Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Colonial Ball

Last year I blogged a recap of the Colonial Balls we have attended during Patriot's Week over the past decade. This year's ball was very similar. Sue did the calling again. This year I heard her explain in Colonial times people would hire a male dance master to teach their children how to dance properly. At the end of his stay, someone would host a ball so they could use their new skills. She added her "husband died, so [she] took over for him." Sue's new gown arrived two days before the ball. Her new side hoops arrived the day before from France.

Ashley has long outgrown her Colonial dresses. Maia also does not have a Colonial gown. The girls rummaged through Ashley's closet and got dressed up, at least for 14-year-olds.

Don wore his trusty tux. I wore a dress I've worn before. It is long-ish and flowy which makes it fun for dancing. After seeing Patti and Neil dressed up, I wished I wore my Colonial gown. Hopefully I will feel so inspired next year.

A change for this year was before everyone started dancing, a couple who knows how to dance the minuet showed off their skills. Then we started with a march (easy peasy) that ended with us being divided into four columns of pairs, perfectly lined up for the first dance.

I found I laughed more during this ball than in the past. We are all becoming more comfortable with the steps, so I didn't have to concentrate as hard. Of course, whenever I thought "I've got this one!" I would turn in the wrong direction. Sue told us about a group that meets on the first Friday of each month in Newtown, PA that is very open to "beginners." I'd like to think by now we have at least graduated to the "intermediate" stage. I'll never have the grace of an advance person.

This year Chris joined us for the first time. Once Aimee hit her bedtime, he took her home early. 

The ball is still a bargain at $17.76 in advance, or $20 at the door.

A few more parting picture:

PS: The lighting at the Masonic Temple makes it challenging to take a good picture until the end of the night when they turn all the lights back on.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Springsteen Exhibit

I feel like Don and I are on a Springsteen kick this year. First we saw him perform near the tail end of his River tour. Then we each read his autobiography. When we learned that Morven was having an exhibit of some photographs of him, we knew we wanted to go. We also knew Ashley had no interest in seeing it.

We tied our visit to when their annual Festival of Trees -- when local nurseries, the library, and local shops and non-profits decorate Morven for Christmas. The first tree we saw when we walked in was dedicated to Springsteen. I snapped a bunch of pictures on my phone and sent them to New Cousin Barbara (NCB).

Here are a few links to reviews of the exhibit. It started at the Grammy Museum of Woody Guthrie in Tulsa, OK, before traveling to Monmouth University near where Springsteen grew up down the Jersey Shore. I told NCB hopefully it will make its way closer to her in Massachusetts.

Woody Guthrie Museum (Tulsa, OK)

Monmouth University (NJ)

Morven (Princeton, NJ)

I enjoyed seeing the photographs of him. The collection included people who took the pictures that grace his album covers, and who also took candid photographs of him. I would have loved to have taken pictures of those, but that was forbidden. I liked one of him sitting next to a window at the oak table he wrote about in his book writing a song. On the far right of the picture is his reflection in the mirror. I was impressed the photographer (I think this one was his sister Pamela) did not appear in the picture, too. Don liked one of him playing piano. The collection made his autobiography come to life.

The exhibit was displayed upstairs. I overheard one of the docents saying when Morven was opened to the public they made the conscious decision to use it to host art exhibits rather than fill it with period furniture and turn it into a historic home.

I'm sure NCB would have drooled over the pictures for hours. For us, though, 45 minutes was plenty of time. I'm glad we went while it was decorated for Christmas as we really enjoyed studying the trees.

More images of trees and mantles:

Monday, December 26, 2016


For the past 40 Christmas Eves, the Woodlane and Springwood neighborhood has lit up the area with luminaria so Santa Claus could find them. It has grown into such a tradition that only two out of the 68 homes did not participate this year (religious reasons cited, even though the first night of Hanukkah fell on Christmas Eve -- you know "the festival of LIGHTS.") For the past dozen years Kirk and Cathi have organized the distribution of the materials. For a nominal fee ($18 for 24 candles, bags, and sand) people can simply pick up the supplies from their garage. I should have taken a picture for how well organized that is. The candles were already subdivided into groups of 12 (good for a small house), groups of 18 (good for a medium length of yard), or gather two packets for a large corner lot (like ours).

