight from our road trip was wandering around the Children's Garden at Michigan State University. This was at the suggestion of our hosts, Jenny and Chris and their daughter, Emma. I try to not publish too much information on-line about children, so we'll leave their last names out of this blog.

Emma and Ashley were close friends in Kindergarten, when her dad found a great job in Michigan. Sadly for us, but a great move for them, the family (mom, dad, three kids and a dog) moved. Ashley and Emma continued to keep in touch. When thinking through the logistics of our road trip to Chicago, we realized Michigan was only a small detour away. Jenny and Chris were kind enough to let us stay with them for a couple of days. The girls picked up as if it had only been three days instead of three years.

The family recommended we visit the Children's Garden. The garden was designed by the 4-H club (Ashley is a member of 4-H in Lawrenceville). It incorporates lots of familiar stories -- such as the maze from Alice in Wonderland (see above), a Japanese Bridge reminiscent of the one Monet painted in Giverny, a Small World garden and many other small touches.

The favorite spot to pose seemed to be around Christopher Robbin (of Winnie the Pooh fame). Is this a sign of our near future? So not ready!!

The website is under construction. This is a link for the kids tour section of the website. The garden was free to visit, though there is a charge for parking.

Slate Run - outside Columbus, OH

Earlier this month we went on a 9 day road trip through 7 states visiting with friends and family along the way. Our first stop was Columbus, OH to visit the Smith Family: Aunt Debra, Uncle Tom, Cousin Laura, Cousin David, Marge, and surprisingly, Joanie Smith (who is my running buddy, but lives in California). We also visited with our friend Heidi Harendza.

Knowing how much we love history, Aunt Debra, Uncle Tom and Laura Smith took us to Slate Run -- a historic farm set in the 1880s. The farm house has been restored to its 1856 grandeur. The first floor was open to touch almost everything and marvel at the umm.. lovely... umm... wallpaper.

The site includes an historic working farm, complete with tons of old farming equipment, such as this broom maker. We only wish there was someone in that part of the area who could explain the equipment to us 21st century suburbanites. 

The farm has many heirloom animals in it, including baby turkeys, Merino sheep and a brand-new calf in it. The calf was named after a flower because he comes from a long line of cows names after flowers. The man with the calf admitted it was a challenge coming up with a male sounding flower.

The weather was absolutely perfect that day. Just ideal for lounging around outside and taking life easy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Paranormal Museum - Asbury Park

It is creepy and it's spooky...mysterious and kooky ... it is the Paranormal Museum of Asbury Park.

The morning we planned to drive to Ocean Grove to listen to Bill and Jean Kutcher perform in a choir festival, Don read about the Paranormal Museum on the Princeton Patch. The museum was so close to the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, we could hear the singers rehearsing from outside the museum.

Inside the museum it was a different story. The museum is said to be haunted. I did not see any ghosts.

I did see a skeleton that was reported to be of the Jersey Devil. There were stories about him and talk of his legend. It was creepy.

The museum also had pictures of ghosts and stories of local places that are haunted.

The stories were creepy.

Don and Ashley and enjoyed the museum. I'm still spooked by the stories.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fosterfields Living History Farm

We split our visit to Fosterfields into two parts -- the morning and the afternoon. In-between we went to Historic Speedwell for their program. This seemed fitting as there are two parts to the site. I'll call them the "hands-on" and "hands-off" sections.

In the morning we visited the old farmhouse where Mr.and Mrs. Woods, the farm manager and his wife lived. Allison, the docent, patiently explained how chores were done back at the turn of the century --1880-1910, that is. When we showed up she had just finished explaining to a group of pre-school aged friends how to clean the saddles and tack after riding. She showed them how the entire stable was kept organized and clean so Caroline Foster (the daughter living in the big house) could go for a ride at any time.

She taught us about churning butter using a gadget I had never seen before. Just last week Ashley made butter by shaking it in a baby food jar, so the lessons were still fresh in her mind. Then it was time to do the laundry. The little kids were still outside playing in the water and having a blast on that 90+ degree day.

At scheduled times the regular farm chores are done -- collecting eggs, feeding the chickens and milking the cows. We were only able to see milking the cow. The farmhand gave us a full lesson about cow milking and explained it with patience as if we were the first suburbanites he ever talked to about the subject. We also learned where oxen come from. I'll give you a hint, there are not female oxen, hence no mommy oxen.

After a trip to Historic Speedwell, we returned to Fosterfields for the 2:30 tour of the mansion. The inside is just as impressive as the exterior. The house was built in 1854 by General Joseph Warren Revere, the grandson of Paul Revere. Though the farm had been in existence since 1760, the Reveres turned it into an estate farm, a tradition continued by Charles Foster.

Charles moved into the house in 1881 with his 4 year old daughter, Caroline. His wife and sons had died and he wanted her to live in the country. She lived in the house until she died in 1979 at the age of 102. In 1974, she donated the property to the Morris County Park Commission to be preserved as a "living historical farm."

