Our Stay in Middle-earth

Maybe it was the fact that we watched all three Lord of the Rings movies while we stayed in the condo. Maybe it was the mention in Fodor’s that this area looked like Middle-earth. All I know is that from the moment we arrived at Peace Lodge and Waterfall Gardens, I could think of nothing else.


As we crested a steep incline, unfettered by human or machine, I expected Aragorn to gallop across the green hills. And when we entered our room, I felt sure that Elrond himself would greet us and welcome us to Rivendell.

The landscape was breathtaking in its rugged beauty and the lodge was stunning, down to every detail. The Peace Lodge has only seventeen rooms. There are four or five buildings, which look like houses, each of which has four rooms with separate outside entrances. I’ve never stayed anywhere remotely like this.

Okay, this next one -- this is in our bathroom. Yes, those are live ferns with a waterfall. In my bathroom.


Peace Lodge is also home to a nature preserve and wildlife refuge. It's like having a small zoo just below your hotel room. Eager to make the most of our short time in this enchanted place, we scurried down to the park where we saw monkeys, jaguars and vipers. We also fed hummingbirds.


We were sad to find the frog house closed but John, a young tour guide with just enough English to be funny – or possibly dangerous, convinced us to sign up for a night-time frog tour. It turned out to be amazing – if not for the fantastic pictures then for the animated descriptions given by John. His excitement was infectious. His dedication toward helping Mitch nail the perfect photo endeared me to him, even as he more often than not, misunderstood our questions.


When night fell, clouds swallowed mountains whole and then reached up to our veranda as if offering us passage to the land beyond. That night, with the mountain air coming through the screens, I slept like a princess under silky mosquito netting and woke to the bright sunshine angling through the window and the calls of birds in the aviary below. Next -- our visit to Poas Volcano, a coffee plantation and Rivendell - er, the Waterfall Gardens.

Trouble Communicating on More Than One Level

In an epic example of marital miscommunication, Tom and I found ourselves on a standing room only bus bearing all the local beach goers back to the town of Quepos.

We’d spent the morning on a walking tour of Manuel Antonio National Park with a fantastic tour guide. Johan pointed out monkeys, red-eyed tree frogs, several sloths, toucans and many basilisk lizards. These delicate-looking reptiles are about ten inches long and have the ability to walk on their hind legs across water, earning them the nickname ‘Jesus Christ Lizard,’ which I thought was hysterical.

Anyway, after our tour, we elected to stay in the park and enjoy the beach. Though crowded, the beach inside the park was nowhere near as packed at the public beach just on the other side of a huge lava rock.

There was a friend with us, too.

We rested on towels, munched on a packed lunch and enjoyed ourselves. Nonetheless, we were quite tired when we returned so when Tom suggested that we get moving to catch the bus to Quepos, I inwardly groaned. Our condo is gorgeous, with plenty of space, a full kitchen and amazing views of the ocean. Understandably, after the busy days we’d had, he wanted to be comfortable and eat in. I wouldn’t say I was psyched to cook but I was certainly willing, I mean, that’s part of the reason we’d gotten the condo.

There was a small supermarket two blocks from our condo. Imagine shopping in Wawa for all of your groceries. Now imagine that everything in the Wawa is in Spanish. That’s shopping at Super Joseth. Even with the inflated prices, it was still much cheaper than going out to eat but after hearing our local guide talk about Pali, ‘Walmart of Costa Rica,’ Tom got it in his head that if we were saving money, he wanted to do it right.  

So it was that we boarded a bus packed so tight that I felt like we were in an intimate relationship with the sleepy, sandy Tico teenagers returning from the beach. Tom said that it was pretty much the last thing he wanted to do. What!? But it was his idea. It was the last thing I wanted to do.

As it turned out, I thought Tom wanted to get the cheaper groceries; he thought I wanted the cheaper groceries. The bus dumped us next to our destination just in time for the worker to shake his head and shut the door. It was Maundy Thursday and everything was closing early for Holy Week. We stumbled into a fruit market and decided we would make rice and beans. Because we hadn’t had enough rice and beans at all the tour lunches we’d eaten during the week.  For real. Tom was seriously smitten with the Costa Rican ‘gallo pinto’ and he wanted to recreate it at home. Never mind that we could order it from a little storefront down the street.

