Chasing Reindeer

December is a hectic time of the year.  The sudden realization of how many days left before Christmas makes us a desperate lot, and then there’s all the great traditions of the season which must be carried out.  One, the annual hauling up out of the basement of the lights, ornaments, tree stand, fake garlands of spruce and pine, the statue of Father Christmas looking resplendent in fur collar and slightly scraggly white beard, sleigh bells to hang on the front door, and the stockings to hang over the fireplace.  I always seem to miss the mild days of opportunity to hang the lights outside, and wind up trying to get my hands to work on a cold, windy day, dangling dangerously under the eave of the porch to string the icicle lights.  First is the challenge of untangling the strings, which I was sure I put away last year in an orderly coil, but somehow, I suppose due to their boredom in the basement, become intricately woven together in a free=form, almost spiteful, version of macrame.  Having laid them out, finally, on the porch, tested them to be sure I have a live string, I pick out the working strands to hang.  Of course, I’ll spend thirty minutes with a strand that won’t work, trying to figure out which of the one thousand bulbs is out and needs replacing, only to fail completely, throw out that strand, and move on.  The “icicles” of the new replacement strand, fresh out of the box, are contracted up and won’t hang down naturally no matter how much I tug on them.  Hmmm…., anyway, I proceed to get them up on last years’ nails, starting at one side of the porch and making my way around the perimeter.  Then, there’s the moment I bring them to life, ala Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, with a little drum roll in my head, as I plug in the extension cord.  Yes!, I say to myself, they’re all working!  Not to last, though, as sure as reindeer can fly, one or more of those strands will fail, creating a dark space in the icicle light line up, giving the house a certain trailer park chic appeal.  Of special note, this year my son and daughter did the work, and somehow, they managed to get the lights up and working better than I’ve ever  been able.

The next major task involves finding a tree.  We can usually find a tree to our liking at any one of many spots selling them in our area.  We like  a nice, full spruce, tall to look proportional in our old house with the high ceilings.  I am amazed at how that tree can be forced through the chute with branches held in by the web of plastic around it, but it makes for easy transport.  We prepare a space for the tree in our parlor, rearranging the furniture to allow for this gargantuan icon of the season.  Getting it up in it’s stand is a bit of difficulty, although not too hard.  We then cut open the binding web and watch as the branches unfurl.  Hopefully, we’ve given adequate space to those branches, and they don’t take out any eyes or things hanging on the wall.  My wife is particularly good at taking out branches and trimming up the edges, to make it look just right without having been obviously altered.  If I were to try that, I know it would come out looking like a victim.  Putting up the lights and ornaments is certainly one of the most pleasurable things to do, although it doesn’t hurt to have some Christmas music playing and a steady flow of beer or enhanced eggnog to allow us to appreciate the moment.

Our gift buying is a combination of guesswork and direct grilling of the subject to see what we should wrap and put under the tree.  I’ve certainly turned to more on-line buying these last few years.  Nothing satisfies me more than to be able to avoid the mall parking lot.  I had the opportunity to visit a high-end purveyor of home goods a week ago, in Philadelphia, to return an unfortunate on-line purchase.  I thought I was getting a steal, paying $40 for a coffee maker of good name, good pedigree.  It turned out it made weak coffee much less flavorful than our old, ugly Mr. Coffee, so I took it to the “bricks and mortar” store to return it.  The store was filled with high-end Christmas shoppers, examining carefully a $35 set of ice tongs, or listening to a slick presentation of why they really need to spend upwards of $1200 to get that perfect cup of coffee Christmas morning.  No wonder my purchase was so incredibly wrong.  I misplaced the decimal point by two positions.  Regardless, and without shame, I brought that machine to the counter asked to return it.  “Had it been used?” the woman behind the counter asked.  “Yes, that’s how I know it makes bad coffee,” I replied.  With a dour look, and without even asking if everything was in the box, she took it back and gave me a refund.  I suspect it is going in the trash, as it can’t possibly be worthy of repackaging.  My favorite real shopping experience at Christmas time, though, is visiting Barnes and Noble.  It’s busy, but not so busy one can’t move about in the store, see what the new novels and biographies look like, pick up a real book and thumb through it, get a few laughs in the humor section, examine the games and puzzles, and look through the calendars.  I went yesterday, and was quite pleased to not only find the books I was looking for, but to have had an uplifting time doing so.

