Wednesday, June 25, 2008

before and after II

the labor: harvesting strawberries in the fields of North Haven
reaping the fruits: there's nothing like home-made strawberry milk! (except, of course, Quik)

before and after

"Mommy, I wanna go on the tire swing!"
"Wheee! Tire swing fun!"

"I don't feel so well. . . ."

peanuts and crackerjacks

Summer in our house means lots of baseball, and here's how our little enthusiasts are responding:

Despite looking like a devoted citizen of Red Sox Nation in the above photo, Dylan's favorite activity is pretending to be Derek Jeter. He's wearing his glove right now as he watches TV, and he'd probably wear it in the bathtub if he could. So, given Jeter's sportsmanlike nature (yeah, I said it), and Dylan's mild demeanor, I was a little surprised at where his imagination took him the other day. He ran into the house with his glove and ball and said, "Mom! You know your favorite pitcher on the Cincinnati Reds?"

He meant Bronson Arroyo, who used to play for the Sox, and on whom I have a bit of a crush. I nodded.

"Well, he just got knocked down by a ball that Derek Jeter hit!"

"Dylan!" I said, surprised. "That's not very nice."

He looked confused. "But Derek Jeter didn't mean to. He didn't know where the ball would go!"

"But Dylan," I reminded him, "you made the story up." He had no response to that one. No word yet on Arroyo's condition.

Today, when I went to pick Alexa up from daycare, Miss Ann told me that they had been talking about friends: friends' names, favorite friends, what it means to be a friend, etc. When asked who were her favorite friends, Alexa replied, "Morgan, and Josh Beckett." Who knew? Maybe she can get me Red Sox tickets.

for the love of dog

Studies have shown that pet-owners live longer, happier lives. Apparently, the joy one experiences from petting a dog, snuggling with a cat, or caressing a ferret (?) triggers the "happiness" chemical, which in turn reduces stress, which in turn contributes to one's longevity. And I get this, I do: what's better than consistently being greeted by a panting, exuberant, ridiculously jiggly pup? And black labs, in my experience, make great running partners.

So here's how my dog brought me joy yesterday: I arrived home from strawberry picking to find chewed-up foil packets scattered about the floors. It took me a moment to discern what they had once been. A quick investigation proved that they were packets of sweet, sugary, sticky (this being the operative word here) flavoring for coffee, accessories for the Flavia instant coffee machine we received as a gift a couple of years ago. These packets were stashed in a box underneath three other boxes in our extra bedroom. They've been stacked there for at least a year, and we generally leave this door open.

Let me backtrack a bit to tell you how I had spent the previous day. While Alexa napped and Dylan read books on the couch, I put on the gloves (well, not really) and did a relatively thorough cleaning (for me) of the extra bedroom in preparation for some guests who will be arriving on Saturday. I moved bags and boxes to the basement, washed and vacuumed the carpets, rearranged furniture. At the end of the day, I proudly displayed my work for Bryan, who was visibly impressed with the room.

Back to our life-enriching pet. Something must have been in the air on Tuesday, something that smelled enticingly like vanilla and chocolate and Snickers. And what was in the air ended up in Sasha's teeth, and then, of course, all over the carpet, so that walking in the extra bedroom was like wading through a marvelous sticky morass. And oh, how I expressed my joy in that moment!

To many more years of dog-owning bliss!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

it's official: the boy is a convert

On Sunday, Dylan took his Dad to "Ankees" Stadium for his birthday. It was about 102 degrees in the Bronx, but Dylan was a real trooper. It was painful for me to have to play a role in Dylan's conversion, but I thought he should see the original Yankee Stadium with his Dad before it gets torn down.
And it was bat day! So, Dylan made off with a fancy Louisville Slugger, his new favorite toy (watch out, Alexa!). This photo conveys the effects of the heat rather than Dylan's excitement, but you get the idea.
Now I'm no Yankees fan, but Derek Jeter does have a nice, um, uniform, doesn't he?

if you build it, they will come

For the past several months, the residents of Cheshire have been watching the construction of a new playground next to the town pool with eager anticipation. A few weeks ago, the playground finally opened, with much pomp and circumstance, and man, did people come! The Cheshire Herald reported that 800 people showed up to the ribbon cutting (we were included in that number).

