Sunday, January 27, 2019

Snowshoe 5K

I know I stated in my 2019 resolutions that I would only do races between 5 and 10 miles, yet I was still attracted to the idea of a 5k race in snowshoes. I fully anticipated my time would not be close to my typical 5k time, yet still be quite a workout.

Four days before the race, during a training run, I took a near-face plant on a sidewalk in Princeton scuffing both knees and my pride. I spent Wednesday at work with my left leg elevated and limping. I wasn't sure what that meant for me on Saturday morning.

By the weekend, the knees were healing nicely, but I still took some Tylenol before the race. Good thing since my knees did not hurt during the race.

The Spring Mountain Snowshoe Race is about an hour away from our house, not far from Limerick, Pennsylvania. As we stood at the start line, I overheard one man say to another in past years the race has drawn about 40-60 participants. This year 192 registered. He also said the fastest person would finish in about 20 minutes -- a decent time in a 5K, even without snowshoes and on a flat surface.

I'm assuming you are all smarter than I am, and realized much earlier than I did, but the race was on a hill. I looked out the window at the ski lodge and saw a giant hill covered in man-made snow and went oh no. Okay, that might not be exactly what I was thinking, but you get the gist. Don admitted he kept looking for the flat area for us to walk in our rented snowshoes. Even after looking at the course map (kindly drawn on a flat piece of paper) he wondered where the race was taking place. Surely not on that MOUNTAIN (which looks MUCH steeper in real life, trust me).

Prior to race day they provided a link to a YouTube video about how to put on snowshoes. They suggested taking them out for a spin.

We arrived around 7:05 and the parking lot was nearly full, even though they only opened up five minutes earlier. It was 20 degrees out, with zero wind (the lack of wind really made a difference). We gathered our bib, tee shirt, ticket for rum cider, snowshoes, obligatory race plastic bag,  and wristband for the rum cider and somehow the next 55 minutes disappeared in a blur. Some of that time was spent trying to figure out how to put on the snowshoes, and figuring out just how many layers we really should wear (the answer was one less than what we thought we needed). We headed outside to practice walking in them.

An early concern for me was just how much the strap dangled -- looked like an accident waiting to happen (and it was). I couldn't figure out what to do with the dangling part fast enough.

Looking at the map, it was divided into two 2.5k loops, meaning if the first loop was really that bad, we could bail. We were given one hour to complete the course, after which time they were open for regular business and we would be competing with skiers. 

ALMOST to the top
We took of. Don had the early lead. Within the first third of a kilometer (I don't think I am exaggerating here) I overheard someone say "the novelty will be wearing off soon." I couldn't have agreed with her more. Snowshoeing on a flat surface would be tricky enough. Slaloming up (and then down) the hill added to the challenge.

We make it to the very tippy top, and then run down and then (you guessed it) back up again. Fortunately after this point we did have a long, downhill stretch. 


The downhill was both exhilarating and scary. When I could let loose and feel like a small child, I smiled as I raced down the hill. When I remembered I was an adult, I was afraid my snowshoes would come out from under me and that I would land on my bottom (or back on my knees). The other adults around me seemed to be having the same mixture of experiences.

During the downhill the first racer passed me. Before I reached the halfway point, five others joined him. I have not seen the results, but the lead guy may have finished in 20 minutes.

Somehow our lovely downhill turned into another uphill before we got to the turnaround point and reality set in ... should I say enough is enough and quit (and have my first DNF (Did Not Finish)) or press on beyond the point of exhaustion?

 Before starting the race, I had turned my GPS on so I could study the results later. On the first downhill I heard 17 minutes 17 seconds; one mile completed. Ouch!

I decided if I was under 30 minutes, I would go for the second half, otherwise I would bail.

The clock read 26 minutes and change. 

Press on.

Around the point on the second lap where I overheard the women talking about the novelty wearing off, I stepped on the strap of my snowshoe and went down. Hard. On the knee that was more bruised four days earlier in the week. This time I twisted it, too. 

Grumble. Grumble.

Press on.

The second lap was emotionally easier because I knew what to expect -- how much farther uphill, how long on the downhill. The second lap was physically harder because I had been out in the cold for over half an hour using muscles I don't typically use.