We grabbed some fruit, veggies, rice and beans that we needed and then looked for chicken. Didn’t see any. Tom asked if they had chicken. The elderly owner of the market looked at him blankly. I went through the restaurant menus I’d seen – Pollo, I said. Pollo? He replied with a rapid-fire question. I heard ‘para’ and figured that he was trying to learn if we wanted it for cooking or already cooked.  I ran through the meager Spanish vocabulary I’d picked up in a couple of day. Nothing. I thought to say ‘Pollo para cucina’ – like I wanted chicken for the kitchen, but I knew that wouldn’t make sense. Or at least it wouldn’t help.

Luckily, the man’s son arrived and with a kind smile he said he spoke a little English. We told him what we needed and he directed us to market. He pointed and said it was some amount of meters but I had no idea what that meant so we just walked. It turned out to be about two blocks. Tom suggested that I stay outside with our groceries while he went inside for the meat.

Proudly, he emerged with both ground beef and chicken breast. Three pounds of each. For two nights. Still, I give the guy credit. I couldn’t begin to guess the translation between grams and pounds. He knew how much he was buying and actually thought we needed that much meat! (Note to self: educate Tom on average consumption amounts). Having had just about enough adventure for one day, we elected to return home by taxi. Sure, it was more money but we’d just saved money by shopping in Quepos, right?

Costa Rica: Best Day Ever!

You have to sing the subject line of this post like Spongebob Squarepants, then you get the real sense of it. On Friday morning, we were scheduled for a 7:30 a.m. pick-up to go white water rafting. By this time, I was second-guessing the way I'd planned the tours this week.  We had to be out the door early every morning, and we were all a little worn out. I was a bit testy, barking out orders to the kids to get in their bathing suits (again), put on sunscreen (again), find their caps (again) - you get the picture. Then the concierge knocked on the door to tell us our guide from Quepoa Exepeditions had arrived. Early. In Costa Rica. I thought no one was early in Costa Rica! We hustled some more and scampered downstairs to board our fourth van in as many days.

A word about tours and vans. The first two days, we were picked up first so Tom and I boarded in the back, thinking it would be considerate for others boarding after us. After two days bumping around in the back of the van on the aforesaid unpaved roads, we vowed not to sit in the back again. Especially after our experience with the family from SoCal.

On the third day, we weren't the first to be picked up. And what do know? The family who was picked up first took the first seats. We were in the back again. Luckily, it wasn't a long journey - just a short drive on a well-paved road to Manuel Antonio Park. Yesterday, once again, we were second to be picked up and the other family was in the front seats. They seemed like nice enough people so we started to think we were just silly to worry about the consideration of others.  To the back we went. The guides piled in -- four of them -- with the one American literally lounging across two seats in the front while Tom and his long legs were cramped into the back seat. Tom muttered about poor customer service. About ten minutes into the drive, we pulled over at a bus stop and picked up a woman and two teenage children. The wife and children of the driver. They squeezed in beside the American guide and we understood why he'd kept the seat open. The was so absurd to me and yet so obviously normal for them that I fell into a fit of giggles. There were five Americans in the van, paying a good deal of money to go rafting and there was the driver, his wife, his two kids and four guides.  Am I the only one who sees the silliness? Anyway -- rafting.

My kids and family have my friend, Colette, to thank for this trip because I wasn't sure about it. Having just traveled to the same area last year, she encouraged us to go for it. As said above - it was absolutely thrilling.  Every one us loved it. Our guide, Nacho, was fantastic. The kids had a blast and as you'll see, we all had huge grins on our faces for most of the trip. I'll let the pictures speak for us:

Naturally, we took our break at a waterfall where our guides prepared fresh mango and pineapple along with Costa Rican cookies and crackers. It was, by far, the most beautiful waterfall we'd seen all week. And remember, we saw two before this one!

After the waterfall stop, it was more rafting -- so thrilling! -- and then a 'typical' lunch at a roadside restaurant. Have I mentioned 'typical' food yet? No? That might be a post for another day.

We're off now for the beach -- yes, we are walking again. We know the way this time so it can't be so bad, right? 

