Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Gunstock Gun Show

Have you wondered what a bachelor party might look like during a coronavirus quarantine?
Well, wonder no more, on this blog we aims to inform.
A couple of months back, the E Streeters conspired to pull together a safe, socially distanced bachelor party for Andrew in advance of his pending nuptials to Katie
As with everything during a time of COVID, the event took some considerable planning by Best Man Ben, with some local geography assists from Scott, whose lakefront home is only a couple of miles down the road from the two mountains we decided to scale - Belknap and Gunstock.
Once it was decided that the soiree would need to take place outside from start to finish, we narrowed it down to a manageable climb for those in the group who haven't scaled a mountain in the past.
As it turns out, we had the parking lot, and just about the entire mountain all to ourselves.
But before we began our upward trek, like any member of the Appalachian Mountain Club will tell you, it's time for donuts from the Donut Shack.
And with a moderate amount of marshmallow donuts consumed, it was time to begin our climb.
And almost immediately, stop it, so Mike, Scott and Sean can make sure we're on the right trail.
Our orienteering under control, we chose the path less travelled.  At least on this particular Saturday.
Ain't nothing like the Great Outdoors
This first day of August proved to be an especially warm one, with temperatures close to 90 for most of the hike.  Hydration a must for all!
Bridges early on in the lower terrain, but none to be seen in the higher elevations
Here, we see the silverback gorilla at home in his native habitat.  One can only surmise what he is doing in this deep copse.
Group shot at Round Pond
And then the actual climbing portion of the program commenced in earnest.
Followers of this blog have read past posts about mountaintop cairns.
Cairns are manmade piles of rocks, derived from the Gaelic word "carn" which translates to a "heap of stones."
For decades, mountain climbers have been building cairns atop mountains to serve as survey markers, and directional structures.
The top of Belknap boasted a couple of dozen small, directional cairns.
Finally, getting above the treeline, we start to catch our first glimpses of the surrounding lakes and mountains in the Belknap region
The Two Towers
The Two Wowers
Ready for their tuxedos
Brothers Grim
These two put the guns in gunstock
Heading to the summit, we can see Lake Winnipesaukee, and to its inner waters, Rattlesnake Island and the Spence Estate
Scenes from high up on the active fire tower atop Belknap
In case you're wondering, Scott is on the phone with Carlos, who, while late to the climb because of a work commitment, was at this point of the day running up the southern slope to rendezvous with the rest of us.
Down below the fire tower, Benjamin broke out exactly the kind of hydration everyone is looking for after scaling a mountain in 90 degree weather
Tito's vodka, to commemorate the climb
Belknap Mountain was named after Jeremy Belknap, a preacher, historian and author of the History of New Hampshire
The peak of Belknap is the highest point in all of Belknap Country, at 2,382 feet
From Belknap, it was on to our second mountain of the day, its next-door neighbor, to the northwest, Gunstock.
Gunstock is the second highest peak in the Belknap Mountains, with an elevation of 2,240 feet.
Not much happening at the top of the ski lift.  Just us and the birds.
These ski slopes have never seen this style of groom-ing
Back down at the base, it was time to connect with a handful of fellow celebrators, who, while they couldn't make it up for the climb, were there for the lakeside feedbag
Ben and Scott were only to happy to share the cooking duties
I'm proud to be able to share these pics with you because the event took place nearly two months ago - and everyone walked away healthy and COVID-free.
That's because we rolled with the punches that 2020 has thrown at us, and incorporated safety measures into every conversation we had about putting together a bachelor party that Andrew would truly appreciate.  We kept the entire event outdoors, from start to finish, and made sure to have one another's backs on the safety front.
Post climbs, Andrew said the day went pretty much how he might have scripted it even if we weren't in a pandemic, so kudos all around to those who helped contribute to make it a memorable double mountain day, and a healthy bachelor party for the Belknap Bachelor Bros.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Staying the Course for the Fourth

