Monday, September 28, 2009

Third tri's a charm

On Saturday, I completed my third sprint triathlon, but this time with a few twists:
- I was joined by two friends
- It was the Mainiac Tri all the way up in Maine
- The swim was in a 62-degree OCEAN

Now, before I go any further, I need to explain to what the ocean means to me. Its vastness and unpredictability, its swift currents and crashing waves, its odd and menacing marine life, represents a cornucopia of phobias.

It the mother of all phobias, because it is so many things wrapped into one: open water, drowning, sharks and jellyfish. Undertows, riptides that pull you out to sea and waves that knock you off your feet and crash over you with terrible force.

I have not been in the ocean past my upper thighs since I was about 10-years-old, flanked by my mom on one side and my step-father on the other, both gripping my hands and lifting me up and over each swell. Back then, the ocean was fun, but sometime after that, the joy of the ocean left and in seeped fear. It has never left.

I signed up for this tri under the promise that the waters of Biddeford Pool in Maine were fairly smooth and calm, but even so, the thought of swimming in the open ocean filled me with anxiety. For weeks, I dreamed of being swept out to sea and lost forever. I dreamed of swimming so dreadfully off course that I could no longer see land. I dreamed of waves of water pounding down on me, choking and suffocating me until I woke in my bed gripped in fear and unable to get back to sleep for hours.

So the most eventful part of this tri - for me - was the anxiety that I felt from the moment I woke up in my bed at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday until I rose from that water having completed the swim sometime after 11 a.m.

When I arrived on site with my friends Beckie and Michelle that morning, I could hear the breakers, but could not see them. My body seized and I felt instantly nauseous. Now, in reality, they were fairly mild, but still . . . breakers. There were not supposed to be breakers. The website said "calm and flat" waters. Breakers are neither calm nor flat.

I visited the water's edge several times before the race (we arrived onsite around 8:15, which was just Too. Much. Time. To. Think. And look).

The tide was going out and we were assured the waves would flatten out by the time the race started, but the buoys weren't up and it was hard to picture how far OUT we'd have to swim. How far in those waves? With a current or against it?

I stressed for hours, stomach tumbling, unable to eat. But oddly, when I slipped on my wetsuit, I felt a bit calmer. The buoys went up and most of the swim was parallel to the beach, which made me feel better for some reason. The waves did flatten out and watching each wave take off was a thrill. Beckie went in wave 3 and Michelle and I were in wave 4.

We hugged Beckie and off she went. Just minutes later it was our turn. I hugged Michelle and wished her luck and someone yelled, "GO!" and I went.

Start of my wave

The water was freezing, but I was so focused on just getting past the (admittedly very small breakers) I didn't even notice at first. I waded out, walking as far as I could and bobbing over the swells the way I did when I was 10.

When the water was around my ribcage, I started swimming a slow easy breaststroke, just trying to acclimate to the temp. I hyperventilated a bit from the cold, but only for a minute or two. Just before the first buoy, I started freestyle swimming - the correct way. Face in water, though I did breathe every two strokes for most of the course instead of my usual three. I sighted the way I'm supposed to. The portion parallel to the beach seemed long, and I kept getting logjammed behind groups of slower swimmers, but I did pass quite a few people and soon enough I was rounding the final buoy and heading back to the beach. I kept thinking the incoming waves would work in my favor and push me toward shore faster, but if they did I didn't notice.

However, suddenly, I could see the ocean floor (OCEAN FLOOR!) and the next time I looked ahead people were standing up, so I put in two more good strokes and stood myself and ran out of the ocean (OCEAN!), cold and very winded, but also ELATED to have done something that scared me so much!

End of the swim! Ocean swim? Check!

That's me in the front. You can't see my face, but I must have an ear-to-ear smile because I am just so happy in this picture.

Swim time: 11:37

NOTE: This is actually quite a bit slower than my 9:36 time from the quarter mile swim in August, but I'll take it. I swam in the OCEAN! That is bragging rights enough for me for now.

