Monday, May 30, 2011

Update on Duathlon Championships in Spain

When we last left our intrepid duathletes (run-bike) in Tucson, we had one victorious athlete and one on the waiting list for the September International competition in Spain. Well, Mr. Agony of Defeat has been plucked from the jaws of oblivion and has joined Team USA. Within days of receiving the fortuitous email invitation, Gary bought a new bike, updated his passport and checked out "Learning Spanish in 4 months" from the library.

Yippee! we now have a logistical nightmare of transporting not one, but two bikes. Shipping was not recommended by the association, but we may have to overrule them on that. Otherwise, it will just be the 5 of us traveling: 
Eric, Gary, me, and 2 bike boxes. Here's how big and unwieldy the bike box is (but note the handy wheels)

I can't wait to be pulling our bike boxes and carry-on luggage through the train station in Madrid.

Of course, the American in Gary wants to rent a car and do it yourself. Could be a possibility- I can already say: "Buenos Dias. Tengo un coche reservado para seis dias." Can you picture us strapping 2 bike boxes on the top of this?

The Team USA organization has an optional bus ride, including bike transport, but, hey, wouldn't that make it all too easy for us?  

Our destination, Gijon (pronounce both the "g" and "j" as  an "h"---hi-HON), is on the Northern Coast of Spain in the Asturias province--a six hour ride.  (So, it's like flying into New York and driving to Northern Maine for a race.)  Someone asked what big city Gijon was near and the answer is: none! It's all mountains, sea, beaches and boats (and some fish processing plants)

Bilbao, (Bill-bow, which Gary calls bill-bo-a) is the 10th largest city in Spain and lies 3 hours east of Gijon in the heart of Basque country. You may know it as the home of the modern Guggenheim museum:

The planning has just begun, but I'd like to take a poll. How would you get to Gijon?:
a. train
b. Team USA private bus 
c. drive 
d. write in:______________


Monday, May 23, 2011

Tripping around Bergen County

Warning on this post: N rated. 

I love local history, but, like many people, have never visited historic sites in my own neighborhood. Sure, we'll drive to Gettysburg or visit Newport, but if it's local it just doesn't get noticed. I'm like the New Yorker who's never visited the Empire State Building or the New York Public Library--that's just for the tourists, not the natives who walk by it every day. Of course one little historic Dutch sandstone house in Bergen County is not as exciting as the Statue of Liberty or the Intrepid Museum, (even if George Washington slept there or his army camped out in the backyard).

One of the problems is that these sites are small and can be seen in a short amount of time, so don't warrant going out of your way to see. Many times you need to go a very specific time-- the 2nd Saturday of the month (Paulsgate, the home of suffragette Alice Paul) or Thursday afternoons from 1 to 4 pm only (Pt Pleasant Beach museum). The PPB "museum" is actually a trailer next to the municipal building, manned by a garrulous group of seniors and jam packed with reference materials. I showed up one week on the appointed Thursday at 1 pm only to be greeted by a yellow sticky note: "Sorry, we're closed today."  The guys must have decided it was a good fishing day.

So, I was excited about this past Saturday's History Day around Northwest Bergen County, organized by a group of historic sites with the philosophy that if one historic house is too little, THINK BIG and wrap up a tour with eight different stops. You could start at any of the sites, buy your ticket, get a map and off you went. A bargain at $10!

I visited four of the sites, starting with the Hermitage in Ho-Ho-kus.
The Hermitage, Ho-Ho-Kus

Built in 1760, the Hermitage was visited by George Washington, James Monroe, Marquis de Lafayette and other notables from the American Revolution. (New Jersey was designated 
a national heritage site in 2006--the Crossroads of the Revolution--and is developing a management plan to highlight important sites.)  
In 1782 Aaron Burr married the widow Theodosia Prevost in the living room of the mansion. But the story that fascinated people the most was the last resident, Mary Elizabeth Rosencrantz, who lived here until her death in 1970--with no electricity or central heating. She willed the house to the State of NJ.
John Fell House, Allendale

Also built in 1760, the Fell house was owned by patriot John Fell, who fought the British and was imprisoned by them for one year. He served in the Continental Congress and worked to ratify the new Constitution. (NJ was the 3rd state to do so, after Delaware and Pennsylvania).  
The property has been recognized as a "witness site", a term I wasn't familiar with, meaning that the house was there and "watched" GW troops pass by on their march to Yorktown in 1781. Smart house!

