A Gem of a River Trail in North Carolina

Neuse River Greenway Trail River and Wetlands

Neuse River Greenway Trail
River and Wetlands

We were thinking that there are so many trails to check out and so few weekends before the weather turns too cold. So, why not take advantage of our Empty Nester status and being in North Carolina for the weekend to ride a trail that John had his eye on for awhile? The Neuse River Greenway Trail in Raleigh was worth the trip. We parked at the Neuse River Falls trail head, but there were literally dozens of entrances to this trail. It’s obviously a very popular area. Lots of people were there to tube, canoe, or float down the river, as well as the bike, walk or roller blade. The weather was sunny and warm (93 degrees when we finished, with a heat index of 102). We were grateful that the storms stayed away.

We started our ride by going to the dam area which was only a quarter of a mile or so from our parking spot. There were picnic tables, benches and more parking at this trail head. Plus, there were bathrooms and water fountains. 

The paved, wide trail is in great condition– very clean and obviously very well maintained. The road bike was a great call for this trail. There are a umber of little hills which were actually a nice change of pace from the more flat than not B&A Trail we’d been out on lately.
Neuse River Greenway Trail Trail Curves

Neuse River Greenway Trail
Trail Curves

Scenic views of the river dotted the way and the trees provided shade for much of the ride. There were lots of bridges and plenty of places to stop for a break at cozy spots with benches and/or picnic tables. But, the trail appeared to me to be needlessly curvy. It was the windiest trail we’ve ever ridden.  Like ridiculously curvy. We normally ride rail trails, which don’t seem to have much curve to them. I don’t think that the river caused the curviness, it’s more likely the fact that the greenway goes through wetlands and fields. We didn’t see any interesting wildlife, which is absolutely fine by me. But, I was surprised by this. Usually wetlands are teeming with wildlife. It’s likely that I may have just not noticed because I was constantly negotiating another curve or bridge. We loved how well marked in both distance and trail heads this trail was, which was a nice change of pace.

Neuse River Greenway Trail Curvy!

Neuse River Greenway Trail
Curvy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We rode about 12.5 miles before deciding to take a quick break and turn around to head back to the car. We stopped on a long bridge that crossed the river, which lead me to wonder how many bridges we had crossed. It seemed like quite a few. So, we counted how many bridges we crossed for fun on our way back, giving each bridge a catchy name so we wouldn’t lose count. We counted 23 bridges, the last of which we named “Jordan,” but then I was second guessing our number thinking we’d crossed 24. But, John maintains that we didn’t use “Jack Bauer” for 24, so we couldn’t have crossed it. We didn’t count how many we rode under, which was probably four or five more, nor did we count the covered areas of the trail that looked like bridges but were not. It was a fun trail.

Bridge over Neuse River

Bridge over Neuse River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got back to the car tired and sweaty and with the about four and a half hours left of our drive home, (which ended up taking longer thanks to traffic). We hit the bathrooms to change our clothes before starting back, but not before taking our customary selfie.

Post Ride Selfie!

Post Ride Selfie!

 

 

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Tooling Along on our Trail Bikes

The Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

The Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

Heading into this July 4th holiday weekend, we didn’t have much lined up in terms of plans, however we knew we wanted to get out on our bikes again. Our friends, Sue and Sean, were also around. Hurray! Let the planning begin! We looked at the weather and picked Saturday as the best day for our ride. Although we have talked about a number of trail options (and have a long list of places we want to ride), we weren’t set on where to go. We ended up choosing the Michael Castle Trail (in Delaware) and the Ben Cardin Trail (in Maryland), which Sue and Sean had ridden last year.

St. Georges Trail Head, Delaware

St. Georges Trail Head, Delaware

The Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

The Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

We picked the trail head at St. Georges, which had plenty of parking and bathroom facilities. It was very straightforward to find coming from our house, and took about an hour and a half to get there. We were met by the views of the soaring bridges and the beautiful canal right away. After lubbing up with sunscreen, we set off for Maryland and the Ben Cardin Trail. The trail was not super wide, but it was paved and flat. And, while the parking lot was pretty full, the trail itself never felt crowded.

