Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Requiem for the Hooptie - Weston, MA

Hooptie looking pretty good, no?

 Hooptie: [noun] A car, especially an old or dilapidated one. 

Today I am saying goodbye to my hooptie, my 2003 Acura TL. It has around 125,000 miles on it, and would be capable of more if the cost of ball joints, brakes (front and back) and a seriously damaged body didn't largely overwhelm the current value of the car. It is one of two cars in my driving life that have had personalities that make me mourn their moving on. My moving on.

The first car was one I got in college. It was a used car, a Toyota Corolla hatchback. It was unstoppable on the New England roads and took me to Acadia National Park where it earned its name of Eliot, for the mountain that once bore that moniker (I believe Eliot Mountain's name was changed to a native name a few years back). Eliot took me to California after college and we spent a few years looking for parking in Nob Hill and Cow Hollow neighborhoods. I used to love telling people that I was leaving with Eliot for the weekend if I wanted to get out of a party. "Sorry, Eliot and I have plans." Sadly, Eliot had to move on when I went to graduate school--the Chicago winter was his undoing. 

Many Hondas and Toyotas and Volvos (and even a really fun VW Golf) and BMWs (yeah, I did like that convertible, and the red one was super fun too) followed but none of them made me smile when I crossed the parking lot. No, that was reserved for the hooptie. Why did it make me smile? Because it had history--family history. 

We moved from Brazil to the US in the summer of 2014 and quickly had to buy a big SUV for our primary (and only) car. In the fall, my second family (my parents' closest friends growing up, and the daughters are my two closest friends) sold their family home. There was lots of stress and sadness as we helped close up the house and scatter the belongings. One of the items left on the last day was their car, a dark blue 2003 Acura TL with 110,000 miles, a massive amount of dings and dents and a ripped front driver seat where my second father had sat down with a pruner in his back pocket.  The car's tan interior was filthy with dirt, grime and lots and lots of unidentifiable objects. After a brief conversation with my husband, we decided to buy it as our "station car"--the car that we leave at the train station, park in bad neighborhoods when it's cheaper when the goods ones, or have as a back-up car in case the kidmobile (aka truck-like SUV) is busy. 

Hard to see but that be a hole in the front seat next to the seatbelt

And so I didn't expect to love this beat-up car. Until I did. And that was pretty much the first day. Because in spite of its nasty little exterior, its early 90s self, the hooptie (we started calling it that right away to differentiate it from the SUV, which is the same make) is seriously fun to drive. It accelerates as well as its younger brother, it brakes well, it has all the fancy safety features...and it loves a curvy road. We've got that here in Weston! 

My dad spent a lot of time filling in scratches with the matching blue paint. He weather-proofed the trunk which leaked. He and my mom also loved driving the hooptie as it was much like their car (a year younger) at home. Everyone loved the hooptie who knew the hooptie. Or if they didn't, they made sure not to tell me. The kids and I liked to drive the hooptie with the windows down yelling the lyrics for Nikki Miraj's Starships: "jumped in the hooptie-hooptie-hoop, I own that! I ain't paid my rent this month, I owe that." We are extremely popular in Weston. 

I cannot help but smile when I see that dented car across the parking lot, parked amongst Weston's Volvos, Porsches, BMWs and Teslas. If I feel like a driver has parked like a jerk, I tend to park the hooptie as close to them as possible. After all, a ding isn't going to hurt me! My husband and I planned to let the kids learn to drive on the hooptie in 6 years. We knew that car could make it to 200K. Until it didn't.

Let's see...Volvo, Volvo, Porsche Cayenne...hooptie! What makes me smile!

We aren't trading in the hooptie, but rather donating it to a non-profit. I can only hope its replacement can make me smile. Yes, another used car, but so far, no personality. I am not allowed to tell you what we will be driving tomorrow because my sons want to ghost people from it and don't want people to identify it as ours. 

Tomorrow the hooptie loses its plates and its rights to road. Today, we ride.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Coal starts a new journey - Weston

It’s difficult for me to admit defeat, and I have to. Coal, the most gorgeous dog in the world, is beyond my abilities, at least at this moment in my life.  Coal, formerly Colton, formerly street dog of Arkansas, rescued by the amazing people at Big Fluffy Dog Rescue in Tennessee, beloved dog of metro west Boston for the last two years, was re-homed yesterday. It is a wonderful home but it is not mine.

In September of 2014, my family fostered Colton, a theoretically 2-year-old black lab mix. We had recently lost our 14-year old Labrador named Caju, while we still had Haifa, our 12 year old retired breeding Labrador, rescued two years earlier. Coal or Cole, depending on which of my 8 year old twins you spoke with, came to us a skinny, malnourished 50 pound dog. He was our first non pure-bred dog ever, our second rescue but the first from the streets. The rescue organization guessed his age at 2 years but we came to believe that he was more like a year when we got him. He was very puppy.

