A Run Like No Other

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The train ride was a bit of a hassle if you don’t know Spanish, which we didn’t. The day before our trip from Barcelona to Pamplona, we took a trial run to the station, to see if we could navigate our way. July in Barcelona is hot and sticky and if you are twenty weeks pregnant, which I was, it is even more so. But the excitement carries you through because you are in Spain, about to embark on an adventure that has been months in the planning. The trek from the hotel to the station is interminable, but finally, you are there.

The signs on the walls and indeed above the station agents are unreadable and finding someone to translate or help is impossible. After hours of wandering the crowded station, full of hopeful travelers like ourselves, we complete our transaction and are on our way. We are out on the streets of Barcelona again, finding a different route to our hotel. How easy all this would be today with smartphones, digital maps, translating apps. But it’s 2006 and our fancy smartphone purchases are a year away.

We leave our hotel earlier than we think to give ourselves plenty of time to find our train. Tickets in hand, unable to decipher which car is ours, we choose one at random because this is how it usually works in the States and Jim stows our suitcases in the space above us. Fifteen minutes pass before someone tells us we’re in their seats. We show them our tickets but are unable to bridge the communication gap so we continue to another car until we find seats that look like they could be ours. Again, we stow our bags and settle in and I pull out Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. You might think this is too obvious a choice, I can almost hear your droll laughter at my lack of imagination. Reading The Sun Also Rises on my way to Pamplona, our journey mirroring that of Hemingway’s. I’m captivated for the next few hours.

We meet some other Americans at the train station and after waiting two hours in the useless taxi queue, decide to try our luck by walking to the nearest pub and see about finding another way into town. It’s too far to walk even if you aren’t pregnant and sweating from the formidable heat. Thirty minutes later we are on our way. This trip was arranged for my husband as a Christmas gift, before I was pregnant, which we had been trying for without success for the three years of our marriage.

The hotel was booked on Travelocity, indeed the entire trip had been booked that way but the hotel didn’t have our reservation. I was in near meltdown stage at this point because I hadn’t felt my baby move yet, the travel had been a strain and I was hungry and tired. I’m not sure which of these was causing me the most distress. Jim took over and somehow, by a miracle, a room was found. It was small but beautiful. Any room would have looked beautiful to me by that point.

After a nap and shower, we took to the streets of Pamplona, eager to find something to eat and to take in the culture of the city. We found the restaurant servers did not speak English so instead, we navigate the menu by closing our eyes, putting our finger on a random choice and hoping for the best. We got used to the fact that most meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) came with two fried eggs. Ravenous from the journey, we would eat anything. The meal over, we continue into the square of Pamplona, the scene would be only a shadow of what was to come. We shop for the white clothes needed for the run and souvenirs for ourselves and our unborn son before we head back to the hotel to rest up for the festivities the following day.

July 6th is the is the pre-party and it puts all other communal gatherings to shame including New Year’s Eve at Time Square.  Beginning at noon, revelers enter the main city of Pamplona, celebrating the feast of San Fermin, dressed in their running attire – all white with red bandanas. Here everyone is a new friend and if a pregnant lady is about to be squashed by the crowd, several people will come to her aid, lifting her up to place her out of harm’s way. The party continues well into the night but this pregnant lady is tired and ready for bed.

The morning dawns, and there is excitement, but apprehension too. What Jim is about to do is dangerous and it becomes very real. I’m going to be on my own for several hours as he makes his way through the crowd to the place where the race is to begin. I sit on some steps outside the pathway that is the Running of the Bulls, legs tucked under, Hemingway’s tome in one hand and a water in the other. The crowd grows steadily and within an hour it is wall to wall people and I have been uprooted from my spot at the wooden gateway that cordons off the event. The rising sun carries a fresh heat and discomfort and the crowd kicks my claustrophobia into high gear. When will the race be over? I want it to be over soon.