This year Chris, a new neighbor on Abby, decided to plant the seed about doing
it in 2017. He distributed flyers on the 21st inviting people to check it out in the nearby neighborhood, or stop by his house since he was setting them up this year. We asked if we could, too, and he put us in touch with Kirk who said he had extra supplies.

We set up our bags, along with three other families in our neighborhood (including Chris). We were not next door to each other, but it still looked nice. One neighbor said she plans to do it next year.

Having done it this year, I appreciate the logistics involved. The bags should be lit around 5 PM in order to stay lit all night. We had dinner plans at 3:30 a half an hour away from home. Chris stepped in and lit our bags for us (we set them up around 1). Next year maybe we'll invite family over for Christmas Eve dinner -- something we used to do with the Pillsbury side before it became too complicated. 

In the other neighborhood if someone is planning to be out of town, neighbors set up the bags for them.

We studied how the "experts" did it. Some have a piece of cardboard or foil that goes under the bag -- as it rained earlier in the day, this was brilliant. I saw most people folded down the top of the bags, which gave it extra stability, making it easier to withstand the wind. Back home I went and folded the tops of the bags. Soon we'll be the experts and people will be visiting our neighborhood to see the marvelous display. Or not. There is at least one other neighborhood that has the same display. The more years it happens, the more houses that participate, and the more spectacular it all looks.

Merry Christmas. I hope Santa found your house even if you didn't have bags showing him the way.

Monday, December 12, 2016

ZooLights (National Zoo)

For Don's birthday this year I bought him a membership to the National Zoo. On the surface this seems like a silly gift since the zoo is free to visit, and we live 3 1/2 hours away, making visits planned rather than spontaneous. This makes our third trip to DC in 2016. The first was because FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo) members received an early peak at Bei Bei -- the newest panda. We went down to see Bao Bao on her opening display weekend and waited in line for two hours and still didn't see her. With membership, we did not have a line, but we still didn't see much.

We went back in May when Ashley had an odd day off. That time we slept over in Maryland and visited as the zoo was opening up for the day. That was fun! We saw Bei Bei spend most of his day hanging out in a tree about 10 feet away from his adoring public.

This trip was on Immaculate Conception, a day Catholic schools have off, but not public schools. Don continues to recover from open heart surgery and is job hunting. Ashley did not want to go, so she spent the day with my parents. Don and I had fun. The draw for going this time of year was ZooLights --something we saw being taken down in January.

Our timing was a bit off. We made it to the zoo at 3:45, not realizing the buildings close at 4pm in the winter. Fortunately due to ZooLights, some of the buildings remained open through the event, and some of the others stayed open until 4:45. We did see the panda bears (which we made our first stop). Papa panda Tian Tian was sleeping just out of view.

Mama Mei Xing was outside

Baby Bei Bei was recovering from intestinal surgery
two weeks earlier (bamboo got lodged in his intestines)

Big sister Bao Bao was chomping away on bamboo

We also saw a zookeeper feed the red pandas.

Perhaps the cutest sight of the day was seeing the mama and baby orangutan. The look of love in her eyes is universal.

The reptile house, Think Tank, and small mammal houses stayed open throughout the event. Also happening that evening was Date Night. For $65 a couple ($50 for FONZ members) you got "free" hot toddy, champagne toast, sweet treat, and rides on the carousel, snowless snow tube, and train. Um... okay. As FONZ members we got 8 tickets total to the carousel, snow tub, and train. The tickets we didn't use we gave to a family with small children to enjoy. The person who bought her ticket through Groupon thought it was an awesome deal.

After being kicked out of the orangutan house (that baby was so cute) we rode the carousel and the train. By now it was getting dark enough to appreciate the lights.