It was a rocky start--he is a smart dog and learned from his puppy training quickly and loved his crate. He was not a huggable dog, but became more affectionate with time.  He turned out to be treat-aggressive—growling and snarling at my kids and even me when he got a high-value bone. He twice bit one of my kids—once when he did not want to share his couch, and once when my son and Coal were sitting at my feet while I ate an apple. He did not break the skin either time, but he broke my trust. 

I realize now, 2 1/2 years later, that my lack of trust in Coal is ultimately what doomed him from staying with us. I was always wary—always watching when my sons or other kids approached him, or when he had a treat. I took Coal to weeks of training, graduate puppy and outdoor adventures, and he grew healthy and beautiful. He now weighs 65 pounds and his glossy black coat is enviable. He puts a head on your lap when you are eating, soulfully trying to meet your eyes. He loves his crate, understands his Invisible Fence boundary (except when there are large deer to chase) and walks delicately on leash.

Until he doesn’t. And that is becoming more frequent. When on leash, he now lunges and charges dogs even across the street. He does not snarl or growl. In some sad way, I think that Coal wants to socialize but he simply does not know how. When off-leash, he tends to try to bat the other dog in the face, or jump on its back—never popular whether the dog is female or male. If the other dog growls, or reacts, then we have a big problem. Gnashing teeth, once a bite on the shoulders of my neighbor’s hapless Labrador who happened to want to keep his stick when Coal tried to get it. That cost us a vet bill and some hard feelings when the neighbor had to report which dog had done it. Yes, Coal has a record. He has bitten four dogs--all events related to his resource guarding (a euphemism is that he gets crazy over food).

Treat and food aggressiveness has reached a new height when we adopted a 10 month old puppy a month ago. Within one week, the puppy had stolen a sweet potato from the produce bin and Coal decided he wanted it, ripping an inch-long gash in Katie’s neck. Along with the physical scars, Katie is now frightened, of him, of some people, of loud noises. 

Even before Katie, I had spent many a night awake at 2 am worrying. Worrying what to do if he bit another dog in the woods, whether we should go earlier or later to avoid people. What if a friend came over with a dog and Coal got crazy and bit the dog, or whatever other creature. He almost killed the same neighbor’s cat, he stalked a friend's chickens looking for a way in.The prey drive is natural to the terrier, and Coal is part terrier. He has killed at least three unmourned chipmunks.

I love this dog. I love him so much I am going to give him up to someone who can spend the time he needs to get well in the head. I have made him better physically, and emotionally as he knows that he is loved. I still can't believe I have to give him away, but deep in my heart I know it is right for him, and for my family.

Coal, my golden foxxier (tested DNA is golden retriever, foxhound and terrier), has gone to live now with his dog sitter Laura. When I told her I had to find him a new home because I was not the right owner for him, she immediately said “I’ll take him.” Because she is wonderful, and Coal is wonderful, and with her he will find resolution I hope to his fear, for sure it must be such, of male dogs. I do think that Coal somehow sets off other dogs’ aggressiveness as well. Is it his erect tail? His color? He rarely starts a fight but he normally finishes it. 

So I cannot keep him.  I am not good for him. He is not right for my family. I guess I have to look at this as a 2 1/2 year foster dog. Giving him up rips a hole in my heart. There will be those who judge me for giving him up. I have no defense. I did my best and my best was not good enough. I think his best is still to come…with Laura. I now have to shut my mind from thinking and re-thinking what went wrong, what I could have done better. Coal has a wonderful home…with someone else. My kids are heartbroken, but we all will get better with time.

I must say a word for the great rescue organization, Big Fluffy Dog Rescue. When I first started talking with them about "returning" Coal, there was no judgement of my decision. They were ready to pick him up immediately. They would have found him an immediate foster, a long-term "right" home. They wanted only the details of the four dog aggressiveness acts so they could tell the next potential adopter. They will accept dogs back for the entire life of that dog--and in fact, it is in your contract that you return the dogs to them, not to a shelter. Laura has had to sign a contract with them for the same.

In the end, Coal, I will miss your head on my lap, your eyes searching my face to see if it is time for your walk.  I will miss you staring up into the sky at birds, at chipmunks, at wild turkeys. I will miss your crazy happy smiling run as you zoom along the park grass. I will miss you parking your beautiful furry body, with your back to me, asking for pets, but never hugs. I will miss everything about you…but what I could not change.

Godspeed, Coalie. You deserve the best. Which is not me. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Boogie Parenting - Ribeirão Preto, Brazil

Buggy aka "Boogie"

I'm not much of a helicopter parent. I grew up in my parents' school of "go have fun, be back when the porch bell rings, and if you're muddy, that's fine, just go clean it off." Yes, I wore a helmet when bike riding (at least until I got around the corner and out of sight of mom) and wore a seat belt and was pretty clear on right and wrong ways to get back at my older brother (sarcasm, yes; chop up his favorite blanket into small bits, no) but I had a wonderful, nature-filled and independent (to a point) childhood. Thanks, mom and dad! 

