Thursday, January 28, 2016


Every winter Terhune Orchards, located a measly three miles from our home, hosts a Wassailing Party. Every year we don't go -- perhaps I tell myself it is too cold or it will be too crowded. I'm good at finding excuses. This year we just did it.

Yes, it was a little cold (27 degrees cold). Yes, parking was a bit tight because of the snow. To add to it, Cold Soil was closed, which meant we had to drive twice as far. 

We found out Spiced Punch would be singing in the store. This definitely swayed our decision to go. Stacy, Marianne, Tom, and Dave sing a fabulous four-part harmony of "traditional" Groundhog Day songs. Many of which I thought I knew the words to, but was wrong. Come out next year to hear the Groundhog Day songs.

I sort of knew the Molly Dancers would be there, but I thought this was the name of a particular dance company and not the name of style of participatory dance. As is the case wherever we learn new group dances, Sue was our teacher and caller. I must say this was the easiest dance she has taught us, or else I am beginning to understand this after attending Colonial Balls since December 2008, and Barn Dances at Howell Living History Farm off and on over the years. 

The event concluded with singing traditional wassailing songs, making noise to scare off the evil spirits, and hanging bread on the branches in order to ensure a good harvest. We know we want Terhune to have a good harvest.

Don continues to find good excuses to wear his kilt places.

Winter Running

A couple of Christmases ago I received a pair of Yaktrax as a present. I have taken the Yaktrax out for hikes in Mercer Meadows, but until this weekend, I had not attached them to my sneakers.

With 23 inches of snow on the ground, and a nice sunny day with minimal winds I decided it was time to try running with the Yaktrax. You might say this was an other experience with leaving my comfort zone.

I stuck to the newly plowed, yet still icy-patched road. I run past people still shoveling (thanks to Don and the wovel, plus me and the shovel our driveway and sidewalk were done). I waved and pointed to my yaktrax. It felt so good to get outside and run. Though not my fastest time, it was one of my happiest runs. I came home smiling.

The next day I went out again, this time without the yaktrax as the snow had melted somewhat. It was still nice to be able to run with the snow melting around me.

I am glad I am able to run. Knock on wood, other than falling during a race, I have stayed injury free, too. I am getting faster, but until others in my age group stop running, I will not win any awards for speed. I do it because I like it.

PS: we recently learned the wovel was invented by someone who grew up in Mercer County, a friend of a friend.

Leaving My Comfort Zone -- sledding

One of my goals for the year is to leave my comfort zone more often. It turns out this is one of Don's plans, too. I welcome suggestions. 

We recently had an epic snowstorm. To read about it on Facebook and to talk to people, we have never seen a storm like this one. Hyperbole at its best. It snowed from Friday night through Sunday morning, in the end dropping about 23 inches of soft and fluffy white stuff. When we lived on Plum Street in Trenton this would have been horrible -- where do you put 23 inches of snow when you don't have a front lawn or a driveway? In suburbia it is truly only a nuisance, albeit a pretty nuisance. Fortunately on Sunday the snow was still light enough to move. That changed throughout the warm week as the snow would melt somewhat and refreeze at night.

Here are a few snow pictures:

The drifts make it look deeper than 23 inches. We did see two plows get stuck -- one right in front of our house.

Don shoveled out our Little Free Library:

Back to the original topic: sledding.

Typically after a storm Don takes Ashley down the street to a retention basin to go sledding. He took her on Sunday after it stopped snowing. I took her on Monday. She showed me where "Dad" goes (which was not exactly where I would go). After going down once Ashley kindly offered me the sled. I believe the last time I went sledding was in in the late-1990s (right after I left a job with health insurance and was about to start a new job with new benefits on Monday, I went snow tubing in-between and had a friend's boot accidentally land on my nose, fortunately no damage was done). I hopped on the sled and went down without incident, and (alas) without photo proof.

Ashley went down a few more times. I moved to the bottom of the basin to take some pictures. She warned me she does not have a lot of control over the sled, so I would have to pay attention. Fortunately no crashes were involved.

We then switched places. She took pictures and I went down the hill. It was fun. The loss of control is a little jarring. There were moments when my life started to flash in front of my eyes and I had this sensation that I must be insane -- what if I get hurt, but nothing bad happened. 

Even after falling off of the sled, I got up smiling and decided to quit while I was ahead.