I had a really long T1. My feet were covered in sand ankle to toe and I struggled to pull my long-sleeved tech shirt on over my soaked arms and hands. This is definitely an area I need to improve.

T1: 4:32

The 14.85 bike was fairly uneventful. It was an almost entirely flat course, which is good and bad (good, because hills suck, but bad because you have to pedal constantly). I was passed a few times, but also passed several people, including a couple from the previous wave.

Start of the bike leg

Start of the bike leg.

Two things of note:
1. The scenery was amazing. I found myself wishing it wasn't a race so I could stop and enjoy it more.
2. This was my fastest race pace to date - I averaged 14.07 mph - which I know isn't fast, but I am happy to see my speed improving.

Bike: 1:03:20

This was a decent T2, but there's still lots of room to improve here. I basically ran in, racked the bike, dropped my helmet, hydrated, pulled off the tech shirt, grabbed an energy gel and ran out.

T2: 1:21

The first mile of the run was sheer torture. My legs were wobbly, my sore knee was acting up and there was a hill. Plus, there was a slew of runners on the other side of the road returning from the run and I found that pretty demoralizing. When I hit the first mile marker, I felt like I'd been running for-EVER and literally shouted out, "Are you freakin' kidding me?!"

Yet, I kept running. This is the first run leg that I actually RAN the whole time. I passed three people of the male persuasion, which made me happy because all the men took off two waves ahead of me.

Again, the course was beautiful. Parts of it ran right along the ocean and that was a nice diversion. Finally, I reached a volunteer who said there was a half mile left, so I tried to pick it up a little, though admittedly, I was drained. Regardless, I set a PR (personal record) for this run, and for that, I am extremely proud and happy.

Crossing the finish

Run: 32:20

So that is that - the last tri of the season for me (though I have to admit, today I found myself looking to see if there are any tris or duathlons (run-bike-run) in NJ in October, and there are, but really, I think I'm done for this season). I feel like that was a good race to end on - I conquered a fear, set a couple of PRs on pace and got to do it with two friends.

And I have a whole set of new training goals. Only seven months until next season!


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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Summer's last hurrah

June 2009

Peanut: Mom, remember last summer when we went to the beach, how fun that was?

Me: I do. It was very fun.

Peanut: Can we do that again this summer?

Me: Absolutely. We'll go again this summer. I promise.

September 2009

My words to my daughter have been weighing heavily on me these last few weeks because as summer '09 drew to a close, I still had not fulfilled them.

June was more or less a washout, with rain every weekend.

July had a few good weekends, but we were only free one of them. I recall that weekend in mid-July, sitting around the breakfast table on a Saturday debating whether or not to jump in the car for a quick day trip to the beach. I ultimately decided against it, opting to take them to a local outdoor swimming hole instead.

August was also chock full - a wedding, a triathlon, a road trip to Indiana and then Peanut's birthday party - and as the month drew to a close I found myself deeply regretting my promise, thankful that she did not bring it up, hopeful that she had forgotten.

September arrived and unlike previous years, it seemed the weather instantly cooled. Nothing awful, but there was a definite chill in the air, requiring a sweater during the day and an extra blanket on the bed at night.

But this past weekend was gorgeous - the kind of September weather that makes living in the Northeast so amazing. The skies were a cloudless, bright blue and the air was mild with temps in the 70s.

"This is it," I thought. "Our last chance to hit the shore."

So Sunday around 10 a.m. we piled in the car and drove just over an hour to Sandy Hook - the Jersey Shore's most northern beach. We spread out on a blanket and munched on barbecue chicken wraps, grapes and cookies. We dug in the sand. We collected shells and we even splashed (a bit) in the waves.

It was breezy, but beautiful. And I felt at ease having finally fulfilled my promise. Just. Under. The. Wire.


Love this one


Happy fall '09 everyone!

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

You're my home*

When you look into my eyes
and you see the crazy gypsy in my soul
it always comes as a surprise
when I feel my withered roots begin to grow.