Finally, there is movement. The spectators have been continuing the party from the previous evening and it seems some of them have yet to sleep. Some have passed out in a nearby park and did not make it for the day’s run. I can’t see anything. I want to know what’s happening. I can hear a thunder of hooves and sneakers running in tandem and imagine the fear of those inside the gated path. Everything is unknown to me. Why did I plan this trip?

And then it’s over. I frantically make my way to our meeting spot and I’m the first one there. I wait and wait some more. Finally, I pick him out of the crowd of white-clad runners, a smile lighting up his face. He jogs to meet me and embraces me in a much-needed hug and then puts my hand on his heart that hasn’t stilled from the adrenalin of the race. From his shirt pocket, he pulls out two cards: his health insurance card and a mass card with his brother’s picture on its face. This was a race they had been meant to run together, the reason for the trip, but David’s time ran out too soon and a promise is fulfilled.

 

 

 

 

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NYC Take Two

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Over the weekend we made another quick trip to NYC. I could probably stay a week and still call it a quick trip, there’s always so much I want to do. A couple months ago a friend asked if we’d like to go with them and of course I didn’t hesitate. Our sons were in daycare together and although they parted ways after kindergarten we have kept in touch and get together with and without the boys several times a year.

There was nothing on the agenda for this trip and on the train ride down we bandied around some ideas. A show, the Met and one my bucket list items to skate at Rockefeller Center (the giant Christmas Tree that overlooks the rink was being hoisted on Saturday and the rink was closed). We made our way to our separate hotels which were a couple blocks apart and regrouped at noon to grab some lunch. It’s often hard to make decisions in a group on where to dine but pizza was agreed on and we quickly made our way to John’s Pizza in Time Square, a reliable place to grab a few slices if ever there was one. Their salads are pretty good too.

times-square-vert1Once our crew was fed and happy again, we wandered over to the half-price Broadway ticket line. There was a pretty solid wait but it gave us a chance to ponder the show offerings. This is where being with a group gets tricky. We needed to decide on our top two or three choices. School of Rock, Cats and The Play That Goes Wrong. Their son wanted to see Newsies, a show about current events and we thought a lot of it might go over their heads. The play line is in a different spot altogether so we quickly scrapped that idea.

As we worked our way up the line we settled on School of Rock and Cats but I’m pretty sure it was a compromise all around since we’d also tossed a few other shows in the mix such as Blue Man Group, The Bubble Show and even though I’ve seen it a few times, I thought Phantom of the Opera would be a good one for the kids. One show that didn’t enter into consideration was Sponge Bob. No explanation needed.

Our first choice didn’t work out and we ended up with tickets to Cats, a show we were unsure of the plot, even as we left the theater that night. The costumes, dancing and singing did not disappoint and we were satisfied we’d made a good choice.

It was pretty darn cold in the city so after we acquired our tickets we took the boys for a sugar fix at the Hershey store and it was CLOSED! The M and M store is across the way and even though I don’t even like them I managed to eat half of Liam’s $14! bag while watching Cats. This is definitely a tourist trap! On every corner, there were boisterous men collecting money for the homeless and even though I wasn’t sure if it was legit, I dropped some money in their box. It’s so hard to see the homeless sleeping on the streets near Time Square especially as winter is coming our way.

We went back to our rooms to chill before the play and I settled in with Little Fires Everywhere until I fell asleep. The husbands decided to use their downtime in a nearby Irish pub so all parties were happy. We were still full from our lunch so we opted out of dinner and headed to the show a little after 7.

As I said, the show was great even though it has never been on my list to see and since it’s closing at the end of December, the timing was perfect. On the walk back to the hotel we tried to discern the plot with little luck and just agreed the show, on its face value, was pretty spectacular.

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The last time we were in the city we stayed at the same place and my husband was intrigued by a bagel shop across the way that had a line out the door both on Saturday morning when we arrived and late Sunday when we left. He decided to get up at seven on Sunday to beat the line and find out what the fuss was about. Thirty minutes later he arrived with three bulging bagels – cream cheese for us and salmon for him. We were all impressed.