Cold weather and I are still not the best of friends. I would much rather be inside reading a book with the fireplace going and a cat nearby, but I proved to myself I can be a kid, if only for a few moments.

The Golden Rule

Once upon a time someone told me the Golden Rule did not actually appear in the Bible. I remember thinking how odd since it sounded like something Jesus would preach, but, like a lazy person, I totally believed this person (I can't remember who said it and under what context).

This morning's Upper Room daily devotional quotes Matthew 7:7-12, with an emphasis on Matthew 7:12.

Ask, Seek, Knock 
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

This sure sounds like the Golden Rule of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

This is a practice I naturally try to adhere to with my friends and family. It is a much easier way to live than being sneaky or deceitful. I don't always stretch this to interactions with strangers, though. Sure, I smile at people when I pass them on the street, I say hello, I hold doors open, I help carry strollers down flights of stairs, you know the basic stuff that means I am a human and you are a human and we all live on the same planet. 

I don't take it to the next level and go out of my way to get to know more people. This summer I learned there are about 5 other other girls Ashley's age in our neighborhood. This fall I learned of another family who homeschooled. Why knew we had so much in common with those walking distance from our house? Why I haven't I taken the opportunity to get to know more of 70 or so families in our neighborhood? After 15 years I barely know the names of the ones I can see from our front door.

A new family moved in last fall. I noticed their driveway was not shoveled following the last storm. I did bring their mail and a box into our house and called them. Fortunately it turns out they were on vacation and were trapped somewhere else unable to fly home. They had given us their cell phone number because they have a small child and might be in need of a sitter. First off, I should have called them sooner (it took me four days) and secondly, I should swap phone numbers with more neighbors in case other situations arise.

That is one small step I can take towards "do to others what I would have them do to me." Through God's help, may I find more ways to reach out and treat people with kindness.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Leaving My Comfort Zone -- Corks and Canvases

One of my 2016 Resolutions is to leave my comfort zone more often. I know, that is vague.

I took my first step in this direction with an art "class" at Corks and Canvas in Lawrenceville, walking distance from my house. It has been on my list of things I've wanted to try, but not not tried (for a variety of lame reasons). My daughter's class was hosting a fundraiser there so I knew I would know SOMEONE going (one of my lame excuses taken care of). 

Corks & Canvas (i.e., multiple bottles of BYO alcohol and one painting each) is located in the former Sonny's ice cream parlor, which became the better known Peggy Sue's on Gordon Avenue. Just being in the space brought back memories of hanging out with Sonny and hearing stories about his attempts to break into the movies (he had a couple of roles as an extra). I wonder whatever happened to him?

The class mom in charge of the fundraiser chose our picture. They have lots of options. You don't need to wait for a group outing to go, they post the pictures they are planning to paint in their website and you can go with a friend or alone and make new friends. 
I was a little late (no great surprise there since I lived the closest and walked). I was seated next to Ashley's teacher, Miss S. A couple of other teachers came to the fundraiser. First we painted the background by blending paints together (so out of my league already). Then we had a chance to refresh our beverages and relax before painting the tree , moon, clouds, and leaves. 
The evening was fun and I did something I have not done since I was in high school -- I created a real piece of artwork. It was neat to see how everyone's painting turned out. We each received the same instructions, yet in the end they are all unique.
It was also fun listening to the moms after they had some wine. Sentences such as "my daughter would be so embarrassed if she heard me" and "what happens at Corks and Canvas stays at Corks and Canvas" could be heard. Then plans were being made for a bar hopping road trip to Vegas before graduation for a grown up party. We'll see what reality brings. THAT would be WAY out of my comfort zone. I realized there is a reason I have not bonded with some people, we have different ideas of a nice night out. BTW, only a few were stinking drunk, and no teachers.

Any thoughts on how I should leave my comfort zone next? Someone suggested next time I get stinking drunk and take up pole dancing. Hmm... I've heard pole dancing is great exercise. Not sure my pancreas really wants to process all that alcohol. Any other suggestions? I'm thinking of joining a networking group and making my memoir business a reality. I'm also thinking about joining a francophone group and speak French again. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Appreciate a Dragon Day

It seems everything has a "day," so it was no great surprise when I googled bearded dragon appreciation day and learned it falls on January 16. While I like to think we appreciate Sandy Claws every day, he might disagree.

