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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hamilton Meets Burr

Since Ashley was a one-year-old, I have taken her to Little Acres for her annual Halloween picture. I was a little sad this year when I noticed they were not reopening for the summer. With Don going in for surgery, and Ashley being indecisive about what to be for Halloween, add in she is in high school now maybe it is time for a new tradition? Maybe the annual Halloween picture is a thing of the past?

Sort of last minute, Ashley decided she wanted to be Alexander Hamilton for Halloween. She has this cool coat that was Maia's, and is really meant as a winter coat for a small girl, she added her Captain Hook boots, one of Don's old button down shirts, a strange combination of a Colonial pocket and an apron to give the illusion of a ruffle, and she was set.

For a backdrop we went to the Princeton Cemetery, where Aaron Burr is buried. Yes, THAT Aaron Burr, along with his father (Aaron Burr, Sr.) who was one of Princeton University's presidents. A couple of years ago we went on a cemetery tour and learned this, but promptly forgot it until we saw the making of Hamilton special on PBS.
With Ashley dressed like this, it was easy to find Aaron Burr's final resting place -- someone told us where to look. We had been studying the really nice, color map, which we later used to find other notables.

For Ashley seeing Burr's grave was clearly the highlight. I paused a moment at Bob Goheen's marker. Bob was a Princeton University president, and ran the Mellon Fellowship out of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation before I worked there in the mid-1990s. I noted the fresh grave next to him. Turns out that is the final resting place for Bill Bowen -- who was also a Princeton University president and involved with the Mellon Foundation.

A little further in the cemetery was the other really famous person buried there -- President Grover Cleveland, plus his daughter Ruth (of Baby Ruth candy bar fame) and his wife, Frances. He was the president when Hawaii became a state, so there are often cowrie shell necklaces on their tombs. In the background is Witherspoon Church (hold that thought).

Closer to the center of the cemetery, in the formerly traditional "white"
section is Rev. Robeson -- the earliest and longest serving pastor of Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, and father of Paul Robeson the actor and activist.

Another Princeton University President was John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

It was a lovely fall day for a stroll through the cemetery. We were certainly not the only ones doing this. Close to Halloween, it seemed like the right time of year to visit Hamilton's adversary. We topped off the visit to Princeton with some lavender and chocolate ice cream from The Bent Spoon.

Spectating at the Princeton Half Marathon

Last weekend was Princeton Half Marathon's fourth annual race (fifth if you count the year Hurricane Sandy canceled it). I was on the race committee for three years, only ending this year when there was a change in leadership and I was ready to move on. The first year I ran it as a personal challenge. The second year I ran it to improve upon my time. The third year I had no desire to run it, but I was asked to be the official last place finisher. I did enjoy being encouragement to the back of the packers.

This year I was determined not to do it until ... until they offered a bonus for the four-peats. They would wear special bibs (blue and white instead of orange and black, and starting with a 4), receive a special extra running shirt, and qualify for a contest to see who had the most improved time. That last one really tugged at me. Having finished at 3:04 the year before, and knowing how much stronger I have been with my training this year, I wanted to compete for that award.

Spoiler alert: read the title to see if I ran.

As I was inching closer to the deadline for registration, Don emailed me to say he lost his job. The air fell out of the balloon and I didn't want to spend a $100 on a registration fee. The next day even bigger news hit us: Don was scheduled for open heart surgery on October 31 (less than a week after the race). The whole time he was in the hospital they could not commit to when he was coming home. I was glad I had not made a commitment to run a race I was not sure I would be able to run.

Stacey put out the word she was planning to spectate and was looking for some company for her and her dog, Jasper. With cell phone in hand, we met up on Washington, near the top of the first big hill (the one I feel is the steepest, unlike Herrontown which I feel is the longest). We saw the lead cyclist go by (otherwise known as "not Don," because Don held that post for several years).

Stacey made a two-sided sign. One side cheering her friend Aimee. The other cheering her friend Hilary. I'm sure we knew others in the race (like Laura's husband, Percy), but we did not plan that far ahead. Both Hilary and Aimee were appreciative of the encouragement.

We also saw this man in the multi-colored beard and matching shirt. After Stacey's friends went by, we headed to Hamilton Avenue where we could see the fast runners coming in towards the finish line, and the slow ones still working their way towards the half-way mark. Sounds cruel when I put it that way. 

