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!







By BERNADETT VAJDA

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.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Atlantic Currents: A Cook Goes to Cork

More than 75 years ago, my mother, Marie, a young 16-year-old, took to the stage at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on East Merrimack Street to sing alongside dozens of her friends, and at one point in the ensuing years, famed crooner Danny Thomas.

A member of the parish of St. Peter's Church on Gorham Street, my mom joined local radio program the Cathedral Hour and became a member of the Christian Doctrine Choristers.  The group would perform in semi-annual shows from 1945 through the mid 1950s.

Post World War II, the Choristers performed a concert at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium to honor the 441 Lowell heroes of World War II, one of whom was my uncle, Gerald, who was killed in action in WWII.  Gerald was the older brother of my father, Jimmy, who Marie would marry a few years later, in 1951.

I've blogged about the Choristers previously, and pics from their performances as well as a list of names of others local members of the group can be found here:  Choristers

So why resurrect the tale of my mom's brief, albeit unforgettable-for-her 1940s singing career now, whilst our country battles back the most insidious virus that any of us have seen in our lifetimes?

Because the tale of Marie Cook and her fellow Choristers is one of nearly 100 poems, essays, or short stories in Atlantic Currents: Connecting Cork and Lowell, a collection spotlighting 65 writers from and around the Mill City.  And if folks are looking for an entertaining read to help pass social distancing time being spent in their homes, this fits the bill quite nicely.


To say I'm honored to be numbered among the ranks of the other accomplished authors in the tome would be a gross understatement.  I offer my thanks to Paul Marion and John Wooding, who reached out to me to make a submission and stand alongside fellow writers doing our best to chronicle a piece of the Mill City's history and legacy.
I'm honored also, that a tale chronicling my mom's youth was the piece that was selected, helping keep alive a chunk of Lowell history all but forgotten with the dissolution of St. Peter's parish, and the passing of the generation who helped shape Lowell through the majority of the 20th century.


A little more insight into the collection, comes via the back cover copy of Atlantic Currents: "Connecting Cork and Lowell brings together sixty-five writers from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean whose stories, poems, essays, songs and parts of novels come to us in familiar voices.  While we recognize the sound and sense in these works because of the well-traveled routes between Ireland and America, there is much to discover in today's writing from both places.  Complex relationships, sublime joy found in small and large matters, destabilizing external forces, a hunger for harmony, loss in its many forms, snares of history, transcendent moments in special locations, the simple attempt to get through "it all" every day - readers will find all this and more."

The copy continues: "Spurred by a desire to make a sturdy bond between two historic cities whose modern resurgence has been driven in large part by commitments to lifelong experiential learning, the organizers of Cork Learning City and Lowell: City of Learning began collaborating in the spirit of UNESCO's Learning Cities network.  With this anthology, the connecting thread is made stronger through the now entwined writing and reading in both places."

The local book launch was scheduled for this weekend, but alas, was another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.  No doubt, it'll be back on the schedule as soon as the crisis abates, and I'm certain many of the talented writers featured in the book will be only too happy to celebrate the end of isolation and the value of having so many talented local writers.

For details on how to purchase your own copy, check out Loom Press' website here:  Loom Press

It's the perfect book to help pass the time of this seemingly-interminable quarantine, but it's also a magnificent opportunity to support and celebrate local authors and celebrate the lifelines between Lowell and Cork.

Slainte!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Train-ing Run

Running during a time of coronavirus has become an interesting challenge.
On the one hand, there's an abundance of facts and findings that continuing to exercise, maintaining your health, and breaking the monotony of home-bound activities is critical to your well-being.
And then there's that social distancing thing, maintaining your six feet of space between one another, which is critical to all of us beating back this pandemic.
Luckily, the great outdoors lends itself quite nicely to fill both those requirements.
This morning, the E Streeters proper took to the lesser-populated trails and roadways of Westford to log some decent mileage, take in the sights of the always-pleasurable East Boston Camp trails, and at the same time, do our part to stay healthy and keep one another healthy while doing so.

Today's run provided quite a bit of training.  Both physically, and literally.