Costa Rica Day 3: The View from a Saddle

Another day and one more 'never' crossed off the list. As in: I've never ridden a horse in the Costa Rican rain forest. In fact, I've only ridden horses a handful of times in my life. (One of them into the mountains of Kauai, which was amazing). The rest of the family had never been on a live horse ever. Going into it, Mitch was excited, Tom was game and Zach was not interested.

Once more, we found ourselves in the back of a van for over an hour through the African Palm plantation. Seems like in order to get anywhere down here, you need to drive on unpaved rocky roads through acres and acres of African palms. I joked that by the end of the week, I'll be able to give the shpiel on African Palms, having heard it first from our driver, second from the Canopy tour guide and now again from our horseback tour leader. To me, the most interesting fact about the African Palm is not that they produce fruit every two weeks for twenty-five years but that Nicaraguans are bussed in to do the work because Costa Ricans don't want that job.

Back to horseback riding. We arrived at the Finca Valmy stable and were quickly given 'goofy hats' (dubbed such by our tour guide, Che) and horses. The horses looked healthy and clean. They were docile as can be and well-trained. There were seven of us on the tour, a lovely family from the UK, another family from southern California and the four of us. We had two guides: Oscar, who was young and spoke no English, led the group with me just behind. My family followed me, then the SoCal family and finally UK with Che, our guide.

Che was a story unto himself. Tall and wiry with more gray in his mustache than black, he told us that he was born and raised in Buenos Aires, but left there eleven years ago and doesn't miss it for a minute. A self-professed 'Dead Head', Che was easily fifteen years older than me, unless his hard-partying lifestyle had added more years to his face. Dedicated to ayurvedic medicine, Che regaled us with information about spices, fruits and plants that cure everything from hangovers to tumors.

Also well-versed in the ecological history of the land, Che pointed out hickory trees, walking palms and countless other flora during our ambling ride through a quiet river basin.

After a while, we arrived at a hiking trail where we dismounted the horses and took an easy path to the waterfall and pond.

On the way back, Valentin, the owner (I think) arrived on his horse and we were given the option to take a longer path home which would allow us to trot or even gallop or to take the shorter, easier route. Tom shocked me by requesting the longer route. Since they'd given us no instruction whatsoever about successfully trotting or galloping, I was unsure how the boys would respond. Heck, I was unsure how I'd respond! At first, I thought that I had excellent control over my wonderful horse, Bandito, but soon, I realized that Bandito wanted to do whatever the horse in front of him wanted to do. When Oscar, the guide, stopped, Bandito stopped. When Oscar moved ahead, Bandito moved ahead.

When the SoCal family passed me on the right at a nice clip, Bandito took off like he was going for the Triple Crown. Okay, I'm exaggerating. He did surge but I'd say we made it just past trot and up to canter. Definitely not a gallop but that was just fine for me! Tom thought it was a ball, Mitch loved it and Zach was afraid he'd fall off. About halfway in, the SoCal dad decided that he wanted run faster so he tried to pass our tour guide, whose horse freaked out. That was the end of our trotting.

Once we arrived back at the stables, Valentin drove us to his house where we had a delicious home-cooked 'typical' lunch of chicken and rice (all a part of the package). By the time we got home, Zach just wanted to go swimming, Tom was thrilled that he'd tried something new and Mitch was wishing for his own horse. Just another day in Paradise.

Costa Rica: Zipping, Motoring and Splashing

Tuesday was the sort of day that made me wonder who on earth was living this adventurous life? Surely, not me!

We were picked up a little after 7 a.m. in front of our condo by a young Costa Rican who wore braces and called himself Alex. Seven a.m. sounds early unless you are still operating on east coast time, aided by the early Costa Rican sunrise.  After an hour long ride through the African Palm plantation over a rocky road (our guides dubbed it the 'Tico massage'), we arrived at La Selvita's Canopy Tour. We were welcomed with a 'typical' breakfast of rice, beans, tortillas and fresh pineapple -- all made by a cook up in the mountains.
After that, we were ready for some zip lining!

And man, was it amazing! I felt like I was flying through the jungle. The guides, three of them, were fantastic, giving us plenty of tips for the optimal experience as well as a million tidbits about the flora and fauna in the jungle. They even proved to be wise guys. Alex,though only eighteen, was fluent in English and smart as a whip. As he offered a serious explanation of the walking palm, another guide in the back vigorously shook a rooster palm, making most of us jump and some of us (read: me) scream.