When I had passed Don on the first giant uphill he said he wasn't sure if he would do the second lap. He did.

We both finished in under an hour. As we were leaving the course we saw the skiers arriving in their matching blue ski clothes. I guess they were a team?

Hard to tell in this picture, but I was 110, Don was 120

In the end, I felt this was a one-and-done kind of race. It was unique, but not something I want to repeat. Don said knowing what he now knows, he wants to go back next year and beat his time. We'll see what happens next year.

Double Rainbows

Rainbows are God's promise to never destroy our planet (Genesis 9:13). When a rainbow appears, all eyes are drawn to it and cell phones quickly snap the fleeting image.

Double rainbows seem even more magical.

I saw one in Belgium.

It provided a much needed conversation topic when I saw my third host family the next day. The father whipped out his cell phone and showed me the pictures he took of it in their town, and shared mine from the other side of Liege.

I saw one this week a the office holiday party.

While the rainbow reminded me of my past, it felt like a sign I was exactly where I was supposed to be -- living in the moment, making new friends, and recognizing that God IS fulfilling His promises to me.

Office Holiday Party

A few years ago I started a group to go out to lunch with. We called ourselves Workers Without Offices. The gatherings were in response to not having an office holiday party. The socialization that comes with working a steady job was one of the things I missed most about having an office job. The paycheck was another biggie.

We met on and off for a few years. Scheduled changed. Who could make it changed. Priorities changed. We met less and less frequently. In 2018 we only met once or twice. It was my hope by creating a FB group that others would initiate the lunches. Instead I heard from at least one person if I organized the outings more often, then more people would come. I pointed out she could do the inviting, too. While she agreed with me, she never did extend an invitation to the group.

I would talk about this group during job interviews as an example of my organizing events, but did not continue the lunches.

Last month I received my first invitation to an office holiday party in about 20 years. I reminisced about past parties. Mine were not wild. 

At The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation we would gather in a manager's home. "Santa" would visit. One year "Mrs. Claus" (me) paid a visit instead. 

International Schools Services used to have the most amazing holiday parties -- especially for someone who does not enjoy socializing. They bought us theater tickets, hired a bus, and sent us into NYC for a day. Must have been a pain for the secretary who made the arrangements, but it was awesome.

I do not recall what or if we had a holiday party at Rider University or Princeton Day School. I feel like we must have, but I have no recollection of it. At both schools we had off the week between Christmas and New Year's, which was quite generous, but I couldn't tell you a thing about holiday celebrations. 

Brings me up to this year. The Bridge Academy recognizes the holidays are a busy time of year, so they held their party in late January at Leonardo's, a local, family-owned restaurant.

As you can see in the picture, Leonardo's keeps their restaurant decorated for Christmas through January for groups like us.

Neither Santa nor Mrs. Claus visited, nor did we see a Broadway show. Instead it was a great chance for me to better get to know my new co-workers and realize I no longer have a need for the Workers Without Offices group. While I'll still see many of the members individually, and keep in touch on social media, I will be stepping back from my role of group organizer.

And that feels good.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Excerpt from "Read it and Weep"

For my librarian friends, especially Debbi: "Read it and Weep" by Jenn McKinlay (starting at page 177):