Now I try to do the same. I don't let the kids ride bikes without helmets, they don't get on a pony in any country without a helmet, and they won't own hoverboards or motorcycles in my lifetime. Yes, I will chase them down when they are 35 years old and on Harleys, and knock them off. I did not go through NICU bull-oney to have them splatter it all on a roadway.

That being said, I have been known to let them out of my sight. They disappear to neighbor's houses, to a town park across the street from a hotel in Vermont (that was not popular with the mother of the girl with whom they were playing) and I don't have a porch bell, nor really a porch, but maybe I shall invest in the former.  

And then I get to Brazil. And the "boogie". The "boogie" is really the "buggy" pronounced cutely in Portuguese. It makes me smile every time--"the kids are off in the booooogie"....yes, yes, they are. 

Interior of the boogie. Fancy, no? No engine cover.

The buggy is a deathmobile designed by lunatics, or possibly my inlaws. Just kidding. It runs on diesel or some kind of fuel that smells like you are going to blow up within seconds. It has no muffler, no environmental protection, emits gigantic mushroom clouds of thick grey smoke and seems a heartbeat from exploding at all times. It's possibly 40 years old, has marginal brakes and extremely tough manual steering. It is the most fun that two generations of BH's kids have ever had. I say two generations because almost 15 years separate my stepkids from my kids. Until they see the buggy.

15 years ago, I watched my stepkids roar around the farm with their uncle on its "seats"--currently thick-cut foam, but other iterations have been cardboard pieces and other flotsam--screaming with laughter, no helmets or seatbelts. I will have to find the photos when I get back to the US of my stepkids when they were small so I can put together a retrospective on the buggy (I hope you are all saying "boogie" in your minds).


So when I saw the yellow and rust colored buggy parked out back of the weekend house last week, I knew that the air was about to get a whole lot more polluted. And sure enough, the day after we arrived, my son Lalo disappeared out the back door with Marcos, the ranch manager for the last 20 years. Marcos is a calm presence who has adored my kids from day one, even as they break various items, mess up, well, everything, and make his day just a little bit tougher. He just smiles and fixes what's broken. I have no worries about Marcos, except for one: he finds Lalo, my kid who takes risks and lots of them, extremely hilarious. 

While eating my second piece of delicious French bread, the house was suddenly shaken by a sound roughly like 14 semi trailers simultaneously starting up and colliding at the same time. The air was filled with the smell of an oil refinery. Suppressing my helicopter thoughts, I sashayed down the hall in my moose pyjamas to see what was going on. Too late. In a cloud of dust and dung (one of my favorite lines from a Hobbit sendoff book), Marcos and Lalo were off--Marcos sitting up on top seat back and Lalo steering and working the iffy accelerator and brake. 

Off they went down the driveway, disappearing around the corner. I pretty much knew where they were from the cloud of smoke following the car, and they got suspiciously close to the roadway. No helmet. No seatbelt. Marcos. L.a.l.o. As in, who is in charge here? The big kid or the little kid?

Big Kid and Little Kid arrive back. With smoke cloud.

I refilled my coffee and Nico and I went to watch the arrival of the pair back on the driveway. While no good pictures exist of this moment, I cannot tell you the happy looks of Marcos and Lalo as they roared by. Nico had just finished saying "I want to go next!" when the buggy zipped across the lawn, and crashed into the only light pole on the whole property. Nico and I watched as the pole fell over as if in slow motion. [I have a video of this moment but I can't get it to load up--where are my teenagers when I need them?]

I started to laugh. Yeah, I'm a bad mommy. I didn't even know if someone had been hurt so it was not a good reaction. But the whole lightpole-in-slow-motion-crash was simply hilarious. It was like America's funniest home videos. Nico said immediately "I don't want to go anymore" and Lalo called out "I'm fine, mom" and Marcos was still moving so all's well that ends with a broken lightpole. And a buggy hood with a huge crevice in it. The steel bumpers were fine, by the way. The buggy is a champ.

Two hours later the lightpost was fixed (it was actually a rusty bolt that caused it to fall over) and the buggy had a new silver scar up its front hood. Unfortunately for the kids (and fortunately for everyone else) the temperamental buggy would not start again that day or the next. But it will be back, of that I am sure. It's indestructible. Much like my nerves.

Back to the US tonight. And helmets.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Re-re-patriation starts with soccer - São Paulo, Brazil

Lalo with the Palmeiras mascot, which is a parakeet (who plays pretty good soccer at halftime)

There is so much to say about my return to Brazil after 10 months away. I cannot possibly cover it in one blog. So, my first blog will cover the most important: soccer. 

That there is a joke: as some of you know from my old blog Brazil in My Eyes, I am not a soccer aficionado. There is a multitude of reasons for that, mostly to do with the play-acting, lack of replay fairness and well, too many tattoos. Seriously, calm it down, Messi, or there will be no real estate left on your body.