Admittedly, 2020 has provided something of a challenge for all of us. I'm thankful that so many members of the extended family that reads this blog have been able to safely weather - for the most part- this pandemic in relatively good health.
Many of us know someone whose live has been forever changed by the events of 2020, and the quarantine that has forced all of us to adapt our lifestyles to stay safe, healthy, and sane together as we try to muddle our way through this challenging stretch of time.
For more than two decades, the extended family of EStreeter runners have been showing up on Parkhurst Road in Chelmsford to participate in the annual tradition of the John Carson Fourth of July two-mile road race sponsored by Sullivan Farms in Tyngsboro.
It has annually been a ritual that signals the commencement of the lazy days of summer, but it's always provided a gathering place for all of us to celebrate our families, and the growing numbers within those families.
It's never been about a two-mile run, it's been about gathering together (along with a couple of thousand of other runners) to have some fun and celebrate the fact that we're still able to do so.
Which brings us to 2020.
Sadly, the race was yet another casualty of gatherings during this global pandemic, leaving many of us with finding a way to still try to maintain some semblance of normalcy in the midst of all this upheaval.
And so it came to pass, that a small handful of EStreeters gather today, as we do every Fourth of July, in the parking lot of Einstein Bros. Bagels in Chelmsford to maintain the tradition and log some miles on the Carson course.
In a socially distancing, safe manner, of course.
And as always, its an opportunity to break out our Captain America swag.
Carlos grabbed what was most likely his best pole position for the start of one of these Carson races ever.  Ben and Andrew, would, as always, be watching from behind in a Carlos Group Run.  As irony would have it, we passed John Carson's dad riding his bicycle on the course within the first half mile of our outing.  Good for him! 
There was definitely a different feel along North Road this a.m.  We weren't the only runners out there, either.  There were easily a couple of dozen others, all doing their thing and respecting one another's distance. 
Not sure if this was a Scouting troop or a church group, but bravo to the young, old and animals of all sizes patriotic parade that we encountered at the one mile mark.
Sadly, Mrs. Piekos was not at her perennial post, waiting to capture our pics as we flashed past her.  She's been a stalwart at that post since the earlier days of the race, and we have the pics to prove it! 
Patriotism comes in all shapes, and sizes. 
Bumped into Wink McCarty logging his mileage, as always out by Chelmsford Center.   Wise in his years, he had Donut Shack donuts waiting for him at his journey's end.
Strange not seeing all of the lawn chairs tied together along North Road.
There were, however, a handful of folks gathered on lawns cheering us on, not to mention the inordinate amount of people who beeped and cheered at us as they passed.  It was actually pretty rewarding, if we're being honest.
Here's to hoping the numbers will back out there in 2021, and this virus will be in all of our rear view mirrors.
In the meantime, here's some of the oldest blog pics we have from this blog and this event, tracking back to the blog's relaunching in 2009.
Enjoy the day, everyone, and stay safe and socially distant at those cookouts!
Celebrate your independence and freedom, but remember to do it safely and smartly! 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Big Apple Bern

It was nearly 20 years ago, when I walked into the third floor Kearney Square Lowell office of Congressman Marty Meehan, and officially met the bombastic woman from Budapest, Bernadett Vajda.  For years previously, I had worked fairly regularly with her sister, Estzer, who was a reporter for local news radio WCAP.  Estzer would call me daily in my gig at the Lowell Police Department, looking for the news of the day.

After my first official intro to Bern, we would then spend two years working side-by-side, helping navigate the daily tasks of a congressional office.  The stretch of time was particularly unique, coming as it did in the months after the attacks on our country on 9/11.  One of the tasks Bern and I worked together on was helping Congressman Meehan stay connected to the families of the victims from the Greater Lowell area who lost their lives on September 11.

Along with our fellow district staffers - Lori Loureiro (now CONGRESSWOMAN Lori Trahan), Sara Khun, June Black, Chris Doherty, Benari Poulten, Zoila Gomez, Emily Byrne, and our counterparts in the D.C. Office, Bill McCann, Shilpa Phadke, Jen Staruski, Ron Carlton, and Suzy Dumont, among others, it was a usually well-oiled machine that bonded closely in the trenches of congressional office work.

But eventually, the team went its separate ways, with most everyone pursuing new careers paths.

For her part, Bernadett decided to make the move to the Big Apple, and pursue the career in modeling she had always longed for.  Almost immediately she carved out a niche for herself in NYC, and those of us who knew her got a big kick out of following her exploits, especially when she walked the fashion runway on a morning talk show.

In the ensuing years, whenever the Cook family made our Christmastime pilgrimage to New York, we'd always connect with Bern, and she would help stage our stylish Christmas card pose for the coming season.  She rode the ferris wheel with the kids in Toys R Us in Times Square, played the floor piano and had disgustingly gluttonous ice cream sundaes at FAO Schwarz with them, and loved to point out her favorite haunts.  For Heather, especially, Bern became her go-to super-model who offered her fashion and self-esteem tips.  Once for Andrew, Bern played the role of show-and-tell prop for his school project on Hungary.  He's still steaming over the fact he got a B on the project.  "I BROUGHT A FREAKING ACTUAL PERSON FROM HUNGARY IN AND SHE BROUGHT HUNGARIAN COOKIES," he frequently bemoans.

Bern is one of those friends you don't have to see to constantly stay close to, but you know she's always there.  And invariably, when our names pop up on cell phone caller-ID, it's usually a must answer, because there's usually a laugh to be shared on the call.

When she comes back to town, it sometimes even warrants a Wicked Good Blog post: 2012

Fast forward to 2020 and the new normal that has become living in quarantine in America.  Here in the Mill City, we have the ability to roam the streets and not bump into many other folks during our travels.  Not so in the Big Apple.

Bern and I have been chatting through the COVID-19 crisis, and she's been especially active on her social media accounts, trying to show how life has changed for her in NYC.  This week, she reduced those thoughts to words, and submitted a first person account of New York quarantine, and the results ended up on page one of the Lowell Sun, seen here:  Bernadett

Bern agreed to let me share her post here as well, to share not just her story, but several more pics showing what life is like in New York these days.  I was more than happy to comply.