The Canal

The Canal

We were surprised it wasn’t, as it was a lovely day to be out. Everyone we passed was very friendly, which we all noticed. We enjoyed watching the mostly speed boats out on the canal as we tooled along. A couple miles in, we needed to track away from the canal and that’s where we hit a couple of hills. Shortly after that, we were back along the water and heading into a segment of trail that was rocks, gravel, and dirt. Thank goodness Sue had ridden it before and knew it was a definite trail bike trail. A few areas were so rocky, I was sure even the trail bike would have trouble, but it didn’t. Or, rather, I didn’t.

Michael_Castle_Trail_Trail and Canal View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the Many Bridges Along the Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

One of the Many Bridges Along the Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

We arrived in Maryland to literally zero fanfare. No “Welcome to Maryland” or “Delaware Looks Forward to Seeing You Really Soon, When you Return to Get your Car” signs or mileposts marked the change. There was a small sign that noted the end of the Michael Castle Trail, but that was it.

 

 

The trail along the Ben Cardin was also paved and a bit wider and was noteworthy for the benches that periodically dotted the way. There were port-a-potties at the end of trail at Chesapeake City. It was a cute trail head. We stopped and walked around a bit. It was about a 10.5 mile ride from the car.

The Ben Cardin Trail, Chesapeake City, MD Trail Head

The Ben Cardin Trail, Chesapeake City, MD Trail Head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The return ride seemed to go a lot faster, which is always the case. Especially when you rode out the 10 with a headwind. After loading up the bikes, we went into Delaware City. We found a great restaurant, Crabby Dick’s, with nice views of the water and had a delicious lunch. We once again have more of the trail to ride, (and another excuse to come back to this area). The piece going further into Delaware from our St. George’s starting point. We were exceedingly happy with our 21 miles and overall delightful day.

All Smiles After Great Ride!

All Smiles After Great Ride!

Olé!

2016 Feria de Abril Plaza de Toros Poster; Official Program and Feria Daily Insert

2016 Feria de Abril Plaza de Toros Poster; Official Program and Feria Daily Insert

 

One of the highest accolades a bull fighter can receive for a valiant well fought fight is una oreja, an ear of the bull he killed. Sometimes, for a particularly well fought battle, dos orejas or two ears of the bull he killed are given. More rarely than that two ears and the tail is granted to the bull fighter. It is quite rare and a real honor to witness a bull fight in which the latter two awards are bestowed. However, the most rare and amazing event to witness at a bull fight is when both the bull and the matador have fought exceptionally bravely and the crowd petitions for an Indulto or pardon. When a bull is pardoned, he is lead from the bull ring and lives out the rest of his life on the farm of its owner as a stud.

Family Photo from our Seats

Family Photo from our Seats

I was excited to have the opportunity to see a bull fight with my family during the Feria de Abril in Seville, Spain. It is, to me, a must see. My son had been to his first bull fight the week before and was enthralled by it. But, April 13th in La Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla was special. We arrived early to take in the atmosphere. Everyone dresses very nicely for this event, and we did too. So, we took a lot of photographs before it had even begun. There are so many things to notice. Seat cushions are for sale or rent (which benefited the Spanish Red Cross), as the seating is on brick and cement. Many folks purchase snacks and drinks before they enter the Maestranza.

We also immediately noticed that there was no jumbotron. No announcers. Not much room to move once seated. But, there were two vendors walking through the seats yelling what they were selling, one had roasted almonds and one had drinks. There was a decent size band on the upper level across from the box where the dignitaries sit. We were seated in the Sombra section, which is the shade side. We were happily on the side where most of the action took place. The opposite side of the ring was in full sun and was the Sol or sunny section.