But of course, Messi is not ours; he is not Brazilian. So here in Brazil I cheer for Palmeiras, the team of my husband and his Italian family. Lots and lots of Italian-descent fans. Lots of emotion, lots of really interesting swears. Some are not as interesting swears. The most common one is used interchangeably with the words "the" or "a". In fact, I was first convinced that the team had not changed at all from when I last saw them two years ago: all of the players on the field have the last name: "filhodaputa". Miss a shot? :FDP! Ref misses a call "FDP!" My 9-year old caught on to all the swearing for the first time--at age 7, he didn't get it, but now the questions were fast and furious on "what does "caral**" mean? But I get ahead of myself.

The last time I was with the heroes in green, they were temporarily playing at Pacaembu, the world's cutest and most decrepit stadium. You can meet it here (my former blog) if you wish. I loved Pacaembu--the views of the city, the crumbling concrete seats, the Ionic columns at the front door. Alas, we have a big new stadium. Big. Beautiful. May I say it? It looks like a US stadium, except perhaps BETTER. 

So it's now the Allianz Parque Palestra Italia. Allianz is the German company which fronted the bucks, and Palestra Italia is the name of the old stadium. Directly translated I see that Palestra Italia is "Italian Lecture". I do not know the source of such a name, but it works for me--if this is an Italian lecture, I am buying. 

Listen, kids, there are CUSHIONED seats. We were about 20 rows up at midfield and I could see the players sweat. We were very close to the field. Not true at the old Pacaembu. True perhaps at the New England Revolution but only because they play at Gillette, which is not exactly a soccer stadium.  Also they have 20 fans so it's pretty easy to see. 

I have to say that getting into a soccer stadium in Brazil is one of my least favorite things. First you have to pass through massive masses of massing humanity. All wearing green or white. 95% males. All gathered on a side street buying cheaper beer out of coolers, snacking on questionable food (see the cat barbecue here), buying $10 knock-off soccer shirts (yep, we got one for Lalo) and milling about. Massing. Try keeping track of your small child in this. Skeery. No violence. Just lots of people. Lots. Last night's crowd in the stadium: 32,000. Outside the stadium, at least a couple thousand more. 

When you finally get to your gate, it's time for your "revision." I have grown used to being pat down by a female military police officer. Some are pretty rough, some, like the one last night, patted down my sides and waist and just said "have a good night!". Then run your fidelity card (yah, my husband is card-carrying loyal to the green ones) and zippy-zip, you're in!

When we got to our seats, most folks were already in. The teams had been introduced and it was time to stand for the Brazilian Anthem. Except it was not the Brazilian anthem. It was the Anthem on the big screens and on the speakers but the entire crowd sang "Palmeiras" along with all of the words. Seriously, a whole anthem with the words Palmeiras or Meu Palmeiras (my Palmeiras). The video I took was terrible but someone got a good one here. I thought the whole thing rather sacrilegious or disrespectful perhaps of the country's anthem, but I don't sing it anyway, so what do I care? I tried not to laugh too much.

My neighbor with Palmeiras and fire tattoos up and down his arm and a bicep bigger than my head sang very enthusiastically. He was quite a good chanter and singer the whole night. I liked him except when he accidentally elbowed me in the head after the third goal--then I literally saw stars. Here is the photo I thought was in focus when I took it but turns out I was very very fuzzy myself:

A lot of the chants have to do with pigs (Palmeiras' nickname) and pigsties. Then there's "Dá-lhe, porco" which I always hear as "Vale, porco" or thanks very much, pig. But I think it actually means "give them hell, pig". I should not be counted on as anyone's Portuguese teacher.

I will spare you all the play by play on the game. Suffice it to say that there are lots of good young players on the Palmeiras team of today, and my favorite "old guy" Prass is the only one I remember from two years ago. He is the goalie, and he just made the Brazil Olympic soccer team at age 37. Ah, there is one other old guy on the team, José Roberto, who at age 41, has LOTS of energy. Also, he has really good hair.

Jose Roberto. Great hair.

So Lalo made me choose my favorite player who is not Prass. Not sure why I wasn't allowed Prass as I actually own a Prass jersey but whatever. I had to choose a new guy. Just then, Jesus got a goal. Yes, it's true! My neighbor started yelling "Vai Jesus!!" (Go, Jesus!) and I thought, say, the Catholics have come out in numbers. Oh, there is a 19-year old player named Gabriel Jesus. He is now my favorite non-Prass. Who can resist yelling "Go, Jesus!"? Not me. 
Jesus. No, I am not swearing

Lalo chose an 18 year old named Roger Guedes. Yes, Roger. Why this strikes me as funny, I don't know. I now have a glass of wine while writing this so that may be why. Lalo chose Roger because he has blond hair...and yeah, he also is pretty good. Very good. He apparently got a couple of assists on goals but I was busy avoiding the elbow of doom from the neighbor. 

Roger Guedes. Does he look like Lalo? See below.