So without further ado, here's a first-person account of living in the Big Apple during a time of Coronavirus, courtesy of my bud from Budapest, Bernadett!


For me, this is day 34 of my self-quarantine in my small New York City apartment.  The apartment is the perfect size for one person.

Were this a normal day, I would be dressing for my two careers – as the business owner of Bern With Style, an image consulting business, or when I’m not styling my clients, I am off and running to castings and auditions as a model.

Most mornings, I leave my apartment early to go work out at the gym, then run, home for a shower to get ready for work.  What follows is a five-minute walk to the subway and my morning commute, normally surrounded by dozens and dozens of fellow New Yorkers.

Lunch usually consists of a walk to my favorite salad spots, where I stand and check out what people are wearing, noticing the latest fashion trends and styles of my fellow residents.

Dinnertime would consist of a social event, at a popular restaurant, a fund-raiser, or a business meeting.  Most of the meals are partaken out on the town.

Now, though?  Nothing could be further from my normal routine.  I am quarantined in my own apartment, taking in the sights of New York that I can take in from my window.  The bone-chilling sounds of ambulances driving to and fro to the neighborhood hospital provide the constant cacophony of sirens that have become commonplace for me.
The NYPD barricade surrounding Bern's neighborhood hospital
It all started to change for me on February 27.  I snapped a photo on the border of the lower east side and Chinatown, just after leaving a modeling audition.  I called my mom, Clara, in Andover, to tell her about the audition, but the vibe in the air around me was different.  Restaurants and storefronts were empty.  On the phone with my mom, I told her people looked frantic, nervous, and clearly unsettled about a change in the atmosphere.

My sister, Eszter, a former radio personality on WCAP 980 in Lowell, lives in Sicily, Italy, and had already been in lockdown for weeks.  I got on the phone with her to seek her advice, and it was clear what was happening.

COVID-19 was coming to my New York City.

My sister spent an extensive time prepping me, trying to tell me what types of items I needed to get in stock in the virtually guaranteed eventuality of a coronavirus mandated home quarantine.   We shared long distance tears knowing our worlds were changing, and not for the better.

Eszter began sharing stories of what life was like now in Italy, and we both cried as we realized the same pandemic was coming to the Big Apple, the heart of the USA, and the place I’ve called home for more than 15 years.  It was then I began my first grocery runs to stock up.

Even during normal times, grocery shopping in New York City is a burdensome chore, especially when you don’t have a car.  The constant struggle always, is deciding what types of groceries you want to haul home – canned goods, water, fruits and vegetables and cleaning supplies are heavy on our best days.

With my first supply runs during the pandemic, returning home and climbing my staircases with the heavy bags, it hit me, and the tears came again.
Entering my apartment, wiping all the groceries down with Lysol wipes and putting them away, knowing I would not be able to come and go freely on continued groceries bore down heavily on me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am fortunate, in that I have a roof over my head and food in my refrigerator.  But being a business owner, single and navigating the streets of one of the busiest cities in America is daunting.

Since my quarantine began, I have tried to maintain my own schedule to help me feel well.  I still have my coffee in the morning, followed by a meditation.  One of the other highlights of my days has become a morning video yoga routine with one of my best friends, Dr. Cynthia Davis of Wakefield, Mass.  She helps hold me accountable to show up for both myself and her during this time.

Now though, my days also start with updates from Governor Cuomo, and periodic check-ins on the television news.  And of, course, phone check-ins with my mom and sister.

I shower and get ready for my day.  I’ve taken to regular applications of red lipstick, because I like the way it looks during these trying days.
In addition to continuing to work with my clients in image consulting, the other top highlight of my days has become clapping for those people working on our front lines during this crisis.

Every night, promptly at 7 p.m., I run to my kitchen grab a wooden spoon and pan, open my window, and starting banging on my drum, screaming out my window with the rest of New York City as we clap for those doctors, nurses, health care workers, first responders, and store employees who continue to perform their jobs so the rest of us can survive.   To me, they are more than heroes.  Imagine walking into work every day knowing you may be the next patient. There should be a new word for heroism. The faces of hospital workers I see walking to and from the subway each day going to their shifts will haunt me for a long time.

Occasionally, I still venture out to my local market, but what was once a quick stop has now become a longer process, as I have to wait in line to get into the store.

I miss my weekend walks in Central Park.  I miss meeting my friends for lunches, or coffees, or cocktails.

From experience, I have learned that as horrific as this time is for many, if we make the right choices physically and mentally, in the end we will be stronger, wiser and have a deeper understanding of ourselves and a gratitude for the simple things in life.
I miss my everything bagels.  I miss the smell of street vendors.  I miss seeing the latest fashion trends walk by me.  I even miss the subway entertainment.

Most of all, I miss my friends and family.  I miss returning to Massachusetts for special occasions.   I miss human contact.

I know it will be back.  I know we will eventually recover.  I know we will be stronger.  I know I am inspired.  But still, I miss my New York City.