Monday, July 28, 2014

Jersey Strong

I'd love to live the rest of my life at the shore.
I love the smell of the sea, the sand in my toes and my sun toasted shoulders.  
I'd love to sit back in a sand sinking chair occasionally placing my heavy hardback book in my lap while I observe my girls chasing each other through the surf, almost in slow motion.  
I love the sun and I love the clouds.  

A few weeks ago I strongly suggested to my husband that we scoot off for a weekend 'getaway' at the shore.  I *needed* to put my feet back on the beach and wanted to visit a friend — a two fold trip.  I found a place in Point Pleasant roughly 20 minutes from my girlfriend's house.  After minimal conversation, we made reservations.  If I took the time, I could give you the exact number of years since I'd been to the Jersey shore.  Hmmm...lemme think...

I'm not going to count college.  Anything I did in college was done in a haze with minimal appreciation.  

So, it's been over twenty years since I went to the Jersey shore.  My parents, originally from Jersey, religiously booked a week every year with my Mom's parents.  I can still hear the faint belly laughs of my Grandmother, the clicking of the live crabs in the bathroom tub and I can still smell the gutsy bait on my hands after a morning of fishing with my Grandfather.  

Say what you will about Jersey; it's so much a part of my childhood.  
We never fought our way through the crowds to get a good spot on the beach — my Dad got his ass out there first thing in the morning.  We weren't bothered by the brashness some notice in 'Jersey folk' — have you met my Grandmother, Frieda?  We learned to live like royalty in even the shittiest of rental homes.  Our places were never beach front — we hauled a shit ton of stuff in the dead heat of Summer.  We spent the ENTIRE DAY on the beach reading, riding the waves, picking shells and playing paddleball.  And seriously, who could afford a home with a pool?  We ate like there was no tomorrow — diving into the endless tin can of cheese balls and devouring the homemade lasagna, eggplant parmigiana trays and full-on Thanksgiving dinner Frieda would heat up for our first night's meal.  We ate turkey sandwiches all week with a side of parmigiana.  

Typing this blog makes me smile.  :)  

I'm not sure why we started going to the Delaware beaches, but not too long after the switch my Grandfather passed away.  He died soon after he retired from his position at Maxwell House.  Although I was eleven years old, I was pissed at everything, but that's a story for another day.  I got the feeling that we'd never go back to the Jersey Shores.  Maybe there were too many memories; maybe the adults felt there was more to offer in Delaware; maybe I'm out of touch with my family and I have no stinkin' idea why we never made it back.  

This weekend's getaway with MY family stirred up a lot of the memories deep within my soul.  After a short two hour drive on Friday evening, we pulled into a spot adjacent to our ocean side hotel room.  Within in minutes, our things were piled into the room and we headed towards the beach to check it out.  

My Paradise
I was excited to be back in Jersey.  The town of Point Pleasant was laid out much like all the other shore towns I had frequented as a child — surf shops, eateries and local stores lined the blocks leading up to the main attractions — boardwalk, shit food stands galore and mini-golf.  
The following morning, I itched to get out the door to find coffee.  I distinctly recall my Dad getting up early (what I had thought was the 'butt-crack of dawn', but probably wasn't) for a brisk walk to pick up the daily paper.  I don't remember him getting coffee, but occasionally he'd pick up bagels and/or donuts for us fatties.  (Well, I stand corrected...I was the only fatty in my family.  But, that's yet another story that someone will have to pay me to tell.)   Unfamiliar with my immediate surroundings, I opted to hop in the car and cruise north on Ocean Avenue.  I circled to the left around the Coast Guard building, a jug handle in disguise, getting a little tour of the inlet before heading back south down Ocean Avenue.  I stopped for coffee (and two donuts) at a local joint called Top That Donuts.  My family welcomed me...I mean, the coffee and donuts with opened arms.  