Hopper-Goetschius Museum, Upper Saddle River
The Hopper House in Upper Saddle River was built in 1739 and is a prime example of a Dutch stone house and farm. Included is the original "out kitchen" and privy as well as the Tice barn that was disassembled and moved to the site in 1999.  In the picture the original house is the tiny,white section on the left , with the main house added on in the 1800's. One young kid in the group commented: "You mean even in the winter, they had to go outside to the bathroom?"  Life was hard, whether you were talking about cooking, heating the house, making clothes or doing the farm work. Good thing they didn't have TV because nothing would have gotten done and besides the tiny hard furniture didn't even have a recliner option. What would Tim say? See here.

The Schoolhouse Museum, Ridgewood

The Old Schoolhouse was my last stop-used from 1875 to 1905 and outfitted now with the old desks and a dunce hat perched on a high stool in the corner.  A list of teacher duties included cleaning the chimney and bringing in water from the well. If you got married, you were fired. You were urged to save part of your salary, so as not to be a burden on society, once you stopped teaching. (So that's where Governor Christie gets his pension system ideas!)

I totally enjoyed the tour and was not alone. It was labeled a success by the organizers, attracting over a 100 visitors. Here are my suggestions for future events:
  1. Get rid of the cranky old lady. Most docents were fun and interesting, but at least one was exhausted and annoyed from the beginning. I know they're dedicated unpaid volunteers, but this one lamented: "I've already given this talk 10 times and it's only noon." I ignored her tone and responded,"Must be exciting to have such a great turnout."  She glared at me with the Ghost of the Hermitage evil eye and rebuked me for standing too close to the wallpaper.  
  2. Definitely repeat the bake sale at the Fell house--yummy cinnamon bread and the cookout at the Hooper Goetschius house--hot dogs with sauerkraut. Worthy of a Homer Simpson drool:
  3. Sauerkraut- ullllllgllglglgl
  4. Order up the same perfect weather- sunny, warm, gorgeous. Everything green and flowering and if you stuck to the back roads and avoided Route 17, you could almost feel like you were in the history bubble.      
  5. Mark the sites with big signs or balloons or flags flying. Some were festive, but others looked like you might have skimmed the newspaper article too quickly and showed up on the wrong day.
  6. Ditch the map and make it a cellphone scavenger hunt game. Have Stray Boots set it up as a Northern NJ game zone. (shameless plugging here for my favorite start up:
  7. Consult with an historic interpreter who can train your docents to be better tour guides. (more shameless plugging...check out my favorite H.I. and his new blog--Rear Window
  8. Consider making it a 2 day pass. After four sites, you start to get a little tired! who's the cranky old lady?
Oh, the N rating for this post--I'm sure you've guessed by now that it stands for Nerd.

Monday, May 16, 2011

In the Desert

We were fortunate during our Tucson visit to see the cacti in bloom at Saguaro National Park. The iconic saguaro (sa-wore-oh) cactus posed, as if it were a bridesmaid, white bouquets of flowers in its upraised arms.

We were inspired to pose, too--as a happy cactus family:

Dippy arms

Walk like a saguaro....

no arms

right arm up

both arms up

arms up with fists! did this cactus just finish a race?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Six Things My Mom Taught Me

Katherine O'Brien has a terrific blog (ihatebreastcancer) which you should check out, especially if you love breast cancer rage that is clever, funny, well informed and devastatingly accurate. Her latest post, Six Things My Mom Taught Me is a humorous, thoughtful reminiscence of growing up with six siblings under the tutelage of her mother, who died of inflammatory breast cancer when Katherine was a teenager. 

In the time honored tradition of the Internet, I am copying, stealing, appropriating, emulating her idea with my own six lessons from my mom.

1. "Eat your vegetables--they'll grow hair on your chest."  Being a girl, this was a confusing message.  Did I really want hair on my chest? If so, was it worth eating the mushy vegetables (see Vegetables). Or did my mom mean I needed those traits of courage, defiance and pluck that are more commonly associated with hairy heroic men?

2. "Your homework is your job." We never had assigned weekly chores, like doing the dishes or taking out the garbage, because the household was my mother's realm, but we were expected to excel in school. My father was a college professor and books, newspapers and magazines were plentiful at our house. I loved to read and one Christmas devoured the pile of books I got before the vacation was over--everything from Kateri Tekakwitha, Indian Girl to The Mighty Soo (Sault Ste Marie Canal) to Anne of Green Gables. 