The next part of the trip mirrored our last one: Saint Patrick’s Cathedral followed by a trip to the Met. Our friends had member access to the Michaelangelo exhibit which was in preview, so we tried to get a look at some of the sketches, paintings, and sculptures the Met had amassed for the exhibit. Unfortunately, about 10,000 other people had the same idea and I was only able to see and listen to the audio tour for about 20 minutes before Liam said he was absolutely going to die of thirst unless he had something to drink. I wanted to see some European paintings so I quickly agreed to take him to the cafe if he promised he’d let me look at some paintings uninterrupted afterward.

 

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I found this selfie when I was going through my pictures 

 

Haha. Before you knew it, it was time to catch a Lyft back to our hotel for our bag and walk the few blocks to Grand Central so we’d get home at a decent hour. Last time I promised myself the next trip to the Met would be a solo one and this time I mean it! As we left behind the noise and excitement of city life (honking cars, ambulances, police cars and the general din of city life) to our quiet corner of the world I couldn’t help but think about how fortunate we are to live so close to such a treasure.

MC

Keep writing

We’re leaving for New York City in two hours so I thought I better write my post before we go, so here I am at 6 a.m. in bed with my laptop and a bit of a sore throat. There’s no time to be sick around here. I prefer my desktop computer for writing but I don’t want to get out of bed just yet – I’m feeling too cozy. I might pause for a second to get coffee.

OK, I’m back, coffee at my side. I’ve also prepared a cocktail of Alka-Seltzer Plus cold to tamp down whatever’s building in my system. No one wants to be tromping around NYC not feeling well and I hope it does the trick. Now I need my reader glasses to write this without straining the eyes. The joys of aging. Back again. I realize I don’t like this little laptop because it does some crazy stuff without my knowing how it does it. Suddenly the cursor will be in the middle of a word three lines up and I’m messing up the post. I feel like I’ve already put too much effort to write this in bed that I can’t give up on it.

So far I’ve written about nothing yet. Two hundred words of nothing. What topic do I want to tackle today? Let’s talk about writing tools. Several months ago I discovered an app called Grammarly , an app that, you guessed it, helps you correct your grammar as you write. I corrects spelling, punctuation and even rewords passages for you which you can either accept with a click or ignore. I usually ignore since this isn’t a foolproof app.

Every week I get an email with a recap of my grammar improvements for the week and I have just ignored them until last week. I spied the message preview and saw this:  You’ve set a new personal record in the vocabulary category! Whose interest wouldn’t be peaked by that? Of course I clicked.

It breaks down your writing in the categories of productivity (how many words you wrote), accuracy (how many alerts you were shown), vocabulary (how many unique words you used) and then it gives you the option to upgrade to check out the advanced mistakes you made. This is pretty cool. It also shows how you’re doing compared to other Grammarly users and there is my new record in the vocabulary category – I used 1,373 unique words and that’s 93% more unique words than other Grammarly users. Yay for me! It’s small victories like this that can keep you going!

Another tool I started using yesterday was an app (or a program?) called Scrivener. I decided to take a peek at the novel I started over the summer and this is a tool for writing in a format that will be ready for publishing when it’s complete. I copy and pasted my intro and started  summarizing the characters on note cards on a virtual bulletin board. That’s as far as I went. I’m currently doing a 30 day trial and here’s the cool thing about this trial period. Only the days you write and use the app count towards the trial. I had installed it a few weeks ago but yesterday was the first time I opened it and got going so I still have 29 days of use and they don’t have to be concurrent days.

i would describe myself as a bit of a neophyte when it comes to blogging. I decided to join a few blogging groups on Facebook but I’m finding it all a bit confusing. One of my goals for this month is to figure out how to do this better and increase visitors to my site. I figure by the end of the month I’ll have a better handle on it. Do you have any particular tools you use for writing or blogging?

Happy writing!