June 2000

Well I never had a place
that I could call my very own
but that's all right my love
cuz you're my home.

Visiting Chesterwood . . .

When you touch my weary head
and you tell me everything will be all right.
You say, "Use my body for your bed
and my love will keep you warm throughout the night."

August 2009

Well I'll never be a stranger
and I'll never be alone
wherever we're together
that's my home.

Our "Dancing with the Stars" moment
Home could be the Pennsylvania turnpike.
Indiana's early morning dew.
High up in the hills of California.
Home is just another word for you.

March 2009

Well I never had a place that I could call my very own
but that's all right my love
cuz you're my home.

Sept. 2003

If I travel all my life
and I never get stop and settle down.
Long as I have you by my side
there's a roof above and good walls all around.
You're my castle, you're my cabin
and my instant pleasure dome.
I need you in my house
cuz you're my home.

Love this shot

Happy 10th Anniversary to my most awesome husband!

I am awed by the love we have - love that has carried us through two decades, two homes and two children. Love that is not always easy, but is always true and always present. Love that still takes my breath away, sometimes at the most unexpected moments. Love that seems as fresh and alive as it did on day one. Love that will be with us for many more years to come.

*And thanks to Billy Joel, for writing one of the most beautiful love songs ever.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

A friendly reminder of why it's not nice to label people

Just over 20 years ago, (<--I know) I pledged a sorority.

Over the years, I have periodically found myself having to defend that decision to people who think sororities are outdated, or elitist, or petty, or conformist. I have heard all the labels associated with “sorority girls:” Stupid. Slutty. Snobby. Superficial.

I even once had someone snidely ask me if I could not make "my own" friends and thus had to buy them.

The stereotypes are astounding and, quite frankly, an outrage. What’s more, they often come from the same people who are horrified by the use of racial or ethnic slurs. Why they feel these types of prejudices are acceptable, when others clearly aren’t, is beyond me. As we all know, stereotypes are dangerous - and based on ignorance.

So for all of those ready to level any of the above stereotypes at me, or my sisters, consider this your education.

“Diverse” is the only generalization I can truly direct at my sisters. Some of us were brainy, others struggled in school. Some of us had steady boyfriends all through college, others played the field, others barely dated at all. Some of us played sports, others couldn’t catch a ball to save our lives. Some of us partied, others hardly ever went out past midnight. We were white, black, Indian and Hispanic.

This past weekend, some recent alumni and the current sisters planned a huge reunion during our college’s annual Homecoming.

Dozens of alumni sisters attended, spanning more than 20 years of graduating classes. The college said we were the largest group to pre-register for any event at any Homecoming weekend ever. Wow.

Catching up with my sisters – many of whom I have not seen in 10, even 15 years, was a thrill. We laughed, we reminisced, we ate, we drank, we stayed up late and we reveled in each other’s company.

What’s more, the shared experience of the sorority resulted in instant bonding with the current sisters and younger alumni. I not only caught up with old friends, I made a host of new ones as well.

One of Saturday’s receptions featured a 25-minute slide show of photos through the years. I didn’t even know some of the women in the pictures, but I could not take my eyes off it. They remain the incredible group I became a part of so many years ago. Steeped in tradition, fiercely close, I have no doubt they’ll be back in 20 years – rejoicing in each other.

Sunday came too fast and I drove away from them all with a heavy heart.

Through the years, we have been there for each other through weddings and divorces. Babies and struggles with infertility. Birthday celebrations and serious illnesses.

To boil this amazing experience that I have had down to one nasty little phrase is beyond rude. So stop it, please.

Doing so insults my friends. My confidants. My partners-in-crime. My shoulders to lean on.

My sisters.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The school year has begun! Peanut started last Tuesday and Loaf went this past Monday. I'm finally sitting down and catching my breath, so here are a few pictures.

First, Peanut went of to kindergarten (!). She was extremely excited and got on the bus without any hesitation. Here are a few pictures from her big day:

At the bus stop

Waiting for the bus

Getting on the bus

Getting on the bus - all smiles!