Lindsey sat at the children's desk while Beth ducked out to go visit Kitty. In a way, Lindsey felt as if she were sending Beth into the lion pit with an aluminum sword, but then again, Beth managed thirty hyper toddlers in her story times. Surely she could handle one surly middle-aged woman.
"I want the pumpkin book," a little voice said from behind her.
Lindsey swiveled in her chair to see a little girl wearing a frilly, light-blue dress and sparkly pink shoes standing right behind her. The girl's hair looked windblown, and her red sweater was hanging off one shoulder. She had a spray of freckles running across her nose, round cheeks and enormous blue eyes. SHe looked to be about five years old.
"Well, hello," Lindsey said. "What's your name?"
The girl stared at her, unblinking. Lindsey could tell that this child really didn't give a hoot what her name was. She just wanted her book. Okay, then.
"Do you remember the name of the pumpkin book?" she asked.
"No. It had a big pumpkin on it," Lila said.
Lindsey glanced at the autumn display Beth had put in the corner. The display unit was three shelves; she had decorated it with corn stalks and autumn leaf garlands, and it featured books about leaves changing colors, pumpkin patches and harvests.
"Did you see it on those shelves?" Lindsey asked. "We have lots of books about pumpkins."
"No, not there." Lila shook her head and made an annoyed face that left Lindsey in no doubt that Lila found her lacking in the smarts department.
"I don't suppose you know who wrote it?" Lindsey asked.
Lila just stared at her.
"Do you remember the story?" Lindsey asked. "If you tell me about it, maybe we can find it that way."
"It had a pumpkin and horses on it," Lila said.
"Oh. Was it about a farm?"
Lila glanced at the ceiling as if searching for patience.
"No," she said. Her blue eyes went back to staring at Lindsey as if trying to bend her to her will.
"Okay," Lindsey said. She had to take a deep breath and blow it out slowly so as to keep from using an impatient tone with the kid. "Let's try again. What do you remember about the story in the book?"
"The pumpkin," Lila said.
Lindsey bent forward in her chair until her face was just inches from Lila's, then she returned the girl's stare with equal intensity. They were going to have a mind meld and she was going to find this kid's book if it was the last thing she did.
"What happened to the pumpkin?" Lindsey asked.
"It turns into a carriage that's pulled by the horses," Lila said.
Lindsey sat back and blinked. "That sounds like Cinderella. Was there a princess in the book with a glass shoe?"
"Yes, I think so." Lila blinked and the intense stare ended.
"So, it's Cinderella that you're looking for?" Lindsey asked.

Unfortunately the author lost points with me when she said the Brothers Grimm wrote Cinderella.

Lady who Breakfasts, Lunches, and Dinners

One of my 2019 resolutions is to spend more time with friends AND to have photo proof. When Ashley was little I used to take pictures of her and her little friends. Okay, I still do. As I took a picture of her and Lauren, Lauren commented her family does that in case they die. See, Ashley, I'm not the only crazy mom out there.

Yesterday the stars aligned and I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with friends. It was great to catch up with these ladies.

The day started with Lisa at breakfast at The Turning Point in Mercer Mall.

Lunch at Panera with Debbi.

Dinner with Laura and Nancy at Tiger Noodle.

Thanks, Ladies for getting together. As we always say, we need to do this more often.

Today is back to reality -- taking down the Christmas tree.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Birthday celebrations -- 130 years

In a tradition dating back five years from when Don turned a half century, and my dad turned 7x10, we invited my parents over for a birthday celebration. My mom enjoys entertaining, but sometimes she also enjoys being entertained.

A challenge in our family is always what to make so everyone can eat something, and no one feels like a leper because of their dietary preferences. As I made dinner for the five of us, I kept thinking this is why I don't entertain more often.

A quick run down:

  • Dad is gluten-free and has been for most of my life
  • I eat low-carb and have for the past three years
  • Ashley and my mom don't consume dairy (including butter, cheese, milk, etc.)
  • Don can eat everything, but has strong food preferences
  • Ashley will not eat beef for ethical reasons (I asked her not to explore the inhumane ways other animals are treated until she is in college and cooking for herself)
Good luck!

The main meal was not overly crazy. I made a salad (okay, Wegmans made the mixed greens), and created a salad bar of ingredients with Don's work. The main course was spaghetti squash and regular spaghetti. I had cheese and meat spaghetti sauce on the side, with plain spaghetti sauce for Ashley (she did eat the turkey meat spaghetti sauce).

The real coup was dessert. I recently discovered the cookbook Paleo Sweets by Kelsey Ale through an email ad. I was very leery about buying it because the ad felt shading, as did the buying process. I've had it a few weeks and have not had any odd charges appear on my credit card, so I trust we are safe. All of the recipes are Paleo -- meaning no dairy, no grains, no granulated sugar (maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar are used instead). They are not nut-free.

Long term readers know this blog is not about making money, it is about sharing bits of our life with our family and friends. That said, I received no money for this post.

We have now made three recipes out of this book (chocolate cheesecake, carrot cake, and mini flourless chocolate cakes). They have all been deemed delicious, even by people who eat gluten, dairy, and sugar.