My bedroom was right off the living room, so I was expected to keep it presentable, but most chores involved outside projects--everybody out to shovel the snow or rake the leaves. (My father took sole responsibility for mowing the lawn and annually burning it with too much fertilizer)

3. "God punished you." No, Mom wasn't a fierce Puritan from the 17th century, constantly invoking the vengeful creator, but she was a strong Catholic who believed that you were accountable for your actions and you'd better be good.  She exemplified this, reaching out to family, friends and especially our ancient neighbors. I dreaded to hear these phrases: 

  • Tell Mrs.Schoeffler we're ready to go shopping and 
  • Time to go next door to Mr. Willard's.  

Mrs. S. was our older neighbor who was a constant source of embarrassment for me. We would go to J.M. Fields, my mother's favorite discount store and Mrs. S. would "help" in picking out my clothes, rummaging through tables of underwear and then yelling over to us--"Rita, I found these for Ginny," holding up an enormous pair of plain, white cotton underpants that we could both fit in.  

Mr. W. was our other older neighbor who conned us into coming over to watch the Wonderful World of Disney show when he told my mom he had a new color TV. His living room was dark and stuffy and he sat in a chair clicking his false teeth together, while my mom, brother and I watched a black and white TV that had a colored piece of plastic taped over it. I sat tapping my feet in unconscious rhythm to the teeth clicking metronome, wondering if Hayley Mills with a red face, blue middle and green feet would look better if we turned the plastic upside down and gave her a green face, blue middle and red feet.  God did punish us sometimes!

4. "Laugh before supper, cry before bed."  This was another doozy. It was appropriate if a kid was hysterically overtired and you knew he was headed for a meltdown, but as words to live by?  The Irish are not known for effusive emotions and growing up during the Depression and World War 2 impressed a certain gravity on our parents' generation. Sometimes you wondered if the message was never be too happy because sadness was just around the corner.  

5. "Love, love, love -- that's a lot of crap."  Now I don't mean to paint my Mom as a crusty old bag who didn't believe in love and was never happy with anything. Not at all. She was fun and loved people, but she didn't put up with nonsense and those hippies shouting love, love, love were way off the mark.  Mom believed that actions speak louder than words. You never had to say "I love you" because you lived it every day.  It got to the point where saying the "L" word was just being a big phony, definitely suspect. 

6. "Be good to your mother all year, not just one day." Mom always said Mother's Day was a Hallmark holiday, designed to sell cards, flowers and candy. When I became a mother, she said not to worry about her, because this was now my day, too. Well, my brothers and I took her advice at face value and one year she spent Mother's Day sitting alone on a park bench down the shore. A woman joined her and said, "No children?" Mom replied: "Four." The woman gave her a pitying look and patted her hand.  That's the last year we didn't visit her on Mother's Day!

In honor of my mother, I sincerely wish all mothers and grandmothers lots of "L" word and a very happy day. (because you never know what tomorrow will bring.)

Mom cooking up those soggy veggies!
The family

Thursday, May 5, 2011

First Annual Father-Son Duathlon

Who's crazy idea was this?  I don't know if it was Eric or Gary, but the three of us landed in Tucson, Arizona this past weekend for the National Duathlon Qualifying Championships, a run(5k)-bike(35k)-run(5k) race whose winners qualified for the International race in Spain in September. Yes, a team USA jacket and an exciting trip to the fantasy Olympics.

I'd never been to Tucson (or Spain), so that was my motivation. Gary had noticed that in his age group last year, the times were surprisingly slow, so although he's not supposed to run because of his knees, he thought he could do it. (Dr. D, I hope you're reading this).  And Eric is just a competitive, consummate athlete who really could qualify based on his skills and not the vagaries of a small age group pool.

The drama began with multiple problems with bike shipping, injuries late in the training period and panic that this race, unlike last year's, was being advertised too much.  "What!  Another email, another notice, a posting by another organization---there will be too many competitors!"

One prerace phone call revealed the true nature of my two competitors. Eric, worried about a calf muscle pull, feared it would be demoralizing to have his father qualify if he did not.
"Eric," I assured him, "we wouldn't go to Spain if you both don't qualify."
"Yes, we would!" came Gary's quick reply on the extension.
So much for One for All and All for One.  We were not quite the three musketeers.

Best to show and tell this story, so here are the pix:
two wheels-check; handlebars-check...

Pre race transition area

The Blue Team aka the No Train Team

What a coincidence--race was held at a corporate park

the famous Gary K wave (behind #102 )

Eric with upright running posture

transition to the bike

Eric on the bike--he went by too quickly for the photographer!

Gary on the bike

Reading the results:  the resigned and the disbelieving!

Well, I've kept you in suspense long enough. Eric qualified - 15th in his age group -- and Gary is on the waiting list, but we're all going to Gijon, Spain at the end of September!

Way up in Northern Spain-- habla espanol?

Aerial view of Gijon port