All right, so the game went on and on and on and we cheered and we swore and we jumped around, etc. At halftime they took out an inflatable pig with big teeth for a tour of the field (umm, what?) and the parakeet balanced a ball on his claws. Then our brand new player went out on the field and said hello. Mina, I think it is. Colombian, I think. Could not understand his intro video.

Okay, out of focus but that is a giant inflatable floating green pig with fangs.And Mina.  I've got nothing.

Game over (yeah, I skipped a bit). Palmeiras 4 - Figueirense 0. As we are filing out past a couple of long-time (ahem, older than 60 years) fans, the first man looks at Lalo and his blond hair and says "Roger Guedes!!! and Lalo looks a bit nervous. I said, yes, this is Roger's younger brother. The older guy's friend then looks at Lalo, grabs Lalo by both sides of his head and kisses the top of his head. Apparently by being blond, Lalo has saved the team. We walked out a bit faster.

Outside everything was ending in pizza (another blog post explains that phrase of "tudo acaba em pizza") and seriously it did. There were piles of pizza boxes, and people were buying them up and carrying them off to wait for the metro. God love a Palmeiras game and its Italian fans. But BH, the Brazilian husband, was after something else: "pernil" sandwiches. 
Pernil is ham but you have no idea how this sandwich is not an American ham sandwich. Warm ham chopped off the bone with a paint scraper (I am not kidding), shredded with same paint scraper, and served on a crusty roll with tomatoes and onions. O.M.G. All served out of the back of a tiny hatchback by a woman and her husband (he took drink orders--beer or Coke-- and moved around plastic stools for people to sit on). I cannot even begin to tell you the yum. 

And so we were off home in a taxi where we listened to the talk radio about the game and cracked jokes with the Palmeirense taxi driver about their rival team Corinthians. A really good time was had by all.

So happy to be back. More soon.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Stronger - Boston, MA

Boston Marathon 2016, Newton MA
Our family was invited to our first ever marathon-watching party a couple of weeks ago. Boston Marathon 2016, Patriot's Day, April 18. Our friends' house is in Newton, at about mile 19.5 of the 26.2 mile course, a half mile from the start of the so-called Heartbreak Hill. We brought a salad, some guacamole, some folding chairs and a big sign that said CAW! I'll get to that in a minute. 

The last Boston Marathon I watched was at Wellesley College way back in the middle of last century. Okay, not quite but it seems like that sometimes. Wellesley is situated about halfway through the marathon course and most students, having the day off for Patriot's Day (only in Massachusetts and even then there are those who don't get it--Harvard for one), come out to cheer the runners. 

Back in my day,  we just cheered by picking out things written on t-shirts--we yelled "Go, Maine" or "Go Blue" for the Michigan folks, or whatever was on their non-lycra shirts. Which reminds me: no one wears a cotton shirt anymore. Or shorts. Now we run in underpants. Is that bad for our environment? I mean lycra not underpants. But I digress. 

Now a lot of Wellesley women show up out on the streets with "Kiss me, I'm  XXXX" where "XXXX" might be Irish, bored or a senior. I don't love that but then again, I recognize I am old and don't know how to use snapchat nor want an unknown sweaty runner to kiss me. And they me, probably. Anyhoo.

One of my favorite races to watch (and run) is San Francisco's Bay to Breakers. Not a marathon, but a 12K from one shore to the other, and let's just say that clothing was optional when I ran it in 1991. I am guessing it is much the same. One guy cheering us on was fully clothed in the front, then turned around to show no back to his outfit, wagging his butt at us to motivate us. I did in fact run faster at that point. I miss San Francisco. No one was hanging their butt out in Boston--yeah, the weather has something to do with it.

It wasn't to show that I was "Boston Strong" that I wanted to watch the race, or even because I never refuse a barbecue and potluck. It is because of a guy named Gary and another one named Michael. While I have never met Michael in person, and Gary I have met only once six years ago, they are inspiration of a level that makes me consider running "competitively" again. Not as in trying win, but as in, actually going out to run more than once a week.

Gary is the director of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, the world's most beautiful marathon, coincidentally located on my favorite island. Haven't heard of MDI? What about Acadia National Park, one of our country's most visited parks? Or Bar Harbor, a town steeped in a rich past, now with really good ice cream and an eat-in movie theatre that completely makes my day. The theatre serves beer. And good pizza. It almost makes me amenable to watch Frozen, if that is the only movie playing there. I'd need a lot of beer.

I met Gary six years ago when a friend (and Bar Harbor native), my husband and I decided to run the MDI Marathon as a three-person relay.  It was an incredible experience--not only for the course's beauty but because Mainers are so danged awesome. Because we had gathered a bit of local Bar Harbor fame for coming all the way from Brazil to run as "Team Brazil", we were known at the breakfast spot (and greeted by a Brazilian server!), talked about by a friend who waits tables during the summer season, and I was tapped on the shoulder at mile 4 and asked if I was from Brazil by the passing runner--apparently her server had mentioned us the night before. 