Hi-jinx aside, sailing through the canopy is an experience that doesn't truly translate into pictures. While the you see the green of the jungle and the length of the line, you can't feel the wind in your face, hear the birds calling or feel the dizzy euphoria of looking down into the jungle while flying over it. Here, Tom is leaving the first platform. The large building to the left is the rustic restaurant.

And Mitch leaves the first platform - cool as a cucumber. Those two summers at Hideaway prepared him well!

Zach professed to be cured of his fear of heights after this experience.

And me, on one of the longest lines. Are there enough words in the English language to describe all this green? 

One of the lines was long but slowed toward the end. As you can see, Mitch got stuck and had to be 'rescued'.

Then, as if ten ziplines through the jungle was not enough, we donned even bigger helmets and headed out to the dry river basin for some ATVing. Is that a verb? Probably not, but you know what I mean.

First, I rode behind Zach, letting him drive but we had no idea that we were going to be descending on a gravel road that snaked like an 'S' and ended in gullies on either side. Within minutes, Zach and I were in one of those gullies. Alex, our intrepid and impossibly unruffled guide, asked for Tom's help to maneuver the ATV out and it was agreed that I would take over the driving. Now, I'd never driven an ATV before either and definitely not across a rocky river bed. I was pretty nervous at first but once I got the hang of it, it was fun. Especially for Alex who made a show of splashing us through rivers and kicking dust around corners.

I admit, there were moments that I wondered about the fact that I was entrusting all of us to an 18-year old guide who liked to do donuts. In fact, when we paused for a rest halfway there, I wondered why.  And when he said that we were getting a 'free' lunch, I wondered about that, too. We ended our ride at the entrance to a path leading us to a lovely, private waterfall.  Alex told us to take our time but it started to rain and then pour so we booked it back to the restaurant. It was there that we found out the reason for our leisurely pace and the extra meal. The van had broken down and we had to wait for the next one.  But we'd been here a whole two days already. We were on 'Tico time' and we didn't care.

We arrived back at the condo around 3:30, about 90 minutes later than we expected, ready for a nap before dinner. Remember, we had left at 7 a.m. -- we were all dirty and tired. So imagine my surprise when the someone knocked at the door just as I was ready for a hot shower. See, the concierge had arranged for a private chef to make dinner in our condo. We knew that, of course, but we had thought he was coming at 5:30.

We rebounded and I've got to say -- if you ever want to feel like royalty -- hire a private chef to serve dinner in your home. There's nothing like someone cooking a gourmet meal in the comfort of your home, serving it and cleaning up all the mess. And since we had someone in the condo, we were on our best behavior. The kids didn't demand to watch TV while we ate, no one brought a book to the table and best of all - I wasn't sinking into my seat, wiping sweat from my brow as everyone dug in. So, yeah, as I said above -- pretty much a rock star of a day that left me feeling like I'd had the experience of a lifetime.

Costa Rica Day 1: How Hard Can it be to Find the Beach?

We arrived in Costa Rica on the evening of April 17 after a long day of travel.  Not bad travel. Fine travel. Just long. On the 3-hour drive to the condo, we were treated to this: 

(Note to self: Never, never swim in a Costa Rican river.) 

Our condo was nowhere near the crocs in their river, so I could rest well after a fantastic dinner at Victoria's Restaurant immediately across the street from our place. Okay, it was Italian. In Costa Rica. But after the previously mentioned long day of travel, gourmet pizza across the street was perfect. A Costa Rican crooner sernenaded us and rain beat a staccato on the roof.

The next day, Monday, was planned as a 'rest' day. Hah. If you know the Sibson's there was no rest! The concierge suggested that we take the bus to the beach. Every 30 minutes, it stopped right outside our condo. But Tom and I wanted to walk. Of course we did. The concierge told us it was a maybe a 'short, easy walk'. (Note to self: Look up Tico definition of 'short' and 'easy'.) 

One thing is for sure - it would have been a lot shorter if we didn't get lost. Twice. Getting lost in and of itself isn't such a big deal except that we were located way up high and the beach was way down below.

