Spring Vacation – Hershey

Friday was a full day in Hershey, PA. The kids had no clue where we were going. It was fun to see the look on their face as we entered the town. There was much more to do at Hershey’s Chocolate World than I expected. We saw a 4D movie, went on a trolley tour, experienced a chocolate tasting, and created our own chocolate bars.

The trolley tour was my favorite part of the day. Our guide told us the life story of Milton Hershey and it was fascinating. I’m sure I had heard it years ago, but I was still enthralled in the tale of how he grew not only his business, but the town, and most importantly the school that bears his name. We drove by the home he grew up in, the school, the factories, the amusement park, and the gorgeous botanical gardens.

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This photo does not do the gardens or the tulip beds justice. We did drive up to the gardens and the hotel later in the day, but there was a fee to enter the gardens and the kids weren’t really interested. They just wanted to sword fight so we walked around the grounds of the hotel and they battled it out! Inside the hotel there were framed photos of how the hotel and town used to look in the early 1900s.

Back at Chocolate World we attended a chocolate tasting. We were given a little lesson on where chocolate comes from, how it is made, and how to properly taste the chocolate. We tasted Hershey’s Special Dark, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Dagoba Dark, and Scharffenberg Toffee Chocolate After tasting it we had to pick a flavor we detected and vote for it using the monitor on our table. The kids loved that part. They weren’t too keen on the dark chocolates, but I enjoyed them. It was just enough without overdoing it.
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The kids’ favorite part of the day was creating their own chocolate bars. You were able to select the base of either white chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate. Next you selected any fill ins. I think our choices on that day were rice krispies, toffee chips, pretzel pieces or cookie dough. You could pick three of the fill ins and sprinkles for the top. We were all a little bummed that peanut butter was not an option.

You got to watch your chocolate bar on a conveyor belt. First the fill ins were added, then the the bar was dipped in more chocolate to seal in those extras, and finally sprinkles on top. While waiting for the chocolate bar to cool you got to create your own wrapper.

My candy bar was dark chocolate with pretzels. I’m thinking this would make a post Chicago Marathon treat!
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Surprisingly we did not stuff our faces with chocolate. We actually only ate the samples we got along the way. The boys ate a full size Hershey’s bar they got on the trolley ride. At the end I offered to get them each something in the gift shop and they declined.

Back at the hotel the boys swam again and then we went to dinner. I really enjoy spending time with Carlos and Tyler. At dinner we love playing the would you rather game. You know would you rather be able to teleport anywhere or be able to read minds. However, with 9 year olds the questions often involve various bodily functions. Although many of the questions were gross or hysterical some were downright thought provoking. Would you rather know when you are going to die or how you are going to die? (You can’t change the time or method of your death.)

After dinner we took a walk through the town of Gettysburg and then we met up at Ghostly Images again for another ghost tour.  This one included more outdoor ghost stories and a tour of the Jennie Wade House. Jennie Wade was the only civilian killed during the Battle at Gettysburg. The guide was the same as the night before, but she was in costume pretending to be the mother of Jennie Wade.

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The only “photo” of Jennie

After a tour of the home, and some history about the day Jennie died we went into the basement. This basement was a little creepy with a replica of a dead Jennie on a bed covered with a blanket as well as a painting of a similar scene, but with her family surrounding her. They had to take shelter in the basement after Jennie was killed.

We were encouraged to take many photos and then survey them for orbs and misty areas. Carlos and Tyler were allowed to use the guide’s “Ghost Meter” EMF sensor to see if they could pick up on any paranormal activity. They swear they did, but I didn’t see it! They also swear they saw a ghost. We had some really enthusiastic ghost hunters on that tour adding more enthusiasm to the experience.

On Saturday it was time to head home, but first a swim and a final mega pillow fight. The ride home was long but uneventful. The boys played video games, drew, talked, and watched movies while I listened to podcasts. We stopped for lunch in Allentown where I managed to find a delicious vegan kale salad and a smoothie.