Team Brazil at the start

The MDI race is so beautiful you almost forget that you are coughing out a lung on some of the hills. In and out of the October-colored trees, along the coast, through empty streets. Yes, a few people do come out to cheer you on but let's face it, at a year-round population of 10,000, you'd better be your own best cheerleader. I think I ran a race in São Paulo that had more runners than MDI has residents. Also I have to say that Brazilians are not great spectator-cheering folks. I don't recall anyone setting up a chair outside their house to watch. More like complain about the runners for messing up traffic.

On my MDI run, I was accompanied by a playlist chosen by friends who had donated to MDI Hospital, the cause we were supporting for the marathon. Not sure I'd make that rash promise again since Justin Bieber's Baby just about ruined mile 5 for me. At the end of that race, Gary, as race director, interviewed me about coming up from Brazil. And we ended up in third place of three-person relay teams and got ourselves a rock.

I kept in touch with Gary from time to time to see what was going on. A lot, really. Gary lives on Great Cranberry Island where the summer population reaches 300. Year-round population? 40. The island is two miles long and one mile wide --and it is where Gary trains for marathons. Not just runs them, but RUNS them--he has run five decades of sub-three hour marathons. And the Boston Marathon 2016 was his 100th marathon. I can't even make a joke here. It's just amazing. 

In December Gary was diagnosed with lyme disease, an extremely bad bout of it. Until three days before the marathon, he didn't know if he was going to run it.  But then he went to New York with another Crow Athletics (the local running club) runner and he too became inspired. The Crow that inspired him? Michael Westphal, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, and was running the race as a fundraiser for Team Fox.

Michael Westphal, Team Fox (and Crow Athletics), photo credit: Chloe Emerson

In the good old days, it was pretty hard to find the person you were waiting for. Imagine the thousands of runners; even knowing which wave they are in makes it tough. Now there is an app for that. Type in your friend's number or name, and bingo, you can watch as they fly (or creep by) the 10K, 10 mile, 20K, 30K marks. The bad news is that is that when you don't see them check in when you expect them to, you start to get a bit nervous.

It is not my story to tell, but Gary had a tough race. Or not. He calls it his best race. He was not sub-3 hours. I made my kids wait for him--we patiently held our "CAW" for Crow Athletics (get it?) and watching my phone. 

First came Michael, slowly but efficiently making his way past the house. He was on the opposite side of the street and I am not sure he heard our "CAWS" or "Yay, Michael!"s. Then the mom of one of Lalo's soccer friends went by--smiling, waving without any sign of pain or exhaustion. Seriously she could have been in a homecoming parade, as long as lycra was the year's theme.

Then we waited again. Finally the green line on the app that was Gary crossed the 30K mark, and we pushed to the side of the road to cheer. He was on the opposite side of the street, but came over as soon as he saw my son and me with the sign and my Crow Athletics sweatshirt. He stopped and hugged me, chatting about how he felt, and how he had seen friends from Cranberry and other places along the route. He was going to finish that 100th marathon that day, and soon he turned and jogged up the hill, fighting off the lyme disease fatigue. I admit it made me a little emotional and I had to claim a gnat in my eye when my son asked me why I was crying. 

Gary Allen, inspiration. Photo is not mine, but I don't have the credit...
What drives a marathoner? I will never know. I hear it is an addiction, a high like no other. I can only imagine that Boston is a total addiction--so many people come out and cheer along the route. Many on either side of us knew multiple runners--it seems so much a local marathon, but of course it is world class. We had seen the Kenyan and Ethiopian (among others) elite race past earlier. Later, it felt like we were all out at a big Boston block party. Everyone wore pants. Both sides.

When we got home, I immediately went over to the MDI Marathon site to sign up. Alas, the three person relay team entry is full. I am not ready to do a half marathon again. Or am I? Hmmm. In any case, I renewed my Crow Athletics membership--the best $10 ever spent, and I'll be seeing you around, Gary. Maybe from the sidelines. Maybe not. 

Run MDI.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

An Attempt to Ignore What is Really Going On.... Car magnets


So, what to do on a day when you are horrified by politics in your home country (oh, all right, one comment: exactly how do you not let your president do his job because he is nine months from not having that job? I don't get it--no I don't want comments on this part) and nauseous from the St. Patty's day mini-cupcakes you stress-gobbled while reading that Brazil's former president who was arrested last week, popped out like ping-pong ball covered in grease, and now has been named a minister three days after millions of people protested him, the government, the sitting president? 

Well, in the absence of a margarita and the simple fact that you hate tequila anyway, you write a frivolous blog about your daily life in a lunatic country that grows more glaringly louco every day. Note to self: file for third nationality--how do the Dutch feel about someone who left their country two hundred years ago? Wait, no, I'm not that old... the descendant of someone who left Friesland during a plague in 1860? We have a plague here. So asylum in Amsterdam, here I come. 