To celebrate the official day, we gave Sandy 20 large crickets (instead of his usual 10) and snuggled with him. The weekend before he was on my team when I played Scrabble with Don, Ashley, and my parents. Though we did not keep score, I think we won.

At this point I feel Sandy is more my pet than Ashley's because I take care of his medical needs, snuggle with him many nights, and feed him veggies. He likes Don a lot, too, because he gives him crickets.

Of course Ashley loves him a lot, too.

Not too bad for a 12 1/2 year old dragon (who has a life span of 8-10 years (other say 5 to 9), with the Guinness record holder still alive at 18). 

Viva Sandy!

Visting Bei-Bei, Bao Bao's little brother

This will come as no surprise to anyone, but Ashley really likes giant panda bears. In 2014 when the National Zoo had Bao Bao on public display for the first time, we stood in a two hour line on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend to catch a glimpse of (wait for it) ... her shoulder.

It seems the National Zoo learned some lessons from that experience. She went on display to FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo) members a week before she went on display to the public. I read in the Washington Post the plan was to allow groups of 50 at a time to come in and see Bei Bei, two years ago it was 80. Of course everyone wants to hover around Bei Bei, and not spread out to see all four pandas. 

Another big change for us was that Bei Bei was in a "play pen" near the window, which gave us a better chance to see him, though he still huddled in the corner, so we didn't really see all 22 pounds of him after all. 

After being able to see Bei Bei without a line, and be able to stay for as long as we wanted, Don said "that was the best money we ever spent." Though as part of the Smithsonian it is free to visit the National Zoo, it does cost $22 to park. Our level of membership includes half off parking. 

The weather was similar to our visit seeing Bao Bao -- upper 50s and sunny. We did get caught in a brief rain storm as the winds picked up around closing time.
Mei Xiang (mother)

While in the Giant Panda area we also saw the father (Tian Tian), his mother (Mei Xiang), and big sister (Bao Bao). Each are kept in their own spaces because panda bears are solitary in the wild.

Tian Tian (father)
The adults were active when we were there around 1:20 PM. Two-year-old Bao Bao was still outside playing.

The cutest moment we saw was when Mei Xiang went near Bei Bei. The woman next to me (a real Giant Panda Cam stalker) said she was there the day before and at about this time Mei Xiang nudged her cub awake. Rather than nudging the baby panda awake, she spotted another container with food in it and played with that instead. 

We wandered around the zoo for a little while. When we came back, Bao Bao was inside entertaining the crowd while eating lunch (something that annoyed Ashley the first year she went to Upper Canada Village). The giant pandas don't seem to care, just as long as they get treats.

We didn't cover any new ground at the zoo during our brief visit, in fact we saw even less animals than usual. As usual, we left with the mantra "next time we will get an earlier start." Hmm... not very likely given our track record. It is a 3+ hour drive to the zoo, and another 3+ hours home again. As much as we don't like being in the car, we do like the feeling of relaxation watching the giant pandas sleep, eat, and (on occasion) play.

This is the closest we got to a panda all day:


These were our best views of Bei Bei:

Celebrating Don's Birthday

Last September I wrote about celebrating my birthday, so fair is fair. Don's birthday falls two weeks after Christmas. As anyone who has a birthday near Christmas knows, your birthday is often ignored. As anyone who has to shop for someone whose birthday falls near Christmas knows, it is nearly impossible to find a good gift for that person. This year Don gave me no birthday gift ideas (yet), come to think of it I was doing good to get a couple of Christmas gift ideas out of him.

Instead we celebrated his birthday with a few activities. He is proud to say now that he is 52 he is operating with "a full deck," though I pointed out the jokers are still missing. (If you don't follow our humor, you might as well stop reading now.)

On his actual birthday Ashley and I took him to Tiger Noodles in Princeton for dinner. We then went to the preview opening night for August Wilson's "The Piano Lesson" at McCarter Theatre. Much to our surprise, the show was performed in their black box theater (the Berlind Theatre) in the rear instead of in the main theatre (the Matthews Theatre), even though it is their big six-week production. The Berlind seats 360 patrons versus 1100 in the Matthews. (More information on the auditoriums)

"The Piano Lessons" takes place in Pittsburgh in 1937. It is part of August Wilson's 10 part series on black Americans told a decade at a time. The focal point of the story is a beautifully carved piano that has been a part of the family's life since they were slaves and it was owned by the master's family. It is viewed by the sister as a visible piece of their history and a connection to the past. It is viewed by the brother as a way to make money and plan for his future. Both are right, and both are wrong. It was a very deep play, and a very long one. The run time was nearly three hours including intermission. 