I love traveling in every form. Flying off to foreign lands is fabulous, but there is also something distinctly adventurous about taking a road trip. As nit picky as I can be about planning and organizing other areas of my life I tend to leave road trip plans very loose. Our motto for this trip was go with the flow and we did. There were no schedules or time constraints. I let the kids energy dictate the course of the day. These two boys are full of spunk and love to be active. They are curious and game for just about anything.

Before I left I got a few funny looks when I mentioned that I was traveling solo with my son and his friend. Well it was a blast. I had such an amazing time. Carlos and Tyler were great fun to spend time with. They were also respectful and kind. It was an easy and extremely enjoyable trip. I would travel with them again in a heartbeat. I have heard that the feeling is mutual.

Spring Vacation – Gettysburg

When I was about Carlos’ age my mom took my sister and me to Gettysburg, PA. I loved history even as a child. Years later I went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in History. Although my focus was Latin American History, I always loved learning about early American and Civil War History. I took the very popular UMass course, Civil War through film, taught by Dr. Stephen Oates. It was a multimedia class that drew many History and non-History majors into a large auditorium on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4pm. But nothing brought the Civil War to life more than standing on the battlefield in Gettysburg, and I wanted to experience that with Carlos.

Last week was spring vacation. Since Orlando is back to work after a winter layoff, I decided I would take Carlos and his best friend on a road trip to Gettysburg and Hershey. They are 9 so I had to balance it out…a little bit educational, a little bit sweet fun!

We hit the road on Wednesday afternoon. It should have been about a 6 hour drive, but we hit traffic on I84 in Connecticut and then stopped for dinner at a restaurant on the Hudson River in New York. Proud mom moment #1: The waitress complimented the boys on their behavior and she was also very impressed that they were coloring and reading while waiting for their meals instead of playing on electronics.

After about 8 hours on the road we arrived at the hotel around 10pm and the boys were ready to explode with energy. The pool had just closed. The only other alternative to blow off some energy was to have an epic pillow fight (quietly) in the room. We all slept great that night!

I went into the trip with a very loose plan. Traveling with kids is unpredictable and I’ve learned that the less expectations I have going in the better. The kids took their time at the hotel breakfast making waffles and then they wanted to go swimming. Once they were ready we started out at Gettysburg National Military Park.

We got to the park mid-morning and were instructed to head inside the National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center. I purchased the package which included a two hour bus tour, viewing of the short film “A New Birth of Freedom” narrated by Morgan Freeman, and access to the Gettysburg Cyclorama program.

The bus tour was first. Our guide was fantastic, very knowledgeable, and talented with his ability to keep the kids engaged. We stopped at a few locations where we were able to get out for a bit, take photos, and walk around.

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Once back at the Visitor’s Center the boys picked out toy swords from the gift shop. Then we went to the film and Cyclorama. Both were excellent visuals to bring to life what we had just seen out on the tour. They were not long programs making them perfect for children.

What I didn’t realize is that anyone can drive the grounds of the park and stop along the way at the many statues, memorials, and graves. There are paved roads as well as walking trails throughout the park. I would have enjoyed seeing more on my own, but the boys were hungry and ready for a change of scenery.

We went into the town of Gettysburg to explore a little. First I booked tickets to our evening ghost tour. Carlos and Tyler are obsessed with anything scary. After that we walked around town looking for a place to eat. Gettysburg retains that quaint feel of old colonial days. If you ignore all the cars, paved roads, modern hotels, and people with iPhones you can almost feel what it might have been like during the time of the Civil War.

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Proud mom moment #2: the boys were once again complimented on their behavior during lunch. The waitress commented on how unusual it is these days to see kids without electronics. Interestingly I didn’t even have to ask them to leave the electronics in the car.

After lunch we walked around and went into a couple of shops. The old fashioned candy store was a favorite!