Here it is: frivolous blog.  Car magnets. NO, seriously, I need to talk about car magnets.  I love them. I have five of them between two cars and I admit it's getting a little busy on the back bumper of the hooptie, my beloved 13 year old sedan. But I refuse to choose.

There are no car magnets in Brazil. Why? I don't know. Maybe they would be stolen. Maybe no one cares enough about their club team, summer home, college, national park or private school. Or maybe they don't want to show that they have the above because maybe they would get bonked over the head for it. Or maybe they don't feel the need to be show-offs and clubby insular types like we do here in the northeast. Because I think we're talking mostly northeast that does this, no? Calling all Alabamans who read my blog: do you have a car magnet?  What does it have on it?

I love car magnets because I love to try to figure out what they mean or which school or whatever they are from. Here's an example: white circle with PARK inside it. No, you are not getting admonished to pull over. That is a private school. It is nice. We sometimes get to go play soccer there when they need our rental money.  Ditto BBBBBBN. Wait, I think I exaggerated the Bs. Nice private school. Meadowbrook School has one and it is fancy-- some totem or what do you call those Veritas kinds of emblems? I could not get a shot of it last week as Mr. MDX with the Meadowbrook magnet attempted warp speed around the corner by the bus stop. Thank goodness it's private school spring break. Anyway...

Now, when you see ACK, that is not a comment on your driving either. I'd like to put an ACK next to a PARK and see what happens.  ACK! PARK! Achtung!  ACK is the airport code for Nantucket. If you have that on your car, I would like to be your friend. You have a nice second home, wear crawfish-emblazoned shorts, and possibly have gin and tonics. No margaritas. I am available most weekends in June.

Some have no letters. Like this one:

Yep, this is on my car. It is a black dog. I got it because I too have a black dog. His name is Coal. Most people have that magnet because they have a house on an island called Martha's Vineyard where there is a shop called The Black Dog. That was a heap-expensive magnet. I think I paid more for it than my rescue dog. Wait, did I say rescue dog? I meant pedigreed black lab. 

The other magnet on my suv is for NEFC. New England Football Club, or NE Futbol Club. So yes, we just translate that one little "F" word so we appear international. One son plays for this club team. The magnet was free with me agreeing to be the manager. All glory, I tell you. Well, quite a few losses. But it's pretty, no?

On the hooptie, we also have a magnet that I have seen a version without any writing on it. That is the totally top secret version. So it looks like a set of green lungs but is actually Mount Desert Island which harbors the incredibly lovely Acadia National Park. Or ANP if you prefer that magnet. If any of you were privvy to my facebook post about my Mercedes-SUV driving handyman, you will know that he said to me, when he saw the magnet: "hey we have to talk about MDI sometime--I have a house there." Please note the use of "a" house.  I have "a" house too that is bankrupting me on mortgages and paying Weston-living handymen with houses in MDI. Sigh.

Yeah, if you're a great athlete you probably also have some crossed oars or 13.1 or 26.2, distances that make me throw up just thinking about them. Well I could put a 13.1 on my car from the Rio half a few years ago but well, things are busy on the hooptie.

So, what's on your car? Besides road salt and squished bugs? No, I don't want to hear about your political bumper stickers. Speaking of which, why are most political stickers actually stickers not car magnets? That takes quite a bit of commitment when the Republicans are dropping out like flies, no? Maybe you could just stick the next one on top... CARLY.... wait, no,.... CHRISTIE...no, JEB, oh crud, just go with KASICH and then I won't feel the need to scratch your paint.  Just kidding. I would never do that. Seriously. 

Okay, so I can only hope that this fluffball of a blog has diverted at least my mom, my most loyal reader, from an afternoon of political chaos. I'll let you know when I print up my car magnets that read "WCPGW?" - I'll let you have one free.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Loafin' ... part deux - Carrabassett Valley, Maine

Partial view of Sugarloaf from the Base Lodge
One of my favorite highways signs ever reads "Maine: Life as It Should Be." It's on Interstate 95 as you cross from New Hampshire (don't blink! That is one teeny state on the 95 trail) to Maine. I see it at least a couple of times every summer as I visit friends near Acadia National Park and a friend's camp near Freeport. Don't get me started on the word "camp" as a northeasterner's word for anything from a cabin on a lake to a CAMP like Camp David is a camp. Anyway, not my point.

On Saturday afternoon, we saw this sign as we headed up to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. And so, I should warn you all that this is my blog love note to Sugarloaf. No, not the Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf in Portuguese) in Rio which is pretty awesome but covered in my old blog called Brazil in My Eyes. No, this is our American Sugarloaf: a ski mountain and so much more.  If you have read my blog before, you will see part one here from last year. This is part deux.  La Revanche.

I am not so worried that this second blog-ode to Sugarloaf will mean that there will be a traffic jam on the way up next time. It is 4 hours from here in Weston--it is not for faint of heart. It is also, in my opinion, the only place in New England ski country that you can experience all four seasons (well, okay, three, summer misses it) in one day. Or half day. This is not necessarily a plus on a ski mountain. 