We had access to a semi-private beach as part of our reservations with the hotel.  Thankfully, for Mr. Roberts, this was the case.  Figuring history would repeat, I envisioned the four of us with toys and blankets in tow, jockeying for the optimal position close to the shore line with enough elbow room to breathe.  It was after 10 am; surely, we'd be twenty people deep from the ocean; we would have better luck seeing the ocean from the hotel pool.  We planted our butts in the sand in the front row, go figure. 

The girls were happy, I was happy...even the Mr. was happy.  

We met up again with my girlfriend and her kids.  I think everyone got along just fine.  

Instant Friends
I remember a summer when I met an awesome girl named Liz.  I have a picture of us somewhere; I also have a scrap piece of paper with her address.  Our families were vacationing the same week and we spent so much time on the beach together.  The quickness in which my girls took to Jackie brought me back to those summers of meeting other young girls and becoming instant best friends.  Happiness.  

On the way back from a delicious lunch at Surf Taco we were being tailed by a rotund man wearing THE.BEST.SHIRT.EVER.  I turned around, pointed my finger at his shirt and said, 'yeah, it IS gravy, not sauce!'  Guido and I both threw our heads back and laughed, sharing in the Italian humor that's forever been a conversation in my family.  I observed Guido a little closer - this man, sweaty from his short walk, must have had every square inch of his body sprayed with some delicious cologne.  He walked with a slight waddle as a result of his weight, frame, and expansive upper body.  With each step forward, his thick chain swayed side to side.  He held a large back of meat; I would guess that he held close to 7 pounds of a pork shoulder.  Guido invited us to dinner; again, we exchanged laughs and went on our merry way.  

After a late afternoon on the boardwalk, we split from my girlfriend and her kids to hit the pool one more time.  The sun was behind the building and the air was much cooler.  I braved the change in atmosphere for ten minutes of water time with my kids.  Eventually, sooner than later, the goosebumps and shivers forced me out of the water.  Maybe my hunger had something to do with it, too.  We changed and headed back to the boardwalk for dinner and ice cream.  What a rich, people watching experience — young, old, drunk, oblivious, scantily clad, overly dressed, whiners, yellers, complainers, idiot walkers, you name it; we saw it.  

We retired to our room close to 10 pm.  I carried Alli at least a half mile — that girl was busted.  Ava whined most of the way back — she was a trooper, though.  The girls passed out in their sleeping bags not long after being tucked in.  Alli crawled into our bed around 3 am, just before Mr. Drunk Man started banging on our door, thinking that he was staying with us.  After being advised, numerous times, he had the wrong room, Mr. Drunk Man retreated and I tucked Alli back into her sleeping bag.  We all woke up closer to 9 am.  The mission was to get out, check out, and get breakfast before leaving town.  Ava cried while telling me she wanted to stay forever.  I heard her loud and clear — me too, babe.  

We arrived at Perk's Cafe and checked in with a ten minute wait.  Like a scene from a movie, we sat on the bench facing Ocean Avenue while the Cafe pumped Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band through its speakers.  Less than ten minutes later, we were seated at a table near the rear of the restaurant.  After sipping a delicious cup of coffee I ordered my food and sat back into my chair.  A familiar smell crossed my nose.  It took me a good five or ten minutes to identify the scent.  A force stronger than my own will dragged me into the basement of Frieda's home in Lyndhurst, NJ.  I remembered standing against the door to the crawl space under the stairs.  My Grandfather, with a pencil in hand, coached me and my brother to stand tall while he marked our height with a straight line on the frame of the door.  I think he put the date next to the line.  I wish I could take that piece of frame home with me.  I vaguely remember Frieda cooking up a storm in that basement.  She'd literally slave over the stove, stirring the gravy while dabbing her sweaty neck with a damp paper towel.  The basement kitchen was always used for special events in which a shit ton of food was needed.  She feared the possibility of running out.  My God, we could all starve.