On Saturday we had Ashley's grandparents over for dinner to celebrate Don's January 8th birthday and my dad's December 26th birthday. We celebrated their birthdays together two years ago when they both reached a milestone. Normally my parents are in Florida this time of year, but last March they sold the condo and have committed to only owning one home. Dad has requested this tradition continue, hopefully for many more years. 

It was good to see Don's mom leave her house. I took a picture to commemorate the experience. After she went home I realized I should have taken a picture of Ashley will all of her grandparents. Hopefully one day soon.

On Sunday we rounded out the birthday celebrations by visiting the newest giant panda bear, Bei Bei, during the FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo) open house. As Don said "that was the best money we have ever spent," though the National Zoo is free, by becoming members we were able to see the giant panda baby before he went on public display, while the lines were non-existent, yet the weather was in the 50s on a January day. Don and I were more excited than Ashley.

On the way home we went to Mimi's Cafe for a birthday dinner, and crepe cake. I wouldn't recommend the cake. Between the three of us we didn't even finish it. It needed chocolate.

Don was happy to score two bottles of limited edition New Belgian Beer. He is looking forward to when they are finally sold in NJ so we don't have to cross state lines to purchase it.

As is typical in our house, the birthday celebrations will continue through January. Tonight we plan to use a Ruby Tuesday's birthday coupon for a free burger. There is still the matter of Don's birthday present. Will it be unicycle related or kilt-related?

2016 Resolutions

I have been giving my 2016 Resolutions a lot of thought. My 2014 goals were very concrete, and at times overwhelming. My 2015 goals were very loose and harder to quantify. A week into 2016 and I don't know what I want to make as my goals.

Ashley decided to repeat "don't be mean in 2015," but with this year. Don is being even less firm in his goals.

I would like 2016 to be a year of change for me. Unfortunately I have no idea what that means. I have started meeting with a Spiritual Adviser (a Presbyterian minister) to help discern God's will for my life instead of my will or the will of the secular world. The sessions have been very enlightening and encouraging.

This will be a year of change for Ashley. She will graduate from her K-8 school and go to an as of yet undetermined high school. Scary. This is practice for college applications.

I am making baby steps towards creating a memoir writing business. This is the spark I keep returning to in my life. The one idea that makes me excited about working.

In the meantime, I want to cut things from my life that are energy drains. The two that come to mind immediately are ending my Ava Anderson Non-Toxic business and ceasing meeting with the librarian group. If life takes me back in either of those directions again I can go return, but for now they are not bringing me joy. Not to say that everything you do in life must bring you joy, but when volunteering, the activity should give you more joy than stress or grief.

Some goals for the year:

1) Use our china more often. Since I don't think I used it once last year, that
should be a fairly easy goal. We already used it last weekend to celebrate Don and my Dad's birthdays.

2) Keep off of medicine, or rather stay healthy. Sad how that used to be a given in life and now it has to be a stated goal.

3) Have monthly "Workers Without Offices" lunches, and more frequent Ladies Nights Outs with the former playgroup moms. I need to connect more with others in order to grow and thrive.

4) Make my bed every day. So far I'm up to week two being successful with this goal, even though no one in my life has noticed. This started when I read an article about 50 Ways Happier, Healthier, and More Successful People Live. I don't personally agree with all of the ideas, but that is a simple one to add into my life.

5) Do what it takes to legally set up my memoir business and seek clients. 
5a) Name this business. I'm thinking about "Everyone Has a Story." 

6) Find a way to give back to the community that speaks to me. I recently interviewed a woman for the local paper who reminded me about the importance of giving back. A couple of years ago I took a step back from volunteering to focus on finding paid work. I was tired of volunteering for free only when jobs became available they went to someone else. Perhaps it is time to return to volunteering.

7) Spend more time with friends and family.

8) Make a major change, even if it is scary.

9) Run races only between 5 and 10 miles (8ks are close enough to count). 

10) Leave my comfort zone on a regular basis. This is based on Lu Ann Cahn's book and blog "I Dare Me."