Due to some confusion, we met Panda Claws (I think his name is misspelled):

With the temperature at 48 degrees, it was not nearly as cold as we feared it might be. I was jealously watching the runners enjoy the nice night. Unfortunately it wasn't as nice in Lawrenceville as it was in DC.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Macy's Balloons on Thanksgiving Eve

About a decade ago (which really means 15 years ago). Don and I took a trip into NYC on Thanksgiving Eve to watch the balloons become inflated.The year was 2001, only two months after 9/11. It was a pretty quiet event. The few pictures I took that day showed we walked around the usual tourist spots -- Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the New York Historical Society (which was having an exhibit featuring the 75th anniversary of the Macy's Parade) and had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe. I was about 3 months pregnant with Ashley.

I'm so glad we took pictures from that day to prove to ourselves our memory was not off. The flyer reads "you can watch your favorite cartoon characters getting pumped up for the parade on Central Park West between 77 St. and 81 St. Wednesday November 21. All night from 10 PM until the parade starts."

We have one photo from 2001 that looks like daylight (I didn't scan that one), which to me implies we saw them starting, left to get dinner, and returned later. In the pictures you can see they were definitely still inflating the balloons as we walked by. It was also not crowded. There was no fence around them. I don't even see a net around Ronald McDonald. I do remember it was a festive scene, but not at all crowded, sort of something only insiders knew about. Not even sure how we learned about it, though I suspect it was from a co-worker since this was pre-FaceBook era.


Fast forward to 2016. Due to being downsized, and recovering from open heart surgery, Don was not working that day. Ashley was home by 1. It was a brisk 43 degree fall day. We took the train into Penn Station (and in deference to Don not yet being at 100%) took the C train to the 81st Street subway station. All that took us until 4:47. It didn't help we caught the local train out of Princeton Junction (making the ride 1 hour 20 minutes long), and at least six E trains stopped before a C train did (but not until we dashed to the express platform to catch the C train). Ugh.

One of the first changes you'll note is that viewing is now from 3-10 PM, not all night as it had been. You'll also note HUGE crowds. We got off at the subway stop in the middle of the Balloon Inflation Viewing area on 81st Street (there are two exits from the subway station, we just got lucky by going away from the crowds in order to get outside). After seeing the first half (really the second half) we joined the long, but moving steadily, queue on 79th Street. Don and I were both surprised by the length of the line. People were friendly. No one was complaining. Talking to people I learned many flew in for the parade. I was glad good weather was in the forecast since none of this is fun in a cold rain. Been there. Done that. (Pre-blogging days, guessing about 10 years ago.) I looked around the crowd wondering if we would bump into anyone we would know.

The next big change was all of the balloons were already inflated. They all had nets on top of them, weighed down by sandbags. Each  balloon was behind a fence. Seemed like each one had a personal port-o-pot for the those inflating the balloons. The port-o-pots seemed to be strategically placed in order to end up in most photographs. In general, it was too crowded to get a decent picture. The other side of the balloons had a prime passageway for locals to be able to check them out without having to stand in line. I guess being inconvenienced a couple of days a year has its perks.

An hour and 20 minutes later we made it back to where we started. It was now 6:05 PM, and still 43 degrees. For some reason instead of dashing back into the subway station we decided to keep walking and see the balloons again.

Now I remember why we did this -- it was to try to get a better "family" picture without the port-o-pot in it. We asked several people to try to take a picture of us. Each time explaining that is really our last name, and no we won't make them do this for us in front of each balloon. The best picture was taken by a man who said "the family photographer" was at home.

We could not get back to the 81st Street station. Fortunately there is another one at 86th Street (much to my pleasant surprise). We retraced our steps. Another bonus for the day was that the train we wanted to take was 10 minutes late. Rather than missing it by 2 minutes and having to wait about 50 minutes for the next one, we only had to wait 8 minutes.

On the train ride I looked at FaceBook and saw several other friends were also looking at the balloons. I was not to far off when I wondered if we would see anyone we knew.

The Story of Roebling

I love live theater. 

The only thing better than seeing a play, is going to a post-show talk back. I often can't think of a question I want to ask, but I love listening to all of the questions, and the responses given by those involved.

Last weekend I finally saw Mark Violi's play "Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge" at Kelsey Theatre. I say finally because I missed the other two times the show was performed I missed their short runs. The first performance was at the New Jersey State Museum -- literally steps away from where the Roebling mansion once stood. The other time it was also at Kelsey.