Another tradition is the annual office gift carousel.  I always give my secretary a nice, large spiral cut ham.  While this may seem a throwback to some industrial age era of Dickensian mindset, I see it as a true thank you for all she’s done for me this year.  She has my back, so to speak, and anticipates my daily struggles.  She fends off attacks from the flanks and calms worried callers.  There are a thousand things she does to make my life better, and I’d like her and her family to have a nice, tasty meal to show for it.  Perhaps originating with the writer Dorothy Parker, the definition of eternity is two people and a ham.  So that’s the best part of office gift giving.  We also give the rest of the office staff home-baked small cakes, lemon-poppy, pumpkin, pecan and apple, and they all seem to like them very much.  This year my daughter did the baking, and word at the office was, they couldn’t tell the difference from the ones my wife made in years past, so that is high praise.  For my partners, there is a tradition of trading wine bottles.  Not fancy wine, not special wine, just whatever is convenient to grab a case of at the moment.  It has become an obligatory, drab exercise, made slightly better by the underlying humor of seeing your name on a sticky note attached to the bottle in place of a real gift card.  Personally, I can’t just buy a cheap, mass produced bottle with a kangaroo on the label, so I do look for something unique and special, without spending a lot, but I’m not sure whether that translates to appreciation of the wine.

With all the rushing around trying to get things done in time to settle down and truly enjoy the holiday season, when do we run?  Well, there’s nothing wrong with backing off some of the intensity of training at this time of year to let the old bones and joints recover.  Yet, we still need to keep up with the base.  Running in the dark is challenging and dangerous, but there’s little daylight when one can run, especially since work doesn’t stop.  Dressed up for a run, I look like a miner, with my headlamp and reflective chest-wear.  When I see the rest of the runners in our Wednesday night run heading down the street, and see the reflection off the gear from a car’s headlight, they do stand out, though, as they should.

As this year closes, I’d like to thank my family for all their support in keeping me going in running and all my pursuits.  I’d like to thank the members of my running  club, South Jersey Athletic Club, for their terrific motivational support and companionship.  And, I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers, whose blogs I have been following, for their posts with clever writing, beautiful photos, and inspiration.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and we’ll catch up in the new year, when plans for our next marathon adventure will be laid out.


Two Weeks to Philly! And a little diversion over the bridge.

Ben Franklin Bridge

Photo from 2007 Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge.  Our race 11/4/12 was just as bright and sunny.

There has been a lot going on this past week.  The week started out with a storm unlike any we’ve seen for decades hitting the east coast.  Hurricane Sandy and it’s aftermath has been devastating for so many, particularly in New Jersey and New York.  It was a wide ranging storm, without terribly high winds, but the flooding, downed trees, loss of power, and then the difficulty of getting life back to normal has effected millions, and is still a major problem for many.  My son described watching transformers on telephone poles in New Brunswick creating an eerie light show Monday night as they blew up all over the city.  The New York City marathon, scheduled for Nov. 4, was initially planned to go as scheduled.  Then, it was cancelled, after 40,000 runners had already arrived in the city.  But, the fact that so many New Yorkers still had no power, were living in shelters, were lining up at gas stations to receive a ration of gasoline, and were huddled around power strips in order to charge their cell phones, plus many other hardships, made a compelling argument to cancel the marathon.  Brandon, a friend of mine who was planning to run New York, found an alternative marathon the same day, the Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Marathon, in Northampton, Pennsylvania, along the upper Lehigh River.  Apparently, they got a big influx of runners from New York, with their numbers swelling from 500 last year, their inaugural year, to 850 this year, before they closed registration.  Quite a difference from the 47,000 scheduled to run NYC.

In my town, fortunately, the hurricane left very few without power, and life got back to normal quickly.  There were some intense controversies.  Halloween was postponed by mandate from Governor Christie to Nov. 5.  But, our mayor decided to override the governor, and held Halloween on Friday, Nov. 2.  I admit to some surprise, driving home from work, expecting to be able to go to the grocery store and pick up some heavily discounted bags of M&M’s and mini Milky Ways in preparation for Monday, only to see droves of costumed kiddies and their into-it parents already making the house to house rounds.  In our two neighboring towns, Halloween was to be held Saturday and Monday respectively.  How confusing.

Meanwhile, my training for Philadelphia went on.  My second taper in six weeks, and I’m feeling fairly confident that I’ll at least finish the marathon.  The last two weeks were my last long runs, first a 22.8 miler two weeks ago, then last week, I joined up with about 30 other runners planning to do Philly for a 20 mile training run put on by CitySports in Philadelphia.  They organized us into pace groups, provided pace runners, had a water station set up at the Philadelphia Sports Club on 18th and Market, and provided water, Philadelphia pretzels (for the salt?)  and a bit of swag, with a nice CitySports bag and coupon.  It was fun getting together with other runners not part of my usual group, all training for the same race.

This past Sunday was the annual running of the Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge 10k, which starts on the Camden side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, goes across the bridge to Philadelphia and back, then runs through the streets of Camden, past the battleship USS New Jersey, then back along the Delaware to the finish line in Campbell’s Field, home of the Atlantic League Camden Riversharks.

Start of Run the Bridge

Among the early leaders heading uphill at the start, out of 4500 total runners, are Dave Stewart and Rich Wright of the SJAC.

The first mile of the race makes you humble as it heads up the bridge.  But then you head down the other side of the bridge, making the turn in front of the whimsical statue of a kite in the air and  a key on the string, an homage to Ben.  Then, it’s back up the bridge again then down, then finally, for the last 3 miles or so, the route is almost completely flat.