Ashley made the mini flourless chocolate cakes. They disappeared without being photographed. 

Skip ahead to the chocolate cheesecake. It is like fudge. Even with my mistakes (called for dates, I used figs) it still turned out delicious. It is huge and we are still chipping away at it five days later. Lots and lots of cashew nuts used instead of dairy products.

My second attempt at baking was the carrot cake. I am so not a baker. My idea of measuring is tossing things together and hoping for the best. I couldn't find plain gelatin, so I used an orange jell-o in the frosting (next time I'll go to a few more stores to get the right ingredient). I also only soaked the
cashew nuts for the cream cheese icing for an hour instead of the requested four hours. To me a recipe is a suggestion not an order. Despite my lackadaisical approach to baking, everyone raved about the cake and had seconds. 

It was the first time in years everyone had the same dessert, and we all loved it. I anticipate we'll make more recipes out of this cookbook, or rather I hope Ashley (the baker) will make lots more recipes out of this book.

Even Lucy got in the picture

Birthday boys

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Now for Something Completely Different: the Mummers Parade

The Mummers Parade, an  iconic Philadelphia tradition, held their first event on January 1, 1901. Though I have heard about it for many years, it took until this year before I ventured into South Philadelphia to see it for myself.

I have this vague recollection that Don and I met up with Kevin one July to see the Mummers Parade. Though it is clearly a January 1st event, we caught wind of one happening in the middle of summer, and figured the weather would be nicer. I'm sure there are pros and cons to July versus January, but their heavy costumes are not made for the heat of summer. This happened before I started blogging, which makes my research harder.

The only confirmed time I have seen the Mummers is the one band that marches up and down Thompson Street in Bordentown on Halloween. One of the residents is a Mummer and invites his band for a concert on the crowded street.

So Don and I went. Ashley stayed home with a bad cold.

The weather was stunning -- sweatshirt weather, no rain, minimal wind. As a result, there were record crowds. Don and I enjoyed the nice weather before heading into Philadelphia around 1pm. From what I had read, the parade goes from 9am until 4pm. I had no interest in watching a parade for seven hours. I had never even watched the event on TV. I had not appreciated how much of a "hurry-up-and-wait" event it is. I guess they need to allow space for commercials? The bands hang out, take pictures with spectators, chat with their friends along the route and wait for the magic moment to GO. Then they march a few hundred feet playing music before stopping in front of a reviewing stand to perform. The crowds are most dense in front of the reviewing stands (no surprise there) with people literally camping out in prize spots. I could not get close enough to take a photo, but one group was hanging out couches and brought milk crates to stand on for stadium seating. I wanted to ask them if they brought the sectional plush couches with them, or if they were lucky enough to find them on the street? How early do you have to arrive to set up such an elaborate arrangement? How long before you haul away your set up? They were in front of McDonald's on Broad Street (a street filled with businesses) so it was not as if they were in their front yard. It amazed me.

There are many different categories of Mummers. Rather than spouting off a bunch of inaccurate "facts," I'll allow you to do your own research. I can tell you they marched down Broad Street, bringing back memories of when I did the Broad Street Run in 2011. Maybe I should aim for that race again this year.

Don and I walked around soaking up the street party. That's what it boiled down to -- a sanctioned reason to drink outside and hang out with friends. The parade is just the excuse. I'm sure there are people who really get into the different costumes, and dances, and styles, but not us. I am glad to have finally seen it live, and at 60 degrees instead of 2018's 10 degrees, but I don't see this turning into an annual tradition.

Some pictures from this year's parade.

Ringing in the New Year with a Bonfire

A relatively newer tradition for us than the Colonial Ball is attending Lawrence Township's annual Hogmany, or giant bonfire to ward off the evil spirits. Looking at The Pillsbury Press, we attended in 20132016 and 2017. I feel like we have gone other years, too, but that would take more research.

The Hogmany is a Scottish tradition to ward off the evil spirits from the past year. Reading my past posts, my biggest gripes had to do with not landing jobs -- a trend I am thrilled changed in 2018. I felt refreshingly optimistic about the start of the New Year.