I have been to the Roebling Museum, and to the Brooklyn Bridge, and have heard Emily Roebling's story directly from "herself" (also created by Mark Violi and excellently performed by Carol), but I really wanted to see the play. I was able to usher for the nearly sold out show.

The show reminded me a lot of the first person re-enactor I have heard, which is why i wasn't surprised to read on the website they were both created by the same person. 

The talk back featured the actors, the playwright, and Clifford Zink (Roebling historian). In the lobby they sold Zink's book, and souvenirs from the company. People asked excellent questions during the talk back, and I meant to note them sooner. One was about the villain -- Mr. Dickey. He was a conglomeration of different people who tried to thwart the Roeblings. Violi gave him a son to better emphasize the father/son dynamics between the Dickeys vs. the Roeblings.

The two actresses had familial ties to Roebling -- each had a relative who worked for them.

One of the characters was killed off in the play (E.F.), but in real life lived to see the bridge completed.

This is why whenever the opportunity arises, I aim to get the inside scoop.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Kurios at Cirque du Soleil

A couple of years ago Ashley was really into Steampunk. About the same time we learned about Cirque du Soleil's "Cabinet of Curiosities" show. Having heard of the famous human circus for years, and having seen a movie featuring them in Gatineau, QC, Don and I really wanted to see this show. We booked tickets as soon as they went on sale months ago. We specifically chose the Friday afternoon show because we anticipated Ashley's school would have the day off following the fall Open House (and we were correct). Don even scheduled his open heart surgery for the following week in order to go to the show.

Can you tell we were a twee bit exited?

Maybe we were too excited going into it. The tent was only about a third full, which having done a couple of shows I know impacts the performers. They were a quiet crowd.

The stage and costumes were steampunk-y. I later read the press kit for Kurios and saw they had a loose plot -- something which was lost on us at the show.

Certainly some skits were amazing, but others such as this invisible circus were an embarrassment to the talent associated with Cirque du Soleil.

The upside down world was pretty amazing, though I remember seeing something similar at EPCOT where the performer stacked a bunch of chairs on top of each other to climb way up high. This had the added illusion of someone mirroring their actions from the top of the tent down so they touched hands in the center.

Maybe this was our problem with Cirque du Soleil -- it didn't feel fresh and jaw dropping to us. The show was filled with acts we have seen other places, most notably last December in New York City when we saw Cirque Mechanique at the New Victory Theater. What made Cirque Mechanique all the more impressive was they had a troupe of 10 performers playing a variety of roles, whereas Cirque du Soleil has 46 performers doing one major skit each. That show also featured bicycles. I found their costumes more creative, too.

There were some neat acts. This trampoline act was all the more entertaining because he rode a bicycle on the trampoline. Speaking of bicycles, though, what happened to the act that was featured in their advertising of an aerial bicyclist? It was mentioned in the press kit, and there were giant pictures of her throughout the tent, but no announcement was made. The show just went on as if she was not expected.

About the only thing new I saw in the show was Antanina Satsura, who plays Mini Lili. The actress is 3.2 feet tall. Every time she came on stage I was immediately transported to the pages of Melanie Benjamin's fictional book "The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb." I wondered if she faced the same issues as did Lavinia Warren Bump and her sister. Satsura is one of the ten shortest people in the world. Though the size of a child, and weighing barely 50 pounds, she looks like an adult. Of course they did the traditional carny tricks of pairing her with someone who is about seven feet tall, but her presence alone was mesmerizing, and something I have never seen in person. 

Afterwards Ashley posed with a model of Satsura's "home." Ashley at 5 foot 2 inches tall would have troubles fitting in it.

Most probably pass this sign on the way out and barely give it a thought. To me, seeing this was a reminder that in only a couple of days Don would face open heart surgery and recovery, and that our lives would be placed on hold while that happened.

Though critics and fans love Kurios, you can probably guess by now I would not recommend it. We are looking forward to returning to the New Victory Theater to see this year's human circus show "Mother Africa: My Home." While I doubt it will have any bicycles in it, the acrobatics like pretty jaw dropping.