This is before our children decided they'd be better off if they abandoned us to go live in the jungle:

We saw some Howler Monkeys, too:

The first time we took a wrong turn and ended up at a private, gated community, a German man suggested that we just walk through the jungle. The road, he said, was just about 50 meters across.  A jungle. In flip-flops. So no, we hiked back up where we connected with a briskly walking British man intent on some exercise as well as some beach time. The second wrong turn brought us to another private area where two little girls were swimming in a pool.

Playa? I asked, desperately, pointing one way and then the other. Playa? 

They looked at us solemnly and pointed the way we'd come. But all was not lost because once we arrived on the beach, it was ridiculously gorgeous. Like some crazy cliche of a beach: 

And so our long adventure was rewarded with a clean and beautiful beach. Once we arrived there, we made up for the long walk with hours of swimming and resting under the umbrella.  Though this felt like an adventure to us, the real adventure was waiting the next day. More on that later.

Cakes, Cookies and Memories

 I've been thinking about nostalgia, memory and traditions. It all started at the end of last month when my older son turned fourteen. Fourteen is not a particularly auspicious year in a person's life, I guess. Last year, when he turned thirteen was big, of course. Sixteen is the obvious next milestone but fourteen is an in between year so I was unprepared to feel any strong feelings about my son turning fourteen.  

As is the tradition in our family, I had baked his favorite carrot cake from scratch. As I finished the cake with cream cheese icing, I was pleased. A particularly good cake, it boasted plenty creamy icing and the cake hadn't sunken in the middle, as they've sometimes done in the past.  After dinner and the opening of gifts, I carried the cake to my son; my younger son led the way while Tom waited with the camera ready.

The candles cast a warm glow; the red script proclaimed Happy Birthday to Zach and I was struck by a wave of nostalgia. How many cakes had I made over the years, I wondered? How many times had I walked with a blazing cake in hand, singing off-key and arriving to a beaming child?  Fourteen cakes for Zach.  Next week will mark eleven for Mitch.  And plenty more for Tom.  So many cakes marking the progression of our lives together, of our sons' lives continuing forward. So many memories. 

Two weeks later as an early Christma gift, Tom's sister and I took his mother to see Irving Berlin's White Christmas at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. We knew she'd love it - the dancing, the singing, the costumes, the era - what's not to love?  But we also knew that it was not likely that she'd remember it come Christmas.  As you probably know, my mother-in-law has Alzheimer's Disease.  She's always cheerful and good-natured but Alzheimer's has taken it's ugly toll on her memory.  As we predicted, she loved the show, singing along to the title song when the performer's urged the audience to join in.  

After that day, as I prepared for Christmas, I thought often about memory and traditions and how they are intertwined. How can you have traditions if you don't have memory? Early last week, I embarked on one of my favorite and most time-consuming traditions.  The making of our family Christmas cookie - the sand tart. Simple but elegant, these cookies are made with the most ordinary of ingredients: a couple cups of flour, a couple cups of sugar, a couple sticks of butter and some vanilla.  That's it. What makes the sand tart special is the rolling.  These suckers get rolled so thin that when you hold them to the light, you can see through them. When I was young, my grandmother made dozens upon dozen of these fragile and sought-after cookies.  Each Christmas she gave out countless tins, reminding each person that if the tins were not returned, there would be no cookies the next year. My grandmother was not stern but as a Depression Era child, she did not believe in waste or extravagance. Believe me, the tins came back. 

My memories overflow with year after year of making sand tarts in my grandmother's Baltimore kitchen. At first, my sister and I were only allowed to sprinkle the colored sugar on the cut cookies. When I was finally allowed to roll out the dough, it was an honor that made me feel older than my years. A kind and patient woman, my grandmother never chastised anyone but at the same time, she did not tolerate rollers who couldn't achieve the expected thinness. My mother jokes that she was never elevated beyond sugar sprinkler. When my grandmother moved into a small apartment, we continued the tradition in my aunt's kitchen - five women in a kitchen making cookies all afternoon.  