We started going to Sugarloaf a year ago during the Snowmaggedon winter. Why Sugarloaf? Our neighbors were going for the four-day MLK weekend, and I convinced also a Wellesley classmate who lives in Freeport (yes, she of the "camp" reference) to come for a couple of days. Last year, Snowmaggedon started on January 22 more or less. MLK weekend was four days before snow. Instead, we got one day of -9 windchill, one day of perfect sunny weather and ice (no New England ski adventure is complete, or even started, without a great deal of ice), and then it rained all night and we skied on slush and grass. It was THE BEST.

Before you think that I have vodka in my coffee this morning, I will tell you why it was the best (or you can read last year's blog post...but let me bullet point it).

1. Ski in, ski out. Since I grew up in Connecticut, we never ever went away for a ski weekend. We got up at the crack of midnight to drive up and then drive back in one day. Ski in, ski out of a condo means you can have a nice lunch for less than $30 and it tastes much better than cardboard. Sorry, Sugarloaf, but your restaurant is terrible.
2. Widowmaker. This is the bar with a view at Sugarloaf where we gave up on icy day and sat and drank yummy $400 beers. 
3. The ski school. Sugarloaf's is the best. My beginning skiers last year learned to ski without fear, got hot chocolate approximately every half-hour on the freezing cold day, made new friends, and I got to ski with my friends on the "real" trails.
4. Fewer New Yorkers. Nah, I'm just kidding, especially since I was born in NYC. In general, there are just fewer people than the mountains within 2-3 hours of metropolises (metropoli?). Sorry, Portland, you are not a metropolis: you are adorable. 
 5. Friends old and new. There is nothing like a ski vacation with 8 kids of varied ages. It's freakin' fun.

Ski school fun

So this year, we could not make it happen for MLK day weekend. So we went, with the usual suspects, for the second weekend of February winter break. And during those three days we got another Sugarloaf weather "surprise" along with a ride that would be envied by Universal Studios or Disneyworld. The suicide beginner trail. This was a green-circle (beginner) trail through the woods which is normally pretty and easy...but was on this day, sheer green ice. Never seen green ice? That is because normally there is white stuff on top of it. We were down to the glacier.

So what made it suicidal? It was impossible to stop, even for us intermediate skiers. So we literally screamed our way down it. I tried to stop once, hit a tree root and did a 360 into a mogul (that was not a mogul, but possible a beaver dam) and finally came to a stop to watch my friend Wendy scream to a stop right behind me and then we both bent over laughing hysterically. Not happy laughter--we still had half the trail to go. 

Without question, that was the worst double-black diamond I have ever been down, yet it was only a green. Why pay for Big Thunder Railroad when you have skiing in the Northeast? For the same price as a day at Disney, and no need for Fastpass, you can scream yourself silly. With a helmet, please.

For a good time of superlatives, make sure to read the Sugarloaf Mountain Daily trails report. I imagine the person writing it has been up all night blowing snow (inhaling smoke)  and grooming trails, because his/her reality is vastly different than mine. Like "moderate" snow gusts of 30 miles an hour. What exactly defines strong snow gusts?  A nor'easter? Tornado? It is not fun being on a lift with moderate snow gusts. Trust me. 

Then the report continues on to tell about snow squalls, ice, lifts closed due to winds, 30 trails closed for lack of snow, ya-de-ya, and then ends with the line "It's going to be a GREAT day on the mountain." I assume that was said with the exhale of a large amount of medical marijuana. Seriously?  My Freeport friend and her teenage kids did ski, as did my kids and neighbor's kids, but me, I turned in my ticket for a credit and watched the Weather Channel in the ski lodge. I am too old. 

So we got to use these credits yesterday. We drove up as far as Farmington (an hour from the mountain) Saturday night, had an enormous dinner, and then on to Sugarloaf on Sunday morning. We learned a trick--always, always ski on Sundays if you hate lines. 

We had the best New England ski day ever. Sun, glorious sun to begin the day. Snowmaking had created lots of lovely new snow, and the minimum of ice. By 1 pm, we could ski into the Superquad with no lines. Up and down the hill. The kids skied with us, then they skied alone (one is snowboarding now), then they built an ice sculpture, then we ate a bunch of cardboard food. 

Let's face it. We'll never be the family with the ski house, the ski team kids, and well, even our own equipment. We love rental equipment and wearing other people's smelly boots. We love screaming down ice chutes, laughing our butts off and renting crappy condos. We are the riff-raff of the mountain. But my son who had to walk down the scary hill last year? This year he smoked me on the same slope while telling me stories about lynxes (no I didn't hear most of them). The other kid can snowboard and ski now.

Disney can kiss my bindings on this whole surge pricing business: for $100/day and all the laughs and thrills you can imagine, I choose Sugarloaf. Life as it should be.
Riff raff on a snowboard with a view