The mansion is stunning. Unfortunately they do not allow pictures to be taken inside of it. We saw some gadgets that were new to us -- a glove stretcher, a skirt lifter, and a more modern way to separate the cream from the milk. The latter the docent referred to as "the microwave of its time," because it made a 24-hour job take only 20 minutes.

Ashley's favorite part was the temporary exhibit on handwriting and how you can tell a lot about a person from their penmanship. Don't be surprised if she wants to analyze your handwriting and tell your deep dark secrets. Oddly enough the exhibit was called "Letters to Emma." It started out with "when was the last time you wrote a letter by hand..."coincidentally enough just that morning she wrote a letter (by hand) to her friend, Emma. It made her feel closer to her friend.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Historic Speedwell - home of the telegraph

Ashley and I took the first of our summer field trips to Morristown. I say the first because Morristown, NJ is very rich in American history, which makes a lot of sense since Washington spent a winter with his troops in Morristown.

This trip, though, was to Historic Speedwell.

Back in May when we went to New Jersey History we collected fliers about different historic sites in NJ. One of the first booths we visited was Historic Speedwell. The person manning the booth told Ashley about their summer programs where kids could learn about electricity. Ashley's eyes lit up just hearing about this program. When the summer started Ashley kept asking about this program -- when are we going? Why can't we go now? I planned our visit to coincide with the first of the special Wednesday programs. As friends asked for playdates that day, Ashley kept reminding me we were going to Speedwell on Wednesday.

With all this build up, I was afraid she might be disappointed. After all, we chose the hottest and most humid day of the year to go. It is a long drive from home (about 75 minutes). Fortunately she loved it!

She loved learning about electricity. We tried different experiments -- such as using a lemon and some wire, using coins and vinegar, and an experiment using a telegraph machine. Our results were much the same as when Ashley did her science experiment this past winter -- the light did not light.

Even with the oppressive heat and humidity, and the long drive, and the light not illuminating, Ashley still had a great time and wants to go back. She loves doing experiments and questioning the "what if."

Monday, July 4, 2011

10K - Revolutionary Run

Today I ran my first 10K (6.2 miles), okay "walked my first 10K" would be much more of an accurate description. Hey, I survived and I even came in at the very tail end of my estimated goal of between 1:10 and 1:20. This was based on my best 5K (3.1 miles) time of 35:50 a few months ago, so 1:12 was probably the best I could have expected.

It was more about getting out in race conditions then it was about finishing with my best possible time.

Things in my favor:
1) I have been training a lot since that 5K.
2) I had a good dinner last night (thanks, Carin).
3) I had a good night's sleep.
4) I kept off my feet yesterday.
5) This race was only a 20 minute drive from home, and in familiar turf.
6) I had the best cheering squad (thanks Don and Ashley, and fellow runner Sharon). :)

Things not in my favor:
1) It was HUMID -- not hot, just sticky.
2) I only decided to do the race this morning, hence I kept up with my training schedule full-force last week instead of tapering.
3) I walked my tootsies off in NYC two days before the race.
4) My feet were wet before the race started due to the fog and wet grassy parking lot. I didn't realize how wet they were until I peeled off my socks when I came home and noted I had webbed feet.
5) The blister from Thursday's run hurt with each step.
6) I walked well over half of it.

All things considering, I'm pleased with my time. I was even more pleased with how I felt afterwards -- I could still walk. I ate right away. It wasn't until I sat down (a.k.a. the drive home) that my muscles ached. I was happy. I had the energy for that final push at the finish line and for smiling any time the paparazzi (Don) was nearby.

62 more days until the DisneyLand Half Marathon -- 13.1 miles, or more than twice today's run. If I double today's run, and add a bit for that extra mile, I'm around the 3 hour mark, which allows me and Joanie 30 minutes of leeway. We can do it!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Brooklyn Bridge

After touring the Roebling Museum in Roebling, NJ a trip across the Brooklyn Bridge was in order.

We were not alone in our crossing. The bridge was packed with people walking, running, cycling and photographing that day. It was a beautiful day to be in the City.

Anticipating how much walking we would be doing the rest of the day, we only walked part way. It was far enough to show Ashely how Roebling wire supports such a massive structure.

Tenement Museum - NYC

This weekend's adventures took us to the Tenement Museum in New York City.

Katie, a recent immigrant herself, led us on a tour of three tenement apartments and taught us about life of immigrants during the early 20th century. We learned how the struggles of the immigrants from then are similar to those today -- specifically how the mothers struggle to keep the traditions of the old country alive, while the next generation tries to assimilate into the new country.

The Tenement Museum offers several different tours. We chose the tour called "Piecing It Together" (about to be renamed "Sweatshop Workers") because it focused on the life of Jewish Immigrants who worked in the Garment Industry, and Ashley loves sewing. It was one of the tours labeled for children 8 and up.

Tour group sizes range from 1 to 15, ours was on the large side with 12. Katie brought us up to the third floor of the Tenement Museum. Our first stop was a room that has not changed much since the museum acquired the building in 1980. The layers of wallpaper and flooring were clearly visible. 

What stood out most was the size of the apartment -- a mere 325 square feet, or less than a third of the size of our first home in Trenton.