My grandmother died over fifteen years ago and I've continued to make the cookies.  It's been many years since my mother, sister and I all lived in the same town so the days of congregating in one kitchen to make the sand tarts are long past. I make them by myself now.  Truth be told, I dread it sometimes. It's a lot of work - all that rolling - and the cookies bake in about six minutes so there's not a moment to spare. But when I pull out the pastry cloth she bought for me and the cookie cutters I inherited - still in the same cardboard box from the 1960's -  I feel her presence with me.  I feel her as I'm rolling and cutting the cookies, placing them on sheets with care and sprinkling the red and green sugars.  All the memories of Christmas are there with me as I cook. If I lost those memories, I would feel lost as a person. 

I suppose if you have a Buddhist philosophy, you can appreciate each moment as it comes, not measuring it against the ones that came before or the ones that will come after.  I hope to do that with my mother-in-law: to be present in each moment and make each one good. After all, for her, the immediate moment is the only one that matters. At the same time, I cherish my own memories - the ones of my childhood and the ones I'm making with my own family. I hope not to take those memories for granted because at the end of day all of it is so fleeting. As I sit and watch snow pile up outside, another Christmas is behind us. More memories to add to the bank and a new year - full of fresh anticipation - awaits. I hope that you have a healthy and happy holiday season. While you're here, tell me: What are your family traditions?  How do you cherish the important markers of life? 

I Rocked the New York Marathon and New York Rocked Me

To borrow a line from Buddy in the movie Elf: “I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!” Today I am adoring not only my awesome husband but I’m also quite smitten with New York City, so the Elf quote seems perfect. Speaking of perfect, yesterday, Tom and I ran the New York Marathon and chalked up a weekend to remember.

I admit that it started off just a little rocky when we arrived at the Race Expo after trundling our bags down 33rd Street from the train station. The race registration was well run but I was disappointed to find out that they had run out of shirts in the lower sizes.

Some of you out there are saying, “So what, it’s just a shirt.” Well, those some of you are not me. Call me petty, call me shallow but I love race shirts - those fabulous, practical badges of honor. Unlike the medal, which sits in my room, never worn after the race, the race shirts allow me to continue to proclaim my accomplishment, well, every time I run. Tom went to the Expo, took care of his race packet and returned with a shirt he had bought for me. On the upside, that was – hands down – the worst of my weekend. And looking back, I don’t even care about that stinkin’ shirt but more on that later.

We checked into the Essex House, a lovely art deco style hotel on Central Park South. For those of you who, like me, don’t know New York, Central Park South is exactly what it sounds like – it’s the street that borders the southern edge of central park. It’s also 59th Street. Gorgeous place. We had dinner at a little Italian place I had researched ahead of time. Man-oh-man, if you go to New York and you’re staying near Central Park, go to this restaurant. If you’ve ever been to the Tuscan region of Italy and are desperate their unique and wonderful cuisine, go to this restaurant. If you want food that will melt in your mouth, go to…well, you get the picture. It’s called Il Gattopardo.

Then it was to bed early. Unfortunately, despite the feather soft bed and plush covers, I couldn’t sleep. I watched the digital readout on my clock go from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. and back to 1 a.m. And I was grateful for the extra hour because when I woke in the pitch black of early morning, I knew I’d slept at least three hours rather than two.

Tom and I had coffee to go and were in a cab, heading to Whitehall terminal at 5:20 a.m. The trip on the ferry was incredible. Being surrounded by runners from all over the world, all shapes and sizes, all with the same goal is a heady experience. Some runners, the experienced ones, wore parkas and carried sleeping bags. An entire contingent of Italian runners wore ‘shedders’ – white, baggy overgarments designed to be discarded - and somehow made them look fashionable.

Many of us camped out in the ferry terminal rather than spending extra time in the cold at Fort Wadsworth, the repository for all runners. The solemn quiet of the terminal was in direct opposition to Fort Wadsworth, which was a cacophony of sound and action. Runners sat on curbs sipping complimentary Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, stretched cold muscles, stripped off layers and packed them onto UPS trucks, chattered with friends or made new ones. Tom and I had a ball, so much so that we almost missed the call for our corral.