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
They say lose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love
Show me someone who knows how to live it
There's a slow, slow train comin' up around the bend
- Bob Dylan, Slow Train
Now I swing a sledge hammer on a railroad gang
Knocking down them cross ties, working in the rain
Now don't it feel like you're a rider on a downbound train
- Bruce Springsteen, Downbound Train

It's all well and good until a train comes along and makes you detour your running course


Well, the only thing that makes me laugh again
Is a southbound whistle on a southbound train
Every place I want to go
I never can go, because you know
I got the freight train blues
Oh Lord mama, I got them in the bottom of my rambling shoes
- Bob Dylan, Freight Train Blues


Out of my brain on the train
Out of my brain on the train, on the train, out of my brain
Woo
Out of my brain on the train
Here it comes
Woo
Out of my brain on the train, on the train
Out of my brain on the train
Why should I care?
Why should I care
The Who, 5:15

Father son, running down the tracks


This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls
I said, this train carries broken-hearted
This train thieves and sweet souls departed
This train carries fools and kings
This train, all aboard
I said, this train dreams will not be thwarted
This train faith will be rewarded
This train hear the steel wheels singin'
This train bells of freedom ringin'
- Bruce Springsteen, Land of Hope and Dreams

Andrew found himself waist deep in the Big Muddy at one point of this adventure


Six more weeks of winter on the way for Westford

All about them as they lay hung the darkness, hollow and immense, and they were oppressed by the loneliness and vastness of the dolven halls and endlessly branching stairs and passages. The wildest imaginings that dark rumour had ever suggested to the hobbits fell short of the actual dread and wonder of Moria."
 J. R. R. Tolkien, the Fellowship of the Ring

Andrew is on the lookout for orcs.
With the heavy rains of the past few days, it made for some interesting stream and brook crossings during our wanderings.
Luckily, John stood ready to capture said crossings on film, just in case someone happened to fall in.

Carlos and Tommy took the lead to make sure the bridge would hold
20 years of running the rivah prepped Scott for any wet conditions
Barry thought it would be good to use a staff for balance.  Unfortunately, his rod came up short.
You shall not pass!
- Gandalf the Grey
Andrew?  He was all in, sprinting across 
By now, most everyone has seen the famous picture of Bigfoot, captured on film decades ago.
This day, we were able to catch him crossing a stream in Westford.
That's him, way off in the distance in the neon yellow running jacket.
Hoping this blog post finds you and all of your loved ones well during these tumultuous times.
Rest assured, my fellow E Streeters and I maintained our social distancing throughout the run.
We were also hyper cognizant to keep safe distance from the dog walkers we came across during our run.
It was heartening to see so many folks still getting out there for some exercise during these trying times.

Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive, everyone.

This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory,
Don't carry nothing but the righteous and the holy.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
- Woody Guthrie, This Train is Bound for Glory



Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Last Souper?

From Small Things, Mama, Big Things One Day Come
- Bruce Springsteen, 1979

It began, as many things do, from humble beginnings.
Eight friends gathered on New Year's Day, 2011, to start the new year off, as many are wont to do, with a brisk run, to help effectively kickoff their New Year's fitness resolutions.
The gathering place, was the Westford home of John Piekos and Karen Cambray, tucked away atop one of the iciest hills found anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
As luck would have it, the gathering was captured on film (imagine that!), and chronicled here on this blog, the prose of which can be found here:
And here's the Motley Crue who logged those first soup miles:
A decade later, and the soup, mileage, and friendship are still going strong.
All but one of the Soup Runs have been cataloged in the archives of this blog.  Inexplicably, 2018 was somehow bypassed in Cook's Chronicles.
Some of the faces have changed, and this year, the soups changed, but the friendships remain.
So without further ado, we bring you Soup Run 2020!
Joined this year not by Baby New Year, but Baby Yoda!
Barry, he be pimping.  Sean, he be trying to just figure out how he got stuck next to the guy wearing the pink hat on a road run.
As readers of this blog are well aware, the driveway at Dunstable Road rivals the greatest ice crags of the arctic.  It's swallowed many a car with its icy grips and pinions.
This day, it wouldn't grab an errant E Streeter running, other than John himself, who chose to boldly run down the skating rink while the rest of the team opted for the more cautious pathway. 
First Town Line Victory of the New Year is always a big deal, not to mention the first of a new decade.  Sean wasted no time muscling aside those who stood in his way to claim First Victory.
Karen staged a mutiny and convinced everyone to extend the course this year, so we ventured, once more, into the Land of the Lost.  Don't ask.  There's no dinosaurs, just pigs.
They say you need to stop and smell the roses, just to appreciate the world around you.
That holds doubly true for the wonders of nature and the snowscapes off the backroads of Westford.
As any experienced runner knows, where there's one town line, there has to be another to get you back to your destination.  The key is knowing where they hide.  Who took the second one?  It'd be hard to say, if there wasn't film evidence to support the results.
Back at the Piekos Homestead, it was time for the breaking of bread and the slurping of soup.  This year, these Friends were joined by Jennifer Aniston.  Again, don't ask.
10 years burning down the road, nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go
- Bruce Springsteen, 1984