I miss those days.
I look forward to creating new memories for my children.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Past, Present, Future

Friday afternoon, I kicked off another husband-solo weekend with the little ladies.  My head typically fills with giant question marks of one hundred awesome things we could do together, but each question mark usually fades away for a number of reasons - timing, cost, travel requirements.  This time, learning from my past failures, I kept it simple.  My kitchen helpers made personal pizzas while I managed to make a pulled pork pizza with BBQ sauce, onions and blue cheese on a cauliflower crust. Yummy!  While I cleaned the kitchen, the girls straightened up the family room (all the while whining) before I came through with the vacuum.  We enjoyed toasting marshmallows on the patio before retiring to bed - all of us.  I tried to crank out a few pages in my book The Circle, but Mr. Sandman got the best of me and I passed out.
I was rudely blasted out of bed at 5 am by the sound of my alarm clock.  I planned to log 15 miles on my dreadmill with the hopes of staying 'in step' with my marathon training plan.  My plan is a little more aggressive than what I followed for Philly (almost three years ago), so if necessary, I could tap out at 10 miles.  I honestly couldn't imagine running any more than 5 on the 'mill.  It took me almost twenty minutes to get set up; Wednesday evening, I spent some time with my PC, the interwebs and all my ANT+ products to get the Virtual Runner application working (check out the website).  I purchased two routes - 7 miles in the Australian Outback at sunrise and 7 miles along the Great Barrier Reef.  I walked down the creaky basement steps, immediately engulfed in the musty, coldness, with my laptop, my water and my fuel.  I had already attached the foot pod to my shoes.  All trial and error, I spent time positioning the laptop (on top of an old TV) closer to the treadmill and the treadmill closer to the laptop.  Yin and yang...a delicate balance...the two needed to come together, but too close and the entire set up would fall apart...literally.  Already sweating in the dank of the darkness, I started the 'mill, launched the app and jumped onto the belt with a brisk jog.  Low and behold, I was running in the Australian Outback at sunrise.  I spent the first few miles getting used to the set up.  "Wow, this is pretty running shadow looks great on the concrete wall...good thing I have water...wonder when we're going to finish the basement...maybe I could start this weekend (one of many question marks in my head)...I don't think I'm going to make 10 cadence is fairly regular given my increase in speed...cadence...what does that really mean?"
Okay, maybe that was only mile 1.  
I decided to throw in the towel around mile 4 of the Great Barrier Reef.  I was close to 11 miles, but the girls were awake, I needed some serious coffee and I started to feel my left hamstring bark at me. Stupid Keurig coughed up a cup of coffee after eight furious minutes.  I stretched, showered and scooped up the girls to take them to breakfast.  I housed a turkey club omelette while I let the ladies dip their french toast and sausage in what looked like a bucket of syrup.  After paying, I followed Ava's navigation to a park in Emmaus.  That little girl directed us to a park I'd never been.  We parked alongside the street and exited the car.  The park was vacant - what a nice treat!  I let the girls run around while I camped out on a shaded bench.  I scanned the area.  Immediately, the question marks in my head were drowned by memories past.  The landscape reminded me of a park that my Mom used to take me to when visiting my grandparents in Jersey.  I remember walking down the street and seeing the metal slides.  I thought I remembered the free standing bathrooms that were positioned to the right of the largest standalone slide.  Whew!  Those slides got HOT in the sun.  

The girls were especially attracted the spin-thing that could spontaneously induce vomiting faster than syrup of ipecac and possibly necessitating a panicked phone call to EMS.  So, I let go of that question mark and pushed as hard as I could.

No Puke Here
The giggles subsided as the puke wheel came to a creeping halt.  I advised the girls to take one more slide before we piled back into the car.  Ava needed new sneakers desperately, and Allison was a close second.  

After the fastest sneaker procurement process, we paused for a selfie (guess it should be called a groupie?) in our (ahem, my) favorite store.