That night after more swimming and dinner we returned to town for our first Ghost Tour. Thursday night at 8pm we met outside of Ghostly Images for our tour of the Haunted Orphanage. The children were said to have been tortured by the woman who ran the orphanage at one time. The guide was very theatrical and did a great job of setting the stage so to speak for our journey to the basement of the orphanage where we had the opportunity to sit in the dark “pit” that once  served as punishment for the bad children. We also spent some time walking around outdoors near the cemetery while the guide shared many more ghost stories. Whether you were a skeptic or a believer it was certainly entertaining. The kids loved it so much they asked to go on a different tour the following night.

Next up Hershey, PA.

I won the lottery

Not the powerball. 

Chicago here I come!! 

I woke up to an email announcing I got into the 2016 Chicago Marathon. I have been waiting until today to make any definitive fall marathon plans. I found out last month that I didn’t get into New York and I forgot to submit my entry for the Marine Corps Marathon. I have been thinking a lot about Chicago and out of the three marathons it is my number one choice. I’d love to do them all someday, but I’m so excited to be heading to Chicago in October. 

This is a game changer for me. I will not go into this race feeling anything but amazing. I finally put my foot down about the very obvious fact that I gained back some weight over the last two years. About a month ago I recommitted myself to losing the weight slowly, healthily, and steadily. I am not interested in a quick fix. I am trying to identify habits and food choices that inhibit successful weight loss while maintaining a plant based diet. So far I have lost 8 pounds in 4 weeks. I feel better and I want to continue the momentum. 

I am running with goals in mind. I am building up my endurance again. I’ve developed a daily yoga practice even if only 10-15 minutes a day, but it makes a difference in how my body feels. The daily habits are leading me in the right direction and now with Chicago on the horizon I am even more motivated. 
I visited Chicago once years ago for a weekend. I am really looking forward to returning with my family. I can’t wait to plan our trip!!

Respect the Process

After writing about the twinge of jealousy I was feeling about my friend running her first half and full marathon rather spontaneously, I sat with my emotions for a while. I was a bit embarrassed I even shared them here. I am actually in awe of my friend’s abilities. I accept that she is a different runner with her own unique skills and strengths.  I’ve asked her in the past to consider running with me in order to help me improve my speed. She is more than willing to, but we haven’t been able to coordinate our schedules. She has also asked me if she could join me on long runs to help build her endurance. Maybe I was a little bent out of shape that she didn’t need me after all.

Jealousy is ugly and I have a history of carrying around a great deal of it. I’ve done a lot of work in recent years to overcome reacting with jealousy, but occasionally it begins to bubble up.  I am aware that it is my own issue stemming from insecurity and lack of confidence.

I thought about what I was feeling and realized it wasn’t envy. I’m not jealous of my friend’s running ability or her race time.  So what was it then?

When my friend texted me that day about running a marathon that was a month away I instantly thought, but you haven’t trained. You need to train for a marathon. It’s not something you just get up one morning and decide to do. I was annoyed that she wasn’t respecting the marathon training process.

Ahh marathon training! I believe I actually love the process of training for a marathon more than the marathon itself. It is the training that I crave. I love the schedule, the alternating workouts, the challenge of the long run each week, preparing my CamelBak, trying new fueling techniques, and waking up at the butt crack of dawn to run in the dark (just kidding I don’t really enjoy this part). The race is just the icing on the cake.

My running journey has grown from a run/walk around a local track to marathons. I needed to take baby steps along the way to eventually get to the starting line of my first marathon. In order to ensure success which to me simply meant finishing the marathon uninjured I needed go through months of training for that first marathon. During that time I increased my mileage gradually, learned how to fuel properly, and overcame many challenges including broken ribs. I thrived on having a schedule, a specific run or workout of the day, and the marathon served as the end goal.

Each training has been designed differently, but one thing remains the same, I need the training process in order to reach MY goals. Training gives me a sense of purpose during the months leading up to the marathon and provides me with specific focus. On the day of the marathon it is important for me to feel like I’ve done everything possible to properly prepare for the race.