Then Loaf started preschool in the "Fours" class, meaning she'll go five mornings a week! Where is the time going?!?

Outside before heading off to school

First day of preschool '09

In her classroom on the first day

First day of preschool

It's crazy to me that the summer is over and the year nearly is too. Didn't we just celebrate Christmas? And Easter? Wasn't that, like, last week?

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Friday, September 11, 2009

New York City: October 2001

This was originally written on October 24, 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks and long before I even knew what a blog was.

On the evening of October 23, I paid my first visit to New York City since the September 11 attacks. I was meeting a former colleague for dinner, and my plan was to drive to Weehawken and take the Port Imperial ferry to midtown.

When the attacks first happened, I had a strong aversion to looking at the skyline even from a distance and I certainly did not want to go down to the waterfront for a closer look. But as the weeks passed, I began to feel a stronger need to see it and come to terms in my own way with what happened.

As you may know, Mark and I lived in Weehawken for three-and-a-half years. We now live in Morris County, about 30 miles west of The City.

Weehawken is a small but densely populated town located on the Hudson River directly across from New York City. It is famous for two things: It is the site where Aaron Burr fatally wounded Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel and it has the most spectacular panoramic view of the New York City skyline imaginable.

Weehawken begins at the banks of the Hudson River then quickly gives way to the Palisades, towering vertical rock cliffs rising dramatically over the river. Understandably, it is on these cliffs where most of the people of Weehawken choose to live. Even though Boulevard East, the road that snakes along the top of the Palisades, is clogged with traffic from dawn to dusk, people who live there have enormous picture windows that frame views of the some of New York’s most famous buildings. From the top of the Palisades, the city spreads out before you as far north as the George Washington Bridge and as far south as the Verrazano Bridge. The height of the cliffs affords you a bird’s eye view of the city, allowing you to practically look the Empire State Building in the eye.

I looked at that view nearly every day for more than three years and I never tired of it, which is why I felt a strong need to go back there to take my first close look at the skyline.

I drove as far south as possible on Boulevard East, parked and walked across the street to Hamilton Park, which overlooks New York. Even as I walked toward the edge of the park, I couldn’t look to my right toward where the World Trade Center used to stand, anchoring New York’s southern tip to the harbor.

Finally, I stopped and stood at the iron railing erected at the edge of the cliff and slowly turned to look south. The feelings of complete sadness that I felt on the morning of September 11 came rushing back like a flood.

From that vantage point, it’s obviously not what you can see. It’s what you can’t.

We all know the Towers are gone, but their absence is incredibly hard to grasp, especially for people so familiar with how they used to stand to the south like two proud sentries keeping watch on New York Harbor.

Instead, there is void so huge it feels like it can never be filled.

About a half dozen others stood farther down the path – a group of teenage boys, a young couple rocking in an embrace, a lone man in a business suit – all with eyes locked toward the south. We are all trying to comprehend.

Along the iron rail were dozens of signs, photographs and handwritten notes.

“Angela, we miss you.”

“Thank you for giving up your lives to keep us safe.”

“We love you all.”

“United We Stand.”

A colorful and splotchy mosaic of wax – the remnants of probably 100 candles – coats the ground near the Alexander Hamilton memorial, along with several American flags, numerous long-dead bouquets and black and purple ribbons tied to the railing. Poems and prayers are tacked up on the wall and someone has left behind their dusk mask, used while they were working near Ground Zero in the days following the attack.

I stared for a long time trying to force my mind to accept the new skyline and everything that it symbolizes, but it’s just too big and too awful.

After some unknown amount of time, I turned to leave. One of the teenage boys asked me if I was OK and I smiled and said yes, but my answer felt forced and false.

I returned to my car and drove down to the ferry terminal. The ride across the Hudson offered a different perspective. The view of the city changes with each foot that the ferry chugs across the river. Buildings once hidden behind others become visible. New angles reveal new sights. And still, from every angle there is that void staring back at you.