We retired to the center of 'town' each with a tasty treat from Starbucks.  Following the sugar rush, we made way for home where we'd be greeted by...wait for it...QUIET TIME!  The girls napped while I organized some photos and read a few chapters in my book.  
Earlier in the day, Grandma and Grandpa returned home after a getaway to the Bahamas.  Missing her grandchildren, Grandma invited us over for Italian take out.  After a filling dinner, exhausting play and an ice cream treat, we said our good-byes and again, poured ourselves into bed.  I couldn't even muster enough energy to turn on my Kindle.  Instead, I passed out as I rolled onto my side. 
Second morning in a row, I was rudely roused by a foreign sound.  My ears tuned into the earth and I eventually realized that my children were bouncing on my bed, trying to wake me up.  W.T.F.  While I ran the last of the vinegar through the Keurig, the girls cleaned their rooms.  Breakfast was on the line - room not cleaned, no breakfast.  And bacon was supposedly on the menu.  Within 30 minutes, I buzzed through their rooms with the vacuums.  Bacon's on!
Finally, I brewed a cup of vinegar-free coffee and sat down to write this post (which has taken me all day).  Like the whatchamacallit spin-a-ma-do, we whipped through the morning activities to position us at the park up the street.
The weather was so gorgeous, near chilly in the shade.  I came prepared.

I welcomed the opportunity to work on a few yoga poses; the ladies joining in the activity.

Little Yogis
We lunched on the deck, under the umbrella, with Grandma, before the second QUIET TIME of the weekend.  After the kids laid down, I made a delicious salad for Monday snacking.  The rest of the afternoon was used to organize my thoughts around the evening's yoga class.  Yoga on the back deck is glorious.  I settled into a number of poses geared toward opening the hips.  I know I'd be cursed while cueing the poses, but at the end of class, all would leave with smiles on their faces...right???  I mean, look at this face:

My Yoga Face
I'm happy to report that my students DID leave with a similar yoga face.

And now, in the present, I'm at my kitchen table wrapping up my thoughts on the weekend.  The girls are in bed, the husband is en route and I'm two steps from heading up to bed.  I'm not interested in looking towards the future, I can't hold onto the past, but the Now is slipping away.  The best I can do is just live in the Now.  It will always be Now; that's the only constant.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I'm Dying

Something in me died today, but I'm not quite sure what.

I had lunch with a friend, accomplishing both business and pleasure.  Our relationship compliments each other's strengths AND weaknesses; yin and yang.  I'd like to say we balance each other out.  We enjoy many commonalities and discuss many differences.  Selfishly speaking, I wouldn't want to be outside our circle; it'd make me envious.

We both enjoyed the same salad on an outdoor patio, basking in the summer sun and the conversation.  Our words, purely confidential, were captured by a voyeur strategically positioned between us.  Amazingly enough, this creeper literally planted itself on the table's umbrella shaft to pick up the entire conversation from both parties.  A few times I stopped myself before speaking; a small part of me felt that the uninvited guest would relay our every word back to their base for analysis and eventual prosecution.

I was then reminded by The fly.  That fly.  Did I see the fly, or was it I heard the fly?  Hmmm...ugh, my English literature lessons had quickly faded from my memories years prior.  I could barely remember the content, but I did remember the symbolism.  Something was dying during our lovely lunch.  Everything around us seemed so perfect, except for that ominous fly.  What will happen next?

I heard a fly buzz when I died;
      The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
      Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
      And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
      Be witnessed in his power.
I willed my keepsakes, signed away
      What portion of me I
Could make assignable,-and then
      There interposed a fly,
With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
      Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
      I could not see to see.

Emily Dickinson, "I heard a fly buzz when I died,",  Academy of American Poets, Accessed 17, July 2014.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Race Report - 4th of July Firecracker 5K, OBX Style