Bullfight Bullcropped

The music began and the action followed almost immediately.  The first bull was not a very good fighter and the matador did not appear as polished as I’ve seen. My husband and kids were glued to the action. The third bull was better and so was the matador. He received dos orejas. I kept saying, “This is a great honor. I’m so glad we got to see this. This is relatively rare to see.” And etc. The next bull came out and he was fierce from the start. He and his torero performed very well, each one matching the other with moves and counter-moves. Pretty soon, it became obvious (to those who have seen bull fights before) that this was a special bull. The crowd began to wave white handkerchiefs. Those of us without them used the programs we had about the night’s bull fight. The whole place was waving and the matador walked over to the judge and he granted the indulto or pardon. Immediately, eight large light brown and white bulls were ushered into the ring. They patiently corralled the bull and then all walked back out of the ring. The crowd was cheering wildly. THIS was the pinnacle of bull fighting. We witnessed history. It was so thrilling. The matador received dos orejas (from a previously killed that night bull) and he walked around the ring, proudly holding up the ears and waving at the exuberant crowd. The owner of the bull also joined him in taking the lap around the ring. It was so awesome.

Helping the Pardoned One Out of the Ring

Helping the Pardoned One Out of the Ring

There were two more bulls, but the evening belonged to the Matador Manuel Escribano and the indultado (the pardoned bull), “Cobradiezmos.”

Glossy Photo of the Matador Manuel Escribano

Glossy Photo of the Matador Manuel Escribano

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was so much history, culture, passion and art that we all came away exhilarated by the experience. John was taken by the music which served to connect the three stages of the bull fights. It was so old fashioned. I felt like we were non-speaking extras in a movie, sitting quietly expectant until we were cheering and yelling, “Olé” on cue. There was no evidence that it was 2016, except for the cell phones we held up to take pictures of the spectacle. We thought we might have feelings of, “Oh, my gosh! I feel sorry for the bull!” but did not.  It was too ceremonial to feel that way. The prevailing thought was, “This was so cool!” And, of course, it was nice to focus on knowing that one of the bulls would be spending his remaining years out to stud on a farm.

Bullfight ring

 

Swienconka for Two?

The Real Butter Lamb

The Real Butter Lamb

My husband and I awoke to an empty house today. We think it might be the first time in over 20 years we haven’t had at least one of the kids here with us on Easter morning. We are fine with it. My husband is in his Polish food glory. I’m happy that I’m not staring down two candy-filled Easter baskets knowing that I’m going to end up losing the battle of willpower and diving in to them. It’s a happy empty nest.

Preparations for Easter or, in our case, a Polish Easter can take days. Hard boiling eggs, buying and cooking up the Polish sausage (the holiday variety, if we can get it around here. Side Note: Yes, we know about Ostrowski’s, but they do not use the same recipe as Redlinksi’s (in Buffalo, NY), which is my husband’s favorite, so we usually just get a decent stand in from Wegman’s.), getting the butter lamb (Side Note: We got a “REAL Butter Lamb this year!), getting the ham, getting the seedless rye bread, and that is the bare minimum for the Polish traditional meal of the day on Easter Sunday: Swienconka.*

The food for this meal is usually blessed. In the Buffalo area, churches are overflowing with folks bringing huge baskets, stuffed with everything for the swienconka to be blessed the Saturday before Easter. I’ve heard that at some churches, the priest has had to come out and do a mass blessing in the parking lots to all the folks trapped in the gridlock in their cars. Around here, our church has done the Blessing of the Food Mass but attendance is considerably lighter. In fact, the few times we’ve gone, there have been probably fewer than 30 baskets. This year, with just the two of us, we did not make it to have our food blessed. I often wonder how many years of blessing we can get out of, say, our salt and pepper shaker’s contents…I guess I would need to pay attention to how often I refill them during the year. Anyway, the lack of actual, current blessing, however, did not stop us from having the traditional meal. 

The Basic Traditional Polish Meal

The Basic Traditional Polish Meal

I was happy to not have to dye the eggs, buy candy, or decorate the house. Our daughter made it over to our house in time for church, which was nice. We got a nice Easter note from our son. My parents are having us over for Easter dinner. It’s a very happy empty nest, indeed.

 

*Swienconka – I do not know how to speak or write in Polish, so I’m using the word tweeted out by my sister-in-law, who will know better than I the ins and outs of Polish Easter words.