I know, I know: a lot of hoopla for a playground, you're thinking. But what a playground! Most of the funds came from companies and private donors, and it was great to see so many folks come together with a common interest: a safe (but not obsessively so), friendly, and enclosed play place for kids--active kids.
The climbing wall looks so real you expect to see water trickling through the crevices. This, and the spider web (below) are, by far, Dylan's favorite attractions. He's a pretty natural climber, so this is definitely the park for him.
The spider web is actually quite tall, so tall that when Dylan made his first full ascent, I was biting my nail and trying to disguise my rising sense of panic as my mind calculated the potential damage to a 4-year-old body. But he was extremely proud, and yelled to everyone who could hear, "Look at me! I'm at the top!"

With gas at 4.35 a gallon in this area, and with the park in walking distance, I'm pretty sure we'll be hanging out here a lot this summer. And did I mention the town pool is right next door? So, instead of going to Colorado as originally planned, we'll be staycationing at Bartlem Park (and spending a week at a cabin in Vermont--ahhhhhh. Can't wait).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

nipmuck trail marathon: a gathering of friendly die-hards

Warning: It is possible to get a serious injury in this race. If you run recklessly you'll increase your chances but even if you are careful it's still possible to get tripped up or slip on something. This could result in an immobilizing injury that could put you a few hours away from medical attention. It could mean expensive medical care and an extended period of time away from work. To run this race you have to accept full responsibility for what happens to you. If you don't have health insurance don't do this race. No matter how careful you are plan on falling.
(excerpt from NipMuck Trail Marathon application)
On Sunday, June 1, I ran my first trail marathon: 26.4 miles on the NipMuck Trail in northeastern Connecticut. This year marked the race's 25th year anniversary, and some of the runners looked as though they had been running it since its inception: in the last third of the race, I caught up to a lean, muscular, grey-haired fellow who informed me that he had recently celebrated his 79th birthday. And it took me four hours to catch up to him. Hope I'm still dodging roots and rocks and landing softly in muck when I'm approaching my octogenarian age!
This photo of the inside of the port-a-potty, taken by running photographer Scott Livingston, really captures the spirit of the race. Race director "NipMuck Dave" brings an in-your-face humor to the event that keeps die-hard trail fanatics coming back. The application declares that "All complaints about getting lost will be laughed at." Fortunately, the trail is very clearly marked, and Dave manages to round up scores of volunteers who really make the event possible. Many, many times during the race I thought I was done; my legs would lock up in protest and insist they couldn't take me another step. A few minutes later, I would stumble upon an aid station, load up on Gatorade, potatoes, bananas, and chocolate, and somehow I would get through another hour.
A trail marathon has been an aspiration of mine ever since I discovered that such things existed, which I think was back when I was living in Anchorage and hiked Crow Pass, the site of the infamous Crow Pass Crossing, a trail marathon rife with black bears and bees and water crossings. I never did run that marathon, and at this point probably never will, but NipMuck was an incredibly exhilarating--if excruciating-- experience. Trail races are, in my experience, more informal affairs than road races: they have to be, as the measurements are inevitably imprecise, a runner's performance is subject to any number of obstacles, from twisted ankles to wildlife to slippery rocks, and it's even possible to lose your way, in spite of the bright blue blazes. After a few hours, you begin to hallucinate a bit, and it's easier than one might think to get turned around. But the genuine camaraderie that one encounters on the trail gives an exhausted runner a mental push. While it is a race, and folks are vying for position, the runners look out for one another, so you never feel as though you are out there alone.
The application states that if you add an hour to your slowest marathon time, you'll get a rough estimate of your NipMuck Marathon time. This was pretty true for me: I managed to finish in 4:54, which allowed me to meet my goal of running in under five hours. But holy hell! I was more tired and sore than I have ever been in any other marathon, including Boston, which always does me in. When I called Bryan to tell him I'd made it out alive, I was biting my lip to keep from crying. But when it was over I proudly carried my souvenir trophy--a piece of wood with a blue blaze painted on it and a laminated piece of paper that read "25th Annual NipMuck Trail Marathon--to the car and drove my aching body home.
When I ran my first marathon, my friend Amos said, when it was over, "Now you never have to do that again!" I felt that way immediately following NipMuck, but now I'm starting to think about shunning all road races and sticking exclusively to the trails. So maybe another NipMuck will make the race calendar. We'll see how I feel when I recover. . . .