Consequently, our first run of the day was to hightail it from the UPS bag drop to the corral, which was aptly named as we were herded like cattle into holding areas fenced off with ten-foot high metal fencing amidst multi-lingual directions spoken over a loudspeaker. The announcements came in English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese and probably many other languages that I could not identify. Due to our late arrival to our corral, we ended up in the back of the wave, a mistake we’d pay for throughout the race as we passed runner after runner through the 26. 2 miles.

After thirty-five minutes of waiting, at 10:15 a.m., the gun sounded and we were off. Hah, not really. The gun went off and we walked/shuffled our way forward until the crowd started to separate enough that we could break into a slow jog. By that time, we were on the uphill portion of the Verrazano Bridge, which is almost two miles long, and the only sound was runners’ shoes slapping the concrete. Looking across the water to Manhattan, I was struck by the enormity of this task. I would finish the race in Manhattan and it looked quite far away from where I was. At the same time, it was a crystal clear blue-sky day and Manhattan looked beautiful – like my own Shangri-la.

Once we entered the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, it was a whole other story. The people of New York City turn out for this marathon and give the runners love. I mean LOVE! I’ve never, in all my life, been to a race with better athlete support. I elected to write my name on my running shirt in permanent marker and it was so worth it. Throughout the entire race, I’d hear shouts in all different accents, “Go Laura!” “Looking good, Laura!” “Stay strong, Laura!” And my heart would swell and I’d run a little bit faster – quite like Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. Luckily, though, I didn’t let the crowd love dig me into a hole.

The miles clicked by one by one and I braced myself for the pain to set in, for the work to begin, but Tom and I felt great and we were having fun. Yes, fun! We yelled out comments to fellow runners, we high-fived fans, we raised our arms like Rocky, when someone yelled out my name. At one quiet point of the race, when we were headed over a small bridge, someone yelled out “Roberto!” to a runner. Just for kicks, I yelled “Roberto.” Next thing you know, there was a chorus of “Roberto” echoing over the bridge, followed naturally by “Marco!” and my response, of course: “Polo!” I know it sounds wacky but it we had a blast. When we hit the half-marathon point, I thought, now I’m going to fade and at mile 15, I slowed going over the Queensboro Bridge but I felt like the Little Engine That Could, amidst runners who were walking, sitting, and stretching cramped muscles.

At the end of the bridge, we turned a corner into a wall - but not the infamous marathon wall. Quite the opposite - this was a wall of cheers on 1st Avenue. I was the Queen of England, President Obama, RPattz, all rolled into one. I was a rock star as we motored down the wide swath of street with crowds six people deep screaming and yelling on both sides and the miles unfolding beneath us. We passed Edison Pena, the Chilean miner, running with two escorts. We saw a woman dressed as Wonder Woman and two men running in kilts. There went mile 18 and all of a sudden, there was mile 20!

Just before mile 24, as we made our way up the long, gentle incline of 5th Avenue, my legs tried to run a coup on the rest of my body. They realized that I was still running and they were pissed. That’s when Tom kicked it into high gear. As we rounded the corner into Central Park at mile 25, the crowd was thick and loud. Tom pointed to me and yelled, “Let’s hear some love for Laura!” The crowd went wild. He did it again and again, knowing that it would buoy me and knowing that there was no way I’d stop running when he had encouraged hundreds of people to scream my name. I wept and ran and when we saw the finish line, he grab my hand and we crossed together, arms up - in solidarity, in pride, in joy - for what we’d accomplished together. We'd finished the marathon in 4 hours and 11 minutes - beating my goal of 4:15. 

From the glorious post-race blush of finishing, we were shuttled, like the walking dead, down a chute to pick up our finisher bags (more Gatorade, an apple, a Powerbar) and to the UPS trucks for all those clothes we’d stripped down back on Staten Island. We exited the race area at 77th street and hobbled and shivered our way back to our hotel, flapping foil wraps and weaving through reuniting families, closed streets and traffic cops to arrive at our warm, welcoming hotel a solid 80 minutes after we finished the race, just in time for the Eagles kick-off! Never in my life has a hot shower felt so good.

Based on an excellent recommendation from a friend at home, we hit JG Melon’s, unlikely favorite spot of prepsters and possibly the best bacon cheeseburger on the island. As we walked back to the hotel down Madison Avenue, we marveled at the amazing city, the incredible race and the perfect day.