Dave Stewart, SJAC

Dave Stewart of SJAC, still way ahead of the pack, coming back from the Philadelphia side of the bridge.

My race was a bit less speedy than Dave (okay, a lot!), but still respectable.  I wasn’t sure how hard to push, given that I’m planning to run a marathon in two weeks.  I decided to just run it as I would any race, and let the chips fall as they may.

Frank caught in a surprisingly decent shot by Ed, on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Frank (yours truly) heading down the second leg of the Ben Franklin Bridge, and waving, naturally, to the camera.

It turned out to be a great day for a race.  While a little chilly at the start, especially waiting in the shaded part of Campbell’s Field before heading out to the start, once we started out, with the bright sun the 40 degree temperature wasn’t bad at all.  Just about everyone I spoke with after the race agreed that it was a great day for a 10K.  After the race, a group of us from the SJAC got together for breakfast at the British Chip Shop in Haddonfield.  Our initial intention was to watch the New York City Marathon, but after it was cancelled, we decided we could have breakfast anyway, and enjoy talking about our race, eat bubble and squeak or an Irish omelet, and have a spot of tea.

The SJACers have brunch after the Run the Bridge 10K at the British Chip Shop.

This restaurant shows live coverage of the English football matches,  but our crowd was oblivious to the TV, and had a great time chatting and talking of upcoming races.


Whoa, this wasn’t supposed to happen (Sandy, that is).

Rain from hurricane Sandy

It’s raining, but Hurricane Sandy’s full force has yet to take effect.

One thing I’ve found fascinating, and sometimes discouraging, is the way we sign up for a marathon many months in advance, start the training program about four months before the race, and have no idea what may befall us during that time.  Right now, it’s hurricane Sandy which is disrupting our smooth passage to the Philly marathon, Nov. 18.  It’s also one week before the New York City marathon, and a few of our club members are running that race.  With one week to go for NYC, a forced couple of non-running days may be just what they need to be in top form.

Where I live in South Jersey, minutes from Philadelphia, we are, as the forecasters have noted, in the “cross-hairs” of the hurricane.  As a hunter, that implies intent, as if we are the target.  In fact, it is the joining of weather forces, with a waxing moon and rising tides, that steers this particularly enormous weather system directly towards us and makes it so threatening.  Not very long ago, around 1960, the first successful weather satellites were launched which allowed tracking and predictions of hurricanes’ paths.  Before then, barometers and reports from the Caribbean were harbingers of a storm, with little predictability of which way the storm would go.  Our house was built in 1884.  I imagine at that time, a storm of this nature would be devastating, with no hint of it’s arrival.  It is humorous, though, to see what is going on at Lowe’s and at the grocery store in terms of preparedness.  At Lowe’s, they were completely out of “D” batteries, for powering flashlights, I guess, although other appliances come to mind.  Plenty of AA or AAA, though.  I noted a good number of customers buying a garden hose and a pump.  I’m not sure if the pump was plug-in or manual, but good luck to them who need to pump out the water with that limited device.  We were at Lowe’s for a new washing machine, since ours died.  Not many folks shopping in our side of the store yesterday.  At the local Acme and at Lowe’s, customers were carting away enormous plastic-wrapped bundles of 0.5 L water bottles containing 50-100 bottles per bundle.  I can see a use for this.  If the water level gets very high, one can empty the water bottles, put the caps back on, and create a raft by tying the bundles together.  If one is concerned about the water supply, another, perhaps saner approach, would be to put water from the tap into available containers at home, but that means not contributing to the economy, so never mind.

We did a check of all our outdoor areas, for loose furniture, potted plants and other objects that might take flight in the storm.  Of major concern around here is the possibility of trees coming uprooted as the ground soaks and the winds rise.  We have a few tall trees close to our house, hopefully strong, and also hopefully protected from the full force of the wind by being between houses.  Our tallest tree menaces were taken down in the last few years, having lived to about 100, and starting to drop large branches indiscriminately.

My hospital was closed for all but emergencies today, so no elective procedures.  The trains are not running into Philadelphia.  The bridges are staying open unless sustained winds up to 70 miles per hour hit, then they will close.  At the moment, it is fairly windy, with a steady fine rain blowing sideways, covering areas usually under cover with a wet sheen, and creating large puddles around the leaves raked into the streets.  The township was supposed to do an emergency leaf removal yesterday, but I didn’t see it happening.  The center of the storm is due to hit New Jersey around midnight tonight.  I think our offices will remain closed tomorrow, since this storm has not yet peaked, and is cruising at a very conversational pace, to relate it to running.  By the traffic I see from my window at home, plenty of folks are braving the weather.  I am taking this opportunity to catch up on things I say I will do, but can’t seem to find the time.  Hopefully, by at the latest, Wednesday, we’ll be able to get out there and hit the pavement.

I hope all of our neighbors, i.e. the whole eastern seaboard, remain safe and dry.

Uncorking Croatia


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