MC

I will write today

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A cup of coffee and a blank page. Must be Friday morning. Again, I didn’t post yesterday for the daily blog challenge for the month of November. Wednesday night’s post was written in bed at 10:00 p.m. after traveling home from Chicago and then catching up with the family.  Yesterday was catching up on work, a meeting that ran late and then rushing to get to the annual mother child dinner for Liam’s school. I was pretty exhausted and didn’t feel like socializing and being in a noisy environment with only one hearing aid didn’t help. The other one broke on Sunday afternoon just as I was to head to the conference.

We got through the night and on the ride home all I could think about was going directly to bed. As soon as we got home (it was after 9:30 at this point), Liam wanted to watch TV because there wasn’t school in the morning. I knew if I let him stay up while I went to bed, he’d be up very, very late so I argued with him for about 15 minutes before I finally used a little bribery to get him to bed. Again it was 10:00 before I got into bed and a blog post wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t even muster up fifteen minutes of reading time and was asleep when my head hit the pillow.

Continue reading “I will write today”

What does the web know about you?

I’m at a research conference in Chicago for the early part of this week. Because there were no rooms at the hotel Sunday night, my boss and I woke at the crack of dawn yesterday (honestly, dawn hadn’t even cracked yet) to board our early morning flight. You might think I’m weird but I love to fly. Not the aspects of boarding or deplaning, but the airtime where I can focus all my energy on a book without worrying I should be doing something else. I was especially excited because I’d been on hold for Celeste Ng’s, Little Fires Everywhere, at the library and I got an email on Sunday that it was ready for pick up.

Because our flight was so early, we arrived at the hotel at about 8 a.m. but luck was in our favor and they had a couple of rooms ready for us. We went our separate ways and agreed to meet for breakfast in an hour.

When I first step into my hotel room, I get a feeling that I’m getting away with something. A sense of elation that all the space in these four walls is mine for the next couple of days. I can hang up my clothes (using all the hangers), lay out my toiletries and makeup without worrying I’m not leaving enough room for my husband’s stuff. I’m a person who craves personal space and time to myself and a couple nights in a hotel is just the fix I need.

Continue reading “What does the web know about you?”

No Guests for Dinner

 

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I’m currently on an airplane on my way to Chicago without internet access and decided to use auto fill on my phone to create a prompt for today’s blog post. So without further ado, and from 35,000 feet, here is the sentence I’m starting with:

I hope that you can bring your family to the house and have dinner.

When I was in my twenties, I often imagined my future life where I would meet the man of my dreams, get married, have kids and live in a neighborhood like the one I grew up in. The neighbors would be like family and dinner parties would be a weekly thing. Sometime around my early thirties, the only part of my dream that was left was to meet a halfway decent guy and get married. I also started to think it would be OK to remain single so I got myself a cat which seemed to be a panacea to all the single ladies.

Continue reading “No Guests for Dinner”

Eggs over pasta

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Several years ago (nearly 14 to be exact), my husband and I made our first trip to Italy together. A few months earlier, we had been in Paris on our honeymoon, and when we ran into a priest at the Louve who had been in school with my younger sister, we decided to take him up on his offer to show us around the Vatican where he was finishing up his studies.

It was a marvelous trip. We stayed in an apartment near the Vatican and worked our way around the city by foot, bus and train. The food was pretty spectacular but I was unaccustomed to the various courses and until we dined out with Father Brian, we stuck to our American style of eating of just one course per meal.

Father Brian was surprised and explained that the norm was to order several courses. The restaurant we chose that night was in Campo de Fiori, a wonderful square in the heart of Rome, that was called La Carbonara. The first course that night was pasta and I decided to go with carbonara, the dish the restaurant was named for. It was love at first bite!

When I returned home, I made it my mission to track down a recipe that would approximate the dish and it’s still a staple in our household all these years later. It is quick, easy and calls for just a few ingredients: pasta, eggs, grated parmesan, diced pancetta, chicken broth and red pepper flakes. There are never any leftovers.