Over the course of the last decade, the mileage, bad jokes and camaraderie have remained constant.  We've had a diverse array of friends join us off and on throughout the decade.
Five of us, including the Founders of the Feast, John and Karen, have been there for all 10 of the Soup Runs.
We never quite know exactly what the future holds for any of us.  They say nothing is certain.
What is certain, though, is that friendship can last forever.  You just have to feed them. Not just soup, either.
We've lost some friends along the way, taken from us too soon, like many of our family members.
But as long as we're physically able, we'll still be gathering for these types of runs.  It's not the mileage, the terrain, the physical achievements - it's the opportunity to still bring a group of ragtag wanderers together for a brief period of time to bond over a common interest.  In this case, soup.  Or running.  One of the two.
Most of us have known one another for over FOUR DECADES.  And we can still stand being around one another.
The locations may change, the participation may ebb and flow, but the relationships endure.
Here's to another decade of stories, friends, family, good health, and good soup.
Happy New Year to all!


When I was a little kid
I never liked to eat
Mom would put things on my plate
And I'd dump 'em on her feet
But then one day she made this soup
I ate it all in bed
I asked her what she put in it
And this is what she said:

"Oh, chicken lips and lizard hips
And alligator eyes
Monkey legs and buzzard eggs
And salamander thighs
Rabbit ears and camel rears
And tasty toenail pies
Stir 'em all together
And it's mama's soup surprise
- Bruce Springsteen, Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips, 1991

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Ecstatic on Watatic

This one's been sitting in the queue for a bit, mostly because of computer issues loading pics through the blogging software.  But all is well now, and I wanted to share a family trip up Mount Watatic in Ashby/Ashburnham this fall, mostly as a way to brag about my awesome family, but also to show off a hidden treasure in our neck of the woods for the interested hikers.
The gateway to the main trail is a monolithic, multi-ton split rock, which, quite frankly, has that Lord of the Rings Battle at Amon Hen feel to it.  Sadly, no Uruk-Hai in sight this day, just my Fellowship.
Mount Watatic boasts an elevation of 1,832 feet, and is part of a group of summits known as the Wapack Range, which starts in Worcester County, and extends into southern New Hampshire.
Other sister mounts in this range include Mount Wachusett, which we E Streeters have run up numerous times, and Pack Monadnock, which Barry, Scott and I sorta ran up once and declared we would never do so again.  And thus far, we've held true to that pledge. (It was hellacious.)
Everything was going great on this family hike, lots of laughs, great exercise, tremendous bonding time.  And then came the behemoth in the next picture - the Midgard Serpent, the Anaconda of Ashby, Nagini from House Slytherin, Snake Plissken himself.
Not sure I've ever seen Heather and Jack move so quickly up a hill.
Here, Andrew and Katie stand watch to make sure the python doesn't make its way uphill in pursuit of the ladies.
Finally, we reached the summit
For decades, the 280+ acre mountain was used as a ski area, but that recreation ended somewhere around 1989.
Now it's just a terrific one day hike.  Moderately challenging, but very family friendly - dog friendly too!  Wasn't able to determine the meaning of the name Watatic, but I'm assuming it's of Native American origins.  Anyone?
As always, I needed to seek out the reference marker.
Walk softly, and carry a big stick.
My world
Front and back and front again, courtesy of Katie Durkin, Audubon photographer
The young lovers, ready to scale whatever mountains they encounter, together
And this last pic on our way down, I had to take/share, just because I was feeling knotty.
That's a wrap on Watatic!  Highly recommended for a single-day climb.  Just make sure to stop up top and take in the views and appreciate this wonder in our extended backyard.