Before venturing into distance running I read about the training preparations of many runners, professional, semi-professional, and casual runners like me. I have listened to numerous podcasts and interviews to learn more about how people train for distance races. I’m even more fascinated with the process of training for an ultra marathon. I continue to learn and seek information about long distance running. I love the running, but I am also a bit of a geek when it comes to the process of developing endurance, stamina, and creating a solid foundation to maintain health, nutrition, flexibility, and the mental fortitude to continue running long distances. This is something that energizes me, inspires me, and provides fuel for my running dreams.

All of what I just wrote is about ME, not my friend. I realized that I was kind of pissed off that she had no intention of dedicating herself to months of training for her first marathon. She obviously doesn’t respect the process, I thought. Now I see that is just ridiculous.  My friend will do what is right for her. Running that half marathon clearly made her feel confident that she could complete a full marathon weeks away. She probably doesn’t need months of training. She most likely doesn’t want that either. She has told me before that she wished she could run long distances. Perhaps my own accomplishments inspired my friend to finally take the leap into distance running. Maybe I should try looking at the situation from that angle.

This is not a competition. I should not compare myself to a friend with vastly different abilities. I am ashamed for feeling anything but joy for my friend. I want to support her and show her I’m proud of her success.

 

Holyoke St. Patrick’s 10K Road Race 2016

First thank you for sending positive thoughts my husband’s way. He is feeling great considering what happened. He was incredibly lucky to not have sustained any injuries. We were all humbled by what happened this week.

The day after I ran the Holyoke St. Patrick’s 10K Road Race, I wrote a lengthy post about it. I walked away for a bit and when I returned it was completely gone. My computer is driving me nuts lately. I just had to reboot because iTunes kept starting spontaneously for no apparent reason. My little MacBook is either getting old or it’s possessed!

On March 19, 2016 I ran my 5th Holyoke Road Race. I lined up in the back of the pack with a few friends. We all had different goals so we parted ways once we got to the start about 15 minutes after the gun went off. This year the race drew over 7,000 runner to the small city of Holyoke, MA.

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Photo from MassLive.com

The city is alight with energy during the week celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, but the excitement on race day is frenzied. I don’t know who has more enthusiasm, the runners or the spectators. It’s a challenging course. It’s congested for at least 2 miles and then there are the hills. Just when you think your legs can’t take it anymore you begin flying down Cherry Street. If you’re smart or even remotely worried about your knees you have to reign in the speed and run the downhill safely.

The downhill is deserved, but it’s over quickly and then back up you go…not a huge hill around mile 5, but a hill nonetheless. It flattens out for the rest of the last mile and then the last turn is in sight. You turn that corner and can’t help but smile as you pass the raucous crowd wildly cheering outside of Griffin’s Pub. The finish line is less than a quarter mile away, but between you and the end is the infamous “Bitch Hill.” Doing that finish line sprint is tough when you have to run uphill even the slightest bit, but there are throngs of supporters waving beer, jello shots, and a variety of other beverages. You have to give it your all, but your legs are screaming at this point. Despite my best efforts and a solid push at the end I did not accomplish my sub-one hour A goal. I finished this year in 1:01:16.

Not my best year, but many enjoyed a great race. The men’s winner, Mourad Marofit, from Morocco set the course record with a time of 28:37. The female winner, Ethiopian runner Etalemahu Habtewold, also set a course record finishing in 32:50.

My friends did great. We all met after the race. They were full of excitement. I was really proud of them. And then there was my husband. He hasn’t run more than a few times since his last race, the Bridge of Flowers 10K in August. He finished in 51:59! Amazing!! He kills me. I would give anything to just jmp into a race and run that kind of a time.

This brings me to a recent conflict in my feelings. I have a friend who runs casually and has never run a race longer than a 10K. She is speedy. I see her 7 minute miles on Map My Run and she usually finishes Holyoke in about 50 minutes. So two days before a local half she texted me to announce she was running it, her longest run was a 10 mile run just the day before. I wished her well, but of course the green monster began stirring deep down. On the afternoon of the race I texted to find out how the race went. She killed it of course and ran her first half, untrained in under 1:56 during incredibly challenging weather conditions. It was cold and very windy that day. I sent her a sincere congratulations.