The next morning, we made to the finisher’s expo where we bought lots of goodies. (I found out that it’s much more fun to visit the finisher’s expo when you are the one who finished the race, not just the spectator).

As if that wasn’t all enough, we stumbled onto the perfect place for breakfast - Le Pain Quotidien. It seemed that every European marathoner seemed to know about it. A German couple sat next to us, a huge party of Italians behind us, a British woman across the way and an Austrian father and son nearby. It was the end of our trip and we enjoyed a lovely meal in a tiny sliver of America that seemed to envelop the entire world. Just like the marathon.

Hello, Hello, Hello. Is There Anybody Out There?

 Hello? Yoo-hoo?  Oh! There you are. Hello!  And thanks for hanging about while I neglected my blog on a grand scale.  And yes, I am/was a Pink Floyd fan. Hope you caught the reference.  Most of you have probably assumed that since I started my writing program, I simply haven't had time to update my blog.  And you've forgiven me - thank you for that.  You are right, partly, well, mostly.  It's true, I have been busy but it hasn't been all writing, all the time.  See, I seem to like to lump it all on at one time so it's not just that I'm writing a bunch of words that hopefully form sentences that perhaps make chapters - it's also that I am training for the New York Marathon.  

There I said it. I don't think I've said that here yet.  Probably not, seeing as I haven't updated this little puppy in almost three months.  And back then, in July, I was most certainly not publicly announcing my plans to run the New York marathon.  It's not that I was on the fence - I had registered, I had committed - in my mind at least.  But I'm sort of , I don't know, superstitious and I worried that if I talked about it too much, I might jinx myself.  There's a bit of reality behind my coyness, too.  I've been plagued by injuries in the past and I didn't want to tell the world I was running if I ended up with stress fractures or whatever and couldn't run.

Now, with the marathon less than three weeks away - with my last monster long run behind me - I can say with confidence that I will be running the five boroughs on Sunday, November 7!  

One thing I didn't expect is the structure that my marathon training has brought to my writing.  As you know, if you read this blog ever, at all, I quit my job at Swarthmore College back at the end of June to devote myself the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  The marathon training started during the week I was away for my first residency and since then, I've found that the runs give me something to work around. I don't mean to say that my writing is taking less a priority than my running. It's more like, once I plug the running into my schedule, I see the time available for the writing.  It's like Michelangelo and sculpture. I just carve out everything that doesn't look like writing time. Yeah. Michelangelo. Sculpture. Anyway....

I've been running and writing and reading.  Pretty much all the time.  That is when I'm not momming.  (Spell-check is telling me that isn't a verb but don't you think it should be?)  The writing is coming along pretty well.  With the first packet I sent my advisor, I was all "I'm cool, I got this," so with the second packet, I had to humble myself.  Now I'm in a good groove, writing two critical essays a month on books I've read and writing lots of pages of my fun paranormal romance based on the story of Black Aggie. Shout out to all the Baltimoreans reading this blog!  

In support of my new project, I did lots of research on Black Aggie.  For those of you not from Baltimore, here she is:

She's creepy, right?  It's no wonder she inspired me to write a paranormal young adult novel.  And since I no longer live in the Baltimore area, I'm using a local cemetery as the setting. West Laurel Hill is a beautiful, old cemetery just this side of Philadelphia. The original Laurel Hill - no the spillover West part - is in Philadelphia and I hear ghost hunters give tours there. I haven't made it to one yet but I did drag the kids to West Laurel Hill for more inspiration. And I found it:

Beautiful, right?  And haunting.  Yeah, that's what I thought, too.  

So there you have it.  I am settling into the stream of my new life - the ebb and flow of the kids' activities, the regular current of my running and the tidal wave of deadlines - okay, okay, enough with the water metaphor.  But for real - all is good.  I am busy but not freaked out.  And the truth is, every time I planned to update my blog, I remembered a quote from Sherman Alexie in a Writer's Digest interview: Every word on your blog is one word not in your novel. Ouch!  And off I'd scurry to muse about my new project some more.  But for today - I was compelled to reconnect and post again. I hope you are well and I'd love to hear how you've spent the last three months!  How's Autumn treating you? Do you miss the lazy days of summer or are you inspired and reinvigorated by the brisk mornings of fall?