Once disembarked into the streets of Manhattan itself, the city seems almost normal. Crowds of people were rushing to get home. Streets were crammed with yellow taxis.

But there are differences. Those people rushing home aren’t just looking at the ground or in their “locked on target” tunnel vision. They make eye contact with strangers; some even smile in a desperate attempt to make contact. Both on the way in and the way home, people struck up conversations with me on the ferry, something that has never happened to me before. And most of those yellow taxis have American flags streaming from their antennas, regardless of the ethnicity of the driver behind the wheel.

And then there is the security. Of the four revolving doors in the 50-story building where I once worked, only one set can be used. People who work in the building must show a photo ID and scan an ID card in order to be able to take an elevator to their floor. Visitors must stand to the side with security officers until the person who they are visiting comes down to the lobby to retrieve them. As you can imagine, this creates a large bottle neck getting into the building.

And yet people wait patiently in that line without complaint. It is a small hardship to bear in exchange for peace of mind at work.

Dinner was nice. My friend told me her “September 11” story and I told her mine. We all have one now – where we were and what we were doing when we first heard about the attacks. She told me about the numerous bomb scares, evacuations and false alarms that have taken place in her building. Employees in the building have also worried about anthrax, since NBC is housed in the same complex.

She lowers her voice as she tells me she’s thinking of leaving her job in the city. “It’s just too much stress to deal with everyday,” she says. At the same time, she thanks me again and again for coming into the city to see her.

The night was warm and pleasant and as I made my way out of the city, I decided to sit outside on the upper deck of the ferry. The view of Ground Zero was more unsettling in the dark. Instead of just a gaping cavity, there was a bright white light emanating from the hole, put there to enable hundreds of workers to continue clearing debris throughout the night.

Lost in my own thoughts, I barely noticed the woman sitting next to me talking loudly on her cell phone. She was reassuring someone that she was on the ferry and would be home soon. When she hung up, she looked at me and said it was her seven-year-old son, who refused to go to bed anymore until she was home safely. She smiled and tried to make light of it, but her eyes drifted toward the illuminating lights at Ground Zero.

“It’s almost beautiful, that light,” she said dreamily. “It’s got a nice glow.”

I disembarked the ferry the made my way to the car, pausing one last time to turn toward the south and take one more look at the skyline before driving west toward my home. It’s nearly silent there on the New Jersey waterfront, but New York City is bustling as people do their best to go on with their everyday lives.

And so I turn, get in the car and go on with mine.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Sentimental value

My daughter lost her second tooth today.

Last night while brushing her teeth, it hung at an odd angle - askew from the rest of her teeth - and I knew it would not be long. I told her, "You will lose that tooth before you go to school on Tuesday."

It fell out of her mouth - literally, with no effort from her - before breakfast this morning. She wrapped it carefully in a bright pink drawstring pouch and put it under her pillow, anxious for tonight's visit from The Tooth Fairy.

Tonight, I slipped my hand under her pillow, thankful that she sleeps like a log, and exchanged the tooth for a crisp dollar bill and a note reading, "Nice tooth! Keep brushing! Love, The Tooth Fairy." Then I retreated into the kitchen, tiny tooth in hand.

What now? I pondered.

I know from talking to my friends that there are some moms who are not so sentimental about these matters and who would have tossed the tooth into the garbage without another thought. But for better or worse, I have a hard time releasing "things" that mean something to me, or did at some point in my life. Just last night I poured through my attic in search of old college relics in preparation for an upcoming reunion and was shocked to find what I'd saved from elementary school, high school and college.

So I stood there in my kitchen rolling the small tooth in my palm, thinking.

Not so many years ago, she fought for that tooth. Always a slow teether, I recalled the weeks and weeks of drooling and chewing. The many nights of restless sleep. The cold washcloths and Ambesol given to her to bring relief until it finally broke the surface.