We also saw the "Balloon Dude" (he didn't like being called a "Balloon Lady" -- the official last place finisher. He was strolling to the finish line at his 14:00 minute pace, not breaking a sweat or out of breath. He was also without a group of people keeping up with him. Other than the last cyclist, he was a good bit behind the other last place person. Maybe word has gotten out that this is a tough course. Beginners should aim for the Trenton Half Marathon or something more walker-friendly instead.

As Don was truly coming home from the hospital that day, and I had last minute things to do, I left Stacey and Jasper to head to the finish line while I drove home.

I missed actually running. I know it would have been a challenge that week, but I was jealous of the runners. With that said, I only saw them on the parts of the course I do like. The other half is (seemingly) all uphill with pretty leaves, but not much else of interest. I would love it if PHM would have a 10K option, but that seems unlikely. I love the Perfect 10 and Trenton Half Marathons. No reason to do three long distance races that close to each other.

If I had friends running the race, I would have enjoyed playing the "I Spy" game, but short of that, I would rather be in it than watching and waiting.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Trenton 10K (2016)

My goals for this race were to have fun and be faster than I was a few weeks earlier in Dorney. I also really hoped I would cross the finish line before the first half marathoner. I'm pleased to say I was successful on all three accounts.

I took less pictures than in past years, mostly because this is my fifth year doing this race. Not surprisingly, that helps with my overall time. Newly unemployed, and about to face open heart surgery, Don joined me for the race expo. It is a pretty quiet expo, at least when I attend, but still fun. In years past I have been greeted by cheerleaders. This time all was quiet. I bought a couple of hats from a vendor I saw the week before at the Perfect 10 expo. They were cheap, held up well in the wash, and did not have the Nike swoosh on it. Picked up one each in blue, pink, and bright yellow.

The race was pretty much as it was in 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012 (well the first couple of years I did the half since the 10k option was added later). We start with Revolutionary War-era musicians. Oh, and a 15 minute late start, which is practically on-time for this race. I parked in a real lot this year instead of by the Little Free Library that always seems to have a space for me. I thought Michelle and Kim were also parking there,  but since it was not on the official map of places to park, and since they actually pay attention to this stuff, they parked further away in the official lot.

Kim was running the half this year -- her first. Michelle and I were only doing the 10k. We planned accordingly and put extra layers in bag check. The day started off nippy. I wasn't ready to commit to my usual skirt and t-shirt. When I dropped off my sweatshirt, I added a long-sleeved tee because I could tell it was warming up nicely. Had I blogged about this last week, I would have remembered all of the great details about the weather, but life (a.k.a. Don's surgery) got in the way.

The course was the same. I ran through my first few intervals looking for my pace runners. They still don't do a great job with lining us up by pace. Many fast runners come late and are in the back. Many slow runners start way up front and are trampled. I think of myself as a strong middle of the packer for this group. We go to the right, then over the ramp (probably the biggest hill for the 10k) and back down on the other side of the highway. It is always too bunchy in the beginning. Around the half mile mark I switched to my 1 minute: 30 second intervals, which I mostly maintained. I was able to skip a few intervals, and I was not bored or tired of running, so a great day in that sense.

I also remembered to run on the wooden side of the bridges instead of down the center. I find running over the open grates a bit disconcerting. That was it for the pictures I took during the race. 

This was the first race where I stopped to pick up money along the way. The euro caught my eye first, then the 16 cents. I figured it made for a good

I finished at 1:08 -- 2 minutes faster than the hilly Dorney 10k. When I finished I saw Gabrielle, who was kindly waiting for me (which is more typical than anything else). She was decked out for Halloween, including wearing spiderweb-like non-running tights. 
Michelle was faster than anticipated. I heard her name announced, but did not catch her crossing the finish line. My name was announced twice since the first time he turned me into a city (PillsburG instead of PillsburY). Um..okay.

Michelle and I and hung out about an hour and a half waiting for Kim. Every so often Kim would text Michelle a picture of what she was seeing so we knew she was okay and still going. We posed for some pictures, checked emails, posted pictures on FB, and cheered on the finishers.

 Then we saw Kim! Way to go!!!

Go Kim!

Kim's is the big one in the middle.

These women were celebrating their 100th half marathon

She finished long before "Angry Bird" -- a runner Don and I have encountered over the years. He is an older gentleman who keeps competing in half marathons, nearly always finishing last. Still inspirational to see him go.

It was a beautiful day to hang outside. It was around 60 at the finish, the lack of wind made it feel warmer. I then went home to return to reality of getting ready for what the week ahead would bring. Not all things are fit for blog posts.