She texted back to say that she was seriously considering running an upcoming local marathon on May 1st. She figures if she can get in a few long runs before the event she will be fine. I had to pause before replying as the green monster of envy began rearing it’s extremely ugly head. At first I wanted to offer some words of wisdom about marathon training from a 5 time marathoner, but while that may be true I may never be able to run a half in under 1:56. I require extensive training for half and full marathons, but there are obviously people who are natural runners like my friend and my husband. In the end I replied by saying I was certain she would run an amazing race and I wished her luck. Shame on me for feeling jealous of her success. It makes me a little crazy to work so damn hard training for races only to watch some people jump right in there as though it’s nothing more than a walk in the park.

Any thoughts?

 

 

 

Orlando called me a little after 6am. It was snowing. A late April Fool’s by Mother Nature perhaps. I assumed he was calling to tell me he was on his way home. He’s currently working on a building project at Yale University which is about 75-90 minutes from our house depending on the day. Traffic in Connecticut is thick at times and days like today make for an even more unpredictable commute. 

His voice was soft and shaky. Something was wrong. He seemed to be gasping for air and then he said “oh Aim, I just got into a bad accident!” My heart sank into my stomach. His car started sliding and he swerved to avoid sliding into a tractor trailer truck. Instead he kept sliding and slammed head on into the concrete median to the left of the commuter lane. I have no idea how no one hit him as his truck remained undriveable cockeyed in the commuter lane.  He said people kept driving around him. No one stopped. 

I kept him talking while I planned. I’m incredibly calm in these situations which you might not think if you know me. Orlando had called 911 but nothing. The accident happened around 5:40am and it was nearly 6:20. I called 911. Finally over an hour after the accident a state trooper came. He was given a $130 citation for speeding in poor weather conditions and then the trooper left while Orlando waited for the tow truck to come. Yes cited! Even if Orlando had a lead foot like me sometimes he would not have been using it on a snowy, slick morning like today. Besides that no police officer was at the scene so how could the trooper have made such an assessment?

I had to pick him up about 45 minutes away from our house. By the time I got there he was cold, tired and very shaken up. I took him to the ER. The airbag had deployed thankfully and he appeared uninjured, but you don’t know for sure. He’s doing well. Resting and taking ibuprofen. 

Orlando was remorseful about losing the 2008 Toyota Tacoma he purchased back in February and played the woulda shoulda coulda game a lot today. I should have turned around. I could have stayed home. The truck is mangled and most likely totaled, but the truck saved his life. Had it been his old smaller pickup truck with a gazillion miles and the high probability of no airbags he would have been badly injured or worse.  

   

Instead he is right here next to me. 

We get so darn busy with work and other obligations, mostly work though, and we forget what’s truly important. Orlando and I are such dedicated employees and we are also dedicated to preparing responsibly for our futures so we work hard ensure that one day we might live a comfortable retirement. We lose sight sometimes of how none of it matters if one of us doesn’t make it to retirement. Trucks can be replaced and so can jobs, but people can’t. 

I’m off to enjoy some quiet time with my husband. The rest of the work will get done eventually. 

Valley Veg Fest Discussion

Today I will be leading a discussion at the Valley Veg Fest. The program description of the session looks like this:

Vegan Blogs– Sharing Information to Support Others – with Aimee Racicot

If you’d like to find some good vegan blogs and websites that provide accurate information and aren’t trying to sell you something, Aimee will help steer you in the direction of reliable, helpful resources for plant based eating, nutrition and living.

Aimee Racicot is a nurse case manager and behavioral health nurse in Western Massachusetts. Motivated by health reasons and the birth of her son in 2006 she changed her diet and discovered a love of running. In October she completed her 5th marathon. Aimee is currently working on a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from The T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell.  Aimee’s own blog about running and her experiences is called Amazing in Motion.

I am feeling a bit nervous even though I could talk about this topic all day. I don’t typically have anyone who is willing to discuss though! I hope people will come by to check out the event. It features many local businesses, food vendors, and a great deal of interesting information.

 

 

If you’re in the Western Massachusetts, Northampton area come by.