11) Have one car-free day a week, or at least a month. I might need to ride my bicycle more often, rather than becoming a hermit, to make this happen since there are not any stores walking distance from our home. A more realistic goal might be once a month.

12) Have one day a week (again, maybe once a month is more realistic) where I do not spend any money. This includes on-line shopping, cash, credit cards, etc. This, too, is harder than it sounds. I had a day last November I almost succeeded in not spending any money, then I went into Trenton for a quick errand and put a quarter in the meter. I try to consolidate my errands to Mondays, but there are many other ways to spend money.

Goals I am contemplating, even though I feel they are setting me up for failure:
a) Wash dishes after each meal

b) Honoring Sundays as the Sabbath by taking Sundays off from Social Media (i.e., Facebook) and work, and moving towards staying off of email and electronics on Sunday. As I finish typing this on a Sunday, you can tell I have a ways to go with this goal.

Friday, January 8, 2016

He Did It Again!

General George Washington, that is. Washington Crossed the Delaware River again on a warm Christmas Day.

Over 15 years ago Don and I saw the Christmas Day crossing. It was the year the Washington Crossing Bridge was closed for repairs. I remember it was that year because otherwise you wonder why the soldiers didn't just take the bridge -- it would be faster than gathering in boats to go across the Delaware River and back again to ferry soldiers and equipment from one side to the other.

I have not yet found a reliable link to when the crossing started. Someone in the crowd thought it was about 34 years ago. They have been coming for the past 13 years. Six of the times they actually crossed, the rest of the time they did not due to weather conditions. Keep in mind, the fate of the country does not rest on them safely crossing the river in 2015, so they do what is best for the reenactors. 

This year we were lucky and they crossed. The event runs from noon-3 PM with the actual crossing taking place at 1 PM. We drove across the bridge at 11:59 AM -- moments before it was closed to cars. In some of the pictures you can see people watching from the bridge. We snagged a spot on the bank behind a family who brought chairs and were camped out (the ones seeing it for the 14th time).

Around 12:30 PM it was incredibly foggy. 

Fortunately the fog burned off by 12:45 and all systems were go. The first boat left and crossed around 12:50. It seemed like a scout boat. They got stuck halfway across, but were able to recover.

Other soldiers (including Col. Hand in the crimson sash around his waist) marched to the boats. The cannon was put into place.

At least one of the officers decided to take a selfie.

I took a picture of Ashley with part of the thinning crowd in the background. Once Washington and his boat (with my friend Stacy and John on it) much of the crowd started to head home to their Christmas fun.

There they go again! There were four boats. Back in 1776 2,400 troops crossed. There were far fewer. I'm still researching how many boats were taken and how many trips they made to ferry everyone across the river.

Here is another crowd shot. Glad we had a really good vantage point.

The Big Cheese -- General Washington left in the third boat (there were four). You can tell it is Washington because he is wearing a blue sash instead of the crimson sash worn by Col. Hand. You can tell it is his boat because he is traveling with the blue flag with the stars on it. Now you have learned something reading my blog instead of solely what we have been up to lately.

The people we were with were disappointed the cannon was not where it is usually stationed. They were happy to see it roll into place. They made an announcement warning people with dogs that the cannon is loud. The first couple of "shots" included someone holding up a sign that said BOOM (which the crowd read without enthusiasm). When the cannon actually went off, I jumped. I lined my camera up on my eye to take a shot of the smoke. It is a wonder I did not give myself a black eye when I jerked my hand and the camera hit my brow bone. 

At some point Washington Crossing State Park added a second crossing about two to two and a half weeks ahead of time (on a Saturday). This is also known as the dress rehearsal. Unlike the Christmas Day event, which is free, they charge $8 adults /$4 children for the rehearsal. The event is a little longer, too, running from 10 AM to 4 PM, instead of noon to 3 PM. I hope parking is also better organized. On Christmas Day we were told to just create a spot. I have been there for races and I know they can do a better job of packing cars into organized rows in that space than the did that day. Fortunately we were there early enough to get a decent spot.

When we do this again I would like to position ourselves so we can hear the speeches. The addition of a couple of speakers would ensure everyone could hear what was happening. However, if we were closer to the speeches, we would not have had as great a view of the crossing. 

Afterwards I learned a few of our Facebook friends were also at the crossing -- including Arlene and a different Stacy.