We stared in wonder and awe when this tooth - the bottom center, one of her two first - made its appearance. It transferred her smile from a gummy one to a toothed one. We marveled at this. Beamed about it. We ran our fingers over it's pearly top and cooed, "Such a big girl, you are."

It marked a new phase for her: More solid foods. Crawling. A sliver of independence.

When she lost her first tooth, I dropped it into a small plastic bag and placed it carefully in the back of my top drawer. It was, after all, her first lost tooth. A big one. No question there.

But does every tooth need to be saved? There is something a bit strange and perhaps even morbid, even for a sentimental sap like me, to keep a bag of teeth in my drawer for the next 18 years. I mean, to what end? To give them to her someday? I can just picture the look on her face.

"Um, gee, thanks? Mom?" followed by her promptly tossing them into the trash herself as soon as I'm out of sight.

Yet, I recall the day I found some of my own baby teeth wrapped in tissue in the back of my mom's jewelry box. I don't know how old I was, but when I found them I recall taking them out and rolling them between my fingers, fascinated by how small they were compared to my adult teeth.

I remember the mix of feelings. Horror: Oh. My. God. She saved . . . my teeth!? And love: But she saved them. Because they are mine. Because she is my mother and I'm her daughter and she wanted to hold onto them. Because she wanted to stay connected to them somehow. Because she loves me.

Even then, I was a sap.

Now, once again, this tooth and the change it brings to her smile marks a new phase: Kindergarten.

On Tuesday, she will get on a bus at the end of our driveway - alone - and go away from us to a new school with many corridors and big kids. It is a momentous step toward independence.

So with that in mind, I walked down the hall to my bedroom, and plunked this tooth, this symbol of babyhood, into the bag next to its twin. I do not know at what point I will stop saving them.

But not tonight.


Out of curiosity, what do YOU do with your children's lost teeth?

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Taste the rainbow

We had Peanut's sixth birthday party on Friday. Ten little girls in princess outfits.

Last year, I made an elaborate castle cake. It took two days.

When Peanut told me she wanted a princess tea party again, I cringed.

Fine, but let's talk about different cake ideas, I told her.

Some friends of mine had recently posted photos of something called a Rainbow Cake on Facebook, and it sounded relatively easy, and given I can barely find time to clip my own fingernails, easy it was!

1. Make your cake batter.

I like Arrowhead Mills Organic because there's no trans fat in it.

(Believe it or not, both Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines mixes contain partially hydrogenated oils. Why these things need to be in a dry cake mix, I have no idea, but they are and they're HORRIBLE for you. It's worth it to pay the extra for organic, or if you're even more ambitious, make your mix from scratch).

I used two boxes of cake mix for this cake.

2. Divide the batter, a cup at a time, into however many colors you want your "rainbow" cake to be. I used six. Put a little extra in the first and last colors - maybe a quarter cup or so.

The batter, divided and dyed

Then use food coloring to dye each bowl a different color.

3. Scoop the batter, a cup at a time, into the pans.

OK, here's the slightly tricky part. Use a one-cup measuring cup and scoop out a goodly amount from the first bowl. Pour it directly in the center of your cake pan. Because this is the first color and has to "spread" the most, add about a quarter cup more.

Rinse the measuring cup and do the same thing for each color, pouring each new color on top of the previous ones in concentric circles like this:

Pouring the batter

4. Bake per directions.

The two layers, about to go into the oven.

About to go into the oven

As you can see, I did the second layer in reverse order (purple on the outside and red in the center, but that's up to you).

(Mark called it a "Willy Wonka Cake." I think he's not far off.)

5. Let cake cool.

Finished cakes. I had a teeny bit of extra batter, so I did two cupcakes too.

Cakes baked

6. Frost or decorate.

I used light blue icing (like the sky), colored sugar in rings and mini (all natural) marshmallows for clouds. The little birds are candle holders Mark had when he was a babe. Cute, aren't they?

Top of the cake.

7. Enjoy!

Birthday girl blowing out the candles:

Making a wish

Inside of the cake once sliced. Groovy, dude!


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