Last Summer, over the July 4th holiday, we vacationed in the Outer Banks with a small group of friends.  Too late, I found two races, both held on the 4th, that I would have loved to run.  I vowed to register for one if we planned a return trip during that same week.  Well, well, well...guess what happened?
I registered for the 2014 holiday race about a week prior.  I selfishly checked the 2013 race results to size up the competition in my age group.  In the Lehigh Valley, my age bracket houses tight competition; I expected nothing different in North Carolina.  To my surprise, my personal best was almost two minutes faster than the 1st female in that bracket.  I had it in my head to cross first in the group.  Crap.
I'd like to say that I manage myself very well on vacation - I try to keep with a somewhat regular sleep schedule, I don't stray from my dietary needs and I certainly get some exercise.  This week was no different.  I ran twice (6 miles each), went to a yoga class and practiced twice on my own.  I was ready for this race.  But Mother Nature had other plans.  Relieved that we wouldn't be evacuated for the hurricane, I worried that the race would be canceled.  All this internal hype could be for nothing.  Wednesday afternoon, I received an e-mail from the race director stating that the race time would be moved, but it would still be held on the 4th and would not be canceled: "This event will NOT be canceled."  Okay.  My kind of race director!
It turned out that the original start time of 7 am was being moved to 6:30 pm.  Ouch.  I'm a morning runner - the earlier the run, the better.  I'd have to seriously manage my food/drink intake all day.  Fourth of July, on vacation, at the was a challenge for me to not pig out and drink my face off.  The weather broke close to 11 am with blue skies and sunshine.  We spent a good portion of the afternoon in the pool.  I pulled myself away from the crowd with two hours to spare for more hydration and a pre-race snack.  I gave love to my family and firm instructions to the most sober adult on the process for cooking the buffalo pork stuffed jalapeƱo peppers (so beautifully wrapped in bacon) before heading south on Route 12 towards Kill Devil Hills.  I parked in the lot of a high school just across the street from the Wright Memorial.  I desperately needed safety pins for my bib, so I motored over to the registration tent and excused myself while butting in front of 10 people to grab some pins.  With a shaky hand, I pinned # 801 to my shirt.  In a moment's notice, a wave of urgency crashed over me; too much water, WHERE IS THE BATHROOM?  I followed a convoluted route to a line of port-a-potty's.  Of course, the one made available to me was situated on a bit of a hill.  I worked hard to sustain a sanitary-esque hover over the trough of waste.  Oh, God.  Is this over, yet?
With a little more room around my waist band, I nervously walked over to the start line, where the runners started to line up.  My PR actually put me in the first corral; I wanted to line up near the start - this direction actually forced me into that spot.  Another minute later, a veteran opened with a prayer and 10 seconds after that we were off.  My God, the sun followed us from the sound of the air horn along the pavement.  I couldn't believe that I was within sight of the top 20 people and the pacer.  In classic Muffin style, I began to doubt myself, as I have in other races.  Maybe I went out too fast, maybe I didn't hydrate enough, maybe the postponed start time was working against me.  Maybe I should just walk.  I would have to return to a house full of people expecting me to have run a great race.  I couldn't let them down.  I pressed on.
We approached a trail, packed with sand and riddled with pine cones and needles.  The entire trail, close to a mile out and back, felt up hill all the way, although it was mostly shaded.  I surrounded myself in the painful relief.  At the turn-around, I grabbed water (damn I was parched) and checked out those who were ahead of me - not too many ladies up front.  Nice.  Could I keep this going?
Oh, God, I was dying.
I hate running.
I'm going to take some time off.
I'm not going to run Quadzilla on the 13th.  
I'm probably just going to stop running for a long while.  
I taste blood.
I can stop to puke, that's pretty hardcore.
Is this over?
The noise in my head was terrible.  I started to creep up on the heels of an older, much taller man.  He  turned his head, looking back with a strange look on his face.  It's as if he could hear the noise in my head.  He said something to me, but I was partially deaf and I, sure as shit, couldn't answer him even if I heard what he said.  I believe I grunted and continued on.  The end was in sight.  I rounded the final corner and kicked the last few yards to the finish.  I crossed all alone.  Not a soul in sight.
I grabbed a water and a metal before collapsing on the grass.  Almost immediately, I began to sweat profusely.  Yeah, I'm probably dying.  In the blink of an eye, another wave on urgency came over me and I almost peed in my pants.  Seriously, almost.  As soon as its onset, the wave dissipated.
I took roughly fifteen minutes to get my bearings.  I grabbed two pieces of watermelon, which I barely ate, and headed back to my car.  I didn't know my place (there were no group awards) and I wouldn't know until I got back to the house.  I could barely see the time on the clock when I crossed the line; the whole ride home (twenty minutes) was spent analyzing the race.
All the housemates were out back.  I immediately ripped off my shoes and socks before landing a graceful, yet solid cannonball into the pool.  The water felt so good on my already aching muscles.  I walked out of the water and wrapped myself in a towel as I was handed a very strong gin and tonic.  I hobbled up three flights of stairs to get changed before grabbing my reserved dinner.  I wasn't hungry, so I, instead, looked up my results, posted in real time.
I didn't set a PR.
I did finish 1st in my group, almost 2 minutes faster.
I was the 6th woman to finish.
I was 24th overall.
I will be running Quadzilla on Sunday.
I am in week 2 of NYC Marathon training.
I guess I'll quit running next year.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Mother's Mojo