 

The Beautiful Game Back in The Day

Love Soccer

Love Soccer

I grew up in a time and place that was quite unique. I played soccer and swam on the neighborhood summer swim team. Forty years ago. It was very normal. I had no idea that literally the year my family moved to this unique place, Title IX was passed. It didn’t seem to matter. Boys and girls, black or white or other races were all just kids. We were on teams and in school and we were not told we couldn’t do any of it for any reason. I had no idea how rare it all was. I had no idea that there were huge areas of the country that did not offer soccer as a sport option, or if they did, did not offer soccer as a sport for girls back at that time.

In high school, I played on the Girls Varsity Soccer team, which I believe had only started up the year or two before I got there. I would later learn that one of my former neighborhood team teammates had lobbied hard to make high school soccer for girls a reality at my school. (Thank you, Jessie!) Our coach was a Cuban American woman, who was also my Spanish teacher.  There was no Girls Junior Varsity team back then. I don’t even know when that started in our county. I was in college by then or older perhaps.

So, I was a soccer player and soccer fan in the U.S. a long time ago. We had a very successful Boys Varsity Soccer Team at the time. One young man was drafted to play in the North American Soccer League (NASL), the U.S. professional league, right out of high school. He played for the New York Cosmos, which was a very good team.  It was very exciting to think that someone we knew from our school was playing professionally with some of the top names in the sport.

Today I learned that one of THE legends of the game back then died. Johan Cruyff. He was Dutch, but he played in the U.S. for another NASL team, the Washington Diplomats, for a time. I can’t believe how hearing of his passing has brought to mind this flood of my personal soccer memories and with them, gratitude. I got to see that guy play. And, while the details are fuzzy and honestly irrelevant, I’m happy to have had the honor. But, I’m even more grateful that I was able to play.

Soccer Patches

Soccer Patches

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Thirty Years Later

La Sagrada Familia Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona, Spain

Rocky, exasperating, frustrating, overwhelming, and hard are a few of the words I would use to describe my first few weeks in Spain, where I was transplanted for my Junior year of college. However, those aren’t any of the words I actually use to describe my study abroad experience, mind you. I look back on my study abroad experience with happiness, excitement, pride, and a deep yearning to go back. In fact, I have a number of stories about things that I experienced when I first arrived that I laugh about now, but that I did not find funny at all at the time. So, having a child go overseas for his semester abroad program, has reminded me of the not often talked about parts of study abroad: the culture shock. We used the terms “culture shock” and “reverse culture shock” before and after my study abroad experience, back in the day. But, talking about it and learning what types of feelings are bundled under the umbrella of the term “culture shock,” does not prepare you for it happening to you. Funny thing about feelings. And, while I believe that everyone experiences some sort of culture shock, not everyone’s culture shock manifests in the same way. But, I guess, it was helpful to have the idea that what one is experiencing is normal. Although, I don’t once recall thinking, “Oh, yes. This is my culture shock talking,” when I was having a frustrated moment.And, communication has changed so much since I lived in Spain, it is mind-boggling to me. While I had pushed all of my entry into Spain and Spanish culture issues (READ: my culture shock) well to the back of my mind, I was brought back face to face with them through my son.

And, while it was a bit uncomfortable to hear he was experiencing his culture shock, it was nice to be able to say, “Yeah, I remember that. I felt that way, too.” So, while the sum total of our parenting advice has been something along the lines of, “Hang in there!” and “You can do it!” I had more peace about the place my son found himself in those early weeks of his Junior year. I knew that he was so close to getting over the biggest hump and would be fine. It just takes time.

While I mentally wrestled with ways I could “help” him, I began thinking about thirty years ago. One thing that came to me was an analogy. Undertaking a study abroad program is like panning for gold in the late 1800s. The conditions are physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. You’re standing in unfamiliar waters, performing unfamiliar tasks, like bending down and scooping up rocks and dirt and water and shaking out the unwanted parts. It’s demanding all of your attention to find the gold nuggets. But, you find them. Some are small, some a little bigger, and every now and then, you find a sizeable chunk of gold. You put all the nuggets that you find in a pouch or off to the side and continue panning. When you stop at the end of the day, you may not find that you have many nuggets. But, at the end of the week or month or semester, you will have lots of gold nuggets. Those gold nuggets are what you will be proud of, thankful for, and will be what you remember about your study abroad experience. The lack of reliable 24/7 WiFi will fade into the deep recesses of your mind, crowded out by the awesome, shiny gold nuggets you are holding.