This year the rain-or-shine event was postponed from New Years Eve to New Years Day night because of a downpour. As a result, the crowds seemed much lighter, too. Again we saw Will and Sandra, and Bill (Col. Hand). I suspect we had other friends in the sparse crowd, but were too mesmerized by the flickering flames to wander around the bonfire.

As planned, we met up with Rod and Nancy, and their son Nate and his friends. Ashley stayed home with a bad cold.

Up until New Years Eve 2016, the bonfire was on 10 foot pallets stretching 10 feet in the air. It was massive! There was a year we were afraid it would blowing into the woods and taking out some trees. The next year it was 5 foot by 5 foot and burns in at least half the time. In other words -- get there at the start or you might miss it. Though the event officially runs from 6pm to 8pm, by 7pm only embers were left, and that was after they had stoked the fire some.

My favorite picture of the bonfire I took in 2016.

May your 2019 be amazing, and free from roaring flames.

Party Like it is 1776

As I previously wrote, Don, Ashley, and I have been attending the Patriot's Week Colonial Ball since 2008. We have only missed one year because the popular event sold out before I ordered tickets. 

After all of these years I have not mastered taking good pictures of people dancing. The gowns and uniforms are amazing. I wear a dress I bought nearly a decade ago for $100 at a historic reenactment at Hope Lodge in Washington, Pennsylvania that Carin had told me about. As you can see in the above post, some years I wore the dress, other years I didn't. I did grow tired of wearing the same dress every year, even if it is the perfect dress for the event. When Ashley's friend Maia's mom (Heidi)'s friend Jean offered to lend the girls period-appropriate attire, I decided it was time to literally dust off my ball gown. Yes, I should have checked it out prior to the event.

Our caller is Sue Dupre. I tend to only list last names on my blog when the person has a business I want to help promote. Not only does Sue call the dances at the Colonial Ball, she is the caller at Howell Living History Farm's triannual barn dances (three times a year, versus triennial (once every three years) your English lesson for the day). She also calls at other events, and has written period-style dances that are less complicated than the original ones can can be taught in a few minutes to novices. Sue was recently featured in the lead article in US1 for her skills. Click on the link for good pictures of dancers.

We arrived a few minutes past 7pm.  I forgot how long it takes to put on all the layers. I'm more of a slap on a dress, some stockings for a formal occasion, and a pair of heels sort of dresser. Remembering the shift, petticoat, top layer, long socks, shoes, fichu, and period-appropriate jewelry and making sure all the pieces were both found and worn properly while helping Don, Ashley, and Maia with the same took a few extra minutes. The result being they were into their first dance before we sashayed in the door. I should have used the time to take pictures, but instead we got settled and were ready to jump into the next dance.

The way the evening works, Sue patiently explains the steps to everyone. There is a blend of experts who go to events like this throughout the year (we have talked about doing so, but have not yet) to those who are doing this for the first time. We fall in-between. We have danced at enough events to follow most steps. Having the same caller, using the same phrases year after year helps. Repetition is key to learning. Sometimes Sue grabs a partner in the middle of the room and demonstrates the moves.

An added challenge this year was in addition to the two main columns, a third on in-between, yet behind into the lobby appeared. Even with a sold out event, the floor was mighty packed. We looked at the mostly empty tables and wondered if in the future they could do with less tables and more dance floor. The only time the tables were used was when the band took a break, and even then there were empty tables. Set up an ample amount of chairs, and leave out 2/3 of the round tables and there will be more space for dancing. 

It was good to see so many people dancing.

Ashley and Maia danced all the rest of the dances. Don and I sat one out so I could take some blurry pictures. These are the good ones. They had a professional photographer at the event. I suspect he knows what he is doing.

Love that they use the historic Masonic Temple

Mid-way the band takes a break. Sandwiches, salads, and Halo drinks are readily available and replenished, followed by desserts. I used that time to take family pictures in the same place we have always taken family pictures.

Who let the British invade our party?

Love this one of the girls!

Different this year is that my parents, and our friends Neil and Patti did not go. We had to figure out where to put our camera so it would stay safe. Don juggled it. I should have brought the smaller camera which would fit in my pocket. Next time.

Then back to dancing until 10pm.

Fortunately this year the weather was warm so we did not also have to juggle winter coats and a second pair of shoes. That is a small treat.