Oftentimes, we walk through life losing touch with the universe.  Small events remind us of the bigger picture; a situation on a larger scale compels us to hug our families a little tighter.  

Last night, Mother Nature informed us that she is indeed awesome.  

Really?  Again?!?!?!  Another weather alert?  Just two weeks ago I was in Wisconsin for a tornado; in 2010 we vacationed in OBX before being evacuated two days early for Hurricane Earl started creeping in.    

Hurricane Earl Rolling In - 2010
Tropical storm Arthur moved fast through the Atlantic picking up steam destined for Florida.  Not before long, I was tagged in a Facebook post from a friend:

Hmmm.  Interesting question.  I had NO clue a storm was being tracked.  Our friends started receiving worried phone calls and text messages from family.  My phone didn't go off; I was fine with that.  Cape Hatteras occupants were forced to evacuate; I crossed my fingers, praying we'd be left alone.  The hype of the storm bled through all media outlets like an unstoppable cancer, causing wide-spread panic.  I called home to put my Mom's fears at ease (as best as I could) while we made a grocery list for our hurricane party.  The liquor stock would be just fine, but we needed some extras for our bushel of crabs dinner and our 4th of July celebration.  

Thursday afternoon, post pool time, we stuffed ourselves with blue point crabs and hunkered down for an evening of drinking and games.  And when I say 'stuffed ourselves' I MEAN WE REALLY.STUFFED.OURSELVES.  Roughly eight adults ate the crap out of a bushel leaving only twelve untouched.  By the end of the meal we were covered in crab chunks, crab juice and shards of shells.  The living area reeked of sea stank and old bay.  I felt so disgusting that I threw my clothes in to the washer just after brushing my teeth.  I regret not showering.  

A smaller group of us gathered around the recently cleaned kitchen table for a mean round of Cards Against Humanity.  Tears of laughter rolled down our faces for the duration of the game.  We paused after some time to take a break, but none of us returned.  The group broke up to various points in the house; I assumed my usual 'at-home' position: passing out on the couch.  The Weather Channel lulled me to sleep for at least an hour.  The rain started to fall as I made my way to bed.  

I rolled out of bed a few times through the night, each time to assess the state of weather as initially reported to me by Jim Cantore who was stationed about 15 miles south of our location.  Following his report, I peeked outside to see a whole lot of not much.  But...the sounds of Mother Nature was enough to send goosebumps up and down my back.  She roared through the dark sky.  The bellowing belches from the ocean could be heard from our ocean side home.  The rain pounded our East-facing bedroom windows with authority.  I was unusually uncomfortable, unable to sleep; I turned on the outside light to our balcony to try and catch a glimpse of the ruckus.  I witnessed, again, nothing remarkable, but the soundtrack of the storm told a different story.  I snapped a few pathetic photos that captured, again, a whole lotta nuttin'.  My words can barely describe the howling from the Earth, and this storm wasn't anything major compared to other storms, but it smacked me silly with torrential rains, sustained winds over 75 mph and the bellows from the ocean, my God, the bellows.  

Pathetic Hurricane Documentation
My God...the bellows.  What a great reminder that we're just little specs on a sliver of land.