Another thing that came to me was a word of advice: Don’t compare your insides (READ: what you are feeling) to somebody else’s SnapChat stories, Instagram pictures, Facebook posts, or tweets on Twitter. Seeing people who are also studying abroad appearing to be having an amazing time without any of the culture shock piece does not mean they are not also struggling to come to terms with their new environment. They are. And, just a P.S. Everyone is thinking the same thing about your cool photos and posts on social media.

And finally, I thought, it’s important to find your inner warrior. Be fearless. Face the day resolving to do your best, make the best of every situation, and have fun. I used to picture a map of the world and then picture where I was compared to my family and friends. I used that image to propel me through days I didn’t want to get out bed, as well as days I was having so much fun, I didn’t want to go to sleep.

Monserrat Catalonia, Spain

Monserrat
Catalonia, Spain

 

 

 

 

#MyGlobalLife

 

Running For Preparedness

Survivor Strong Memorial 5K Run and Fun Walk, August 2015

Survivor Strong Memorial 5K Run and Fun Walk, August 2015

The mark of a truly successful event is having volunteers ask to be part of the same event next year. The mark of a successful charity (non-profit, in this case) and charity event is having volunteers ask, “What are you doing next? I want to help with everything you are doing.” And, the mark of a non-profit’s successful mission or relevance is its ability to bring known and well regarded personalities to attend, speak at, and promote the mission and efforts of your non-profit. The National Center for Citizen Safety (NCCSAFE) had all of the above and more at the first Survivor Strong Memorial 5K run and fun walk.

Volunteers Getting Ready for the Race!

Volunteers Getting Ready for the Race!

The founder and president of NCCSAFE, Lois Blevins, invited me to work at her non-profit this summer to help with the 5K and other projects. I was excited to bring my experience running events to this effort. NCCSAFE is headquartered in Ellicott City, Maryland, and was started just over a year ago in response to the alarming rise in “active shooter” situations and other acts of domestic terrorism. Its mission is to fill the gap in educating the public on what to do if they find themselves in this type of life threatening situation; to be a repository for information and resources for survivors of such incidents; and to provide survivors with healing camps and retreats. The NCCSAFE has several initiatives started that will continue to promote citizen awareness and preparedness, but the 5K run was a major fund- and awareness-raiser.

Gathering for the Race Start

Gathering for the Race Start

Eyeing the Finish Line!

Eyeing the Finish Line!

Her team of volunteers and college interns did an amazing job, and the compliments keep pouring in through word of mouth and social media. I was happy to coordinate the volunteers for the day, and was asked by several about how to volunteer with NCCSAFE year round, as well as for next year’s 5K.

Survivors, Sponsor, Staff and Interns!

Survivors, Sponsor, Staff and Interns!

In addition to enjoying a well organized and well run event with great food, beverages, and SWAG, the participants and spectators heard inspiring words from three speakers, who know first hand how horrible living through shootings and domestic terrorism is. Hector Hernandez conducted responder recovery at the Oklahoma City bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Building, where he once worked. Michele Gay, a former Howard County resident, who lost her daughter Josephine Grace in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT, is a founder of Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative. And, Erika Brannock, also a Maryland native, who lost her leg in the Boston Marathon bombing, is currently writing a book. All three were very supportive of NCCSAFE’s mission and spoke of the need for the type of information and advocacy that NCCSAFE provides during the pre-race ceremony. I was so happy to be a part of such a positive event for such a worthwhile cause. 

Hector Hernandez, Erika Brannock and Michele Gay, Event Speakers

Hector Hernandez, Erika Brannock and Michele Gay, Event Speakers

Photo Credit to Ellie and Fred McKenzie

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