Our second stop was a similar sized apartment that also served as a sweatshop where Harry Levine ran his garment business with several employees sewing for 10-14 hours a day while his wife, Jenny, and their five children tried to stay out of their way.

The third apartment was just as tiny, yet the Rogarshevsky family lived there with their six children. By then the husband and children were working in factories, and not out of their home. Though that apartment was a smidge smaller, it felt larger.

Being in the tiny apartments -- which to this day do not have air conditioning -- and hearing their stories bring their histories to life.

The museum is located a few blocks away from Chinatown, just south of the Williamsburg Bridge.
Unfortunately the museum does not allow photography. However, their website has some nice pictures of the inside of apartments.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Smithville Mansion

Last month at the Howell Living History Farm's annual Fashion Show we met a lady who runs Smithville Mansion, Eleanor Dunker. Eleanor told us about Smithville Mansion and invited us to visit sometime. This might have been when the seed was planted for Ashley and I to spend the summer visiting historic sites.

The mansion is open for tours at 1, 2 and 3 PM on Wednesdays and Sundays. While driving around Whitesbog, I realized I had just enough time to make the 3 PM tour, so we hustled. As we parked the car at 2:57, I breathed a sigh of relief and we dashed across the street, only to find no one. Oh we did see a couple of women leaving from the 2 PM tour, and a place to purchase tickets, but no one to take our money or to lead the next tour. 

As we are walking around the place looking for someone, I start complaining in my head. Ashley called me on it. It seems she can tell when I am gathering my arguments, shall we say, based solely on body language. I was impressed that she knows me better than I know myself.

Prior to our visit, I emailed the director to let her know we are coming. I have learned from volunteering at Rockingham that some of these sites work with a small crew and sometimes they have to close to the public -- maybe they have a large tour planned and cannot accommodate more people, or maybe renovations are taking place, or maybe a volunteer calls out sick. No matter the reason, I don't want to drive over 30 minutes only to learn the site is closed for the day.

To make a long story short, we found Eleanor. She could not have been more charming. I was glad she recognized us in our 21st century attire (last time we saw her I was wearing a Colonial dress and Ashley was in her Laura Ingalls Wilder costume). She gave us a fascinating tour of the mansion and side buildings that was filled with lots of personal stories that made the mansion come alive.

H.B. Smith (of Smithville Mansion) was an inventor. He created a lot of tools and equipment out of iron and to work with iron. This Star Bicycle caught my attention. Unlike the popular Highwheelers of the day, the large wheel is in the back instead of in the front. This simple switch made the bicycle much faster -- which was important in races.

Eleanor told us about the history of the HB Smith and his descendants. I'll give you the very short version and entice you to visit to learn the juicy gossip -- HB's son, Elton, contested his father's will. When it was overturned in his favor, he then went into the house and destroyed all the furnishing and everything that was not nailed down the to walls or floor. Learning this before I went into the house I was expecting a bare home. It would not be the first time we went into a gorgeous mansion only to find the inside has only a few pieces of furniture. The William Trent House and Paulsdale come to mind.

I could not have been more wrong.

Eleanor and others have done a wonderful job researching the time and acquiring pieces of furniture and decorations that would have been appropriate to the time period. The most impressive piece in the collection is the bed they are using in HB's bedroom -- it was President James Polk's bed. It is on loan to Smithville.

Ashley loved the shoes and clothing on display. I must admit they are beautiful. The entire mansion is tastefully decorated and includes many details that make it come alive. Ashley was a little spooked out to find out that we were in the room where HB's second wife, Agnes, died.

I liked this wall sconce in the bathroom. It was a souvenir from the Statue of Liberty. Reminded me of our trip earlier this year.

Smithville Mansion is not far from Mount Holly, and should not be mixed up with Smithville that is closer to Atlantic City.

In addition to tours of the house, Smithville Mansion also has a small art gallery, regular croquet tournaments, and a summer concert series on Sundays. Now that we have been there for a tour, I'm hoping to return with Don.

Historic Whitesbog

Whitesbog is an old cranberry swamp located near Fort Dix. Though located only an hour from home, it felt like we stepped back into time.  It didn't help that the place felt like a ghost town, or that Ashley and I did not really have enough time to explore the place.

Had we come a couple of days earlier, we would have been there for the blueberry festival and had people there able to tell us more about the cranberry industry and about the amazing wildlife in the area.

On a day without a festival, Whitesbog recommends a driving tour of the area along a one way circular route around the cranberry bogs. It is on a sandy bump between two bodies of water. I wish I had gotten out of the car to take a picture of the route. Fortunately I took Don's CRV that day since we were meeting up with him and his bicycle after our day of sightseeing.

We saw beautiful birds, including thsi one that is cranberry colored. I wish I knew my birds better so I could tell you what he is.

Given our time constraints (more about that in the Smithville Mansion story), we made a u-turn and returned to civilization. I would love to return sometime with someone who could tell me more about what I was seeing, or on a day when we had hours free to walk around and enjoy nature. This wasn't the day.