Snakes in a Rest Area

This is our fourth year going to the Rolex 24 in Daytona. Every year we do the same thing: we fly into the west coast of Florida to visit for a couple days and then head up I-4 to Daytona. And every year we stop at the same rest area, which has this sign:


For those of you who live in Florida and other parts of the country, this may be a normal thing for you. For this Jersey girl, it’s not. Add to the mix that snakes are in my top five fears. Maybe even top two. You would think that would stop me from getting out of the car. Nope. I stop and take a picture of this sign every year.

One of the great things about traveling is that you get to see things you wouldn’t see at home. Like snakes in a rest area.

Snow Jam 2016

This blog post was supposed be about my monster truck appetizer before we headed out to Daytona for the Rolex 24. But a winter storm with the same name as a trio of pop-singing brothers had other ideas and dropped more than two feet of snow on the area. So instead of some awesome photos of Grave Digger, you get this photo of our cars buried under feet of snow:


Instead of the almost 1,500 horsepower that a monster truck generates, I give you the 8-horsepower beast that Matt used to clean our driveway. Here’s one from Saturday afternoon. I call it Man With Snowblower:


Or this one from Sunday morning:


But what will you get instead? A photo of the comb over on the front of our house:


Is Simon LeBon Right?

My first “real” concert ever was Duran Duran in the eighth grade. God bless my mother, who took my brother and I to the then-Brendan Byrne Arena to see Simon, Nick, John, Roger, and Andy. I adored Duran Duran. I had pictures of Simon and John in my locker, and all their songs were on whatever was the 1980s equivalent of “Repeat.”

Thirty years later, there’s Duran Duran on CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend promoting their new album, and I’m embarrassingly giddy as a schoolgirl again.

Discussing the less-than-favorable reviews that Duran Duran got at the height of their success, Simon LeBon said, “The more girls we got kind of following the band, the more [critics] hated us.”

Hey! Wait! I was one of those girls.

It got me to thinking. Is there really any truth to Simon LeBon’s statement?

Because if he’s right, that means I may not be giving the music of  Justin Bieber and One Direction a fair shake?.But that can’t be right.

And if he’s wrong, that means Duran Duran was the New Kids on the Block or Backstreet Boys of my time. That definitely can’t be it.

Rather than actually face the answer to this question, I’m going to hop back into my bubble of 80s nostalgia and pop in my Duran Duran Greatest Hits CD. And maybe I’ll go out buy  their new album, Paper Gods. Rolling Stone said that if the album was “a debut from some upstart band, the buzz would be insane.”

These guys just can’t catch a break, can they?


Four Things I Learned at Book Con

In honor of the release of Mindy Kaling’s new book, Why Not Me? today,  here’s a recap of my trip to see her at Book Con in New York this past May.

I’d never been to a “Con” before,  but that all changed this past May. My “Con” of choice? Book Con, which is an extension of Book Expo America and has exhibits from publishers big and small as well as panels from authors. Book Con was quite a learning experience. Here are four things I learned:

1) “Con” means standing in long lines for long periods of time. I spent most of my day on some sort of line: the line outside the Javits Center before the doors open, the line to get wristbands for the panels, the lines to get into the panels, the line to the ladies’ room (because there were more females than males there), the line to buy books, and the line to have a book signed. When I walked around on the show floor, I got onto lines and had no idea what was at the end of them. But all of the line waiting proved to be worth it. (Side note: I learned the hard way that line buddies are imperative because they can hold your place in the panel line while you get in the restroom line.)


Photo by Jen Thompson

2) Mindy Kaling has very rabid fans. I was just excited as everyone else on line to get inside to see Mindy and B.J. Novak (and in all honesty, to sit down because I had been on my feet for hours). I know there was much love for Mindy, but I wasn’t prepared for the rush when the doors opened. Everyone started running for the door. A few uncool people tried to jump the barriers. I ended up with a pretty good seat, and she proved yet again that I want to be her when I grow up (even though she’s about 10 years younger than me).

3) The future looks bright. A large percentage of the Book Con attendees were pre-teens and teens (and their parents) there to see John Green and Rainbow Rowell and so many other YA authors I’d never heard of. And they’d read all their books. Multiple times. That’s cool.

Nick and friends

Photo by Jen Thompson

4) Nick Offerman is awesome. He writes awesome books and was awesome enough to talk about them. And he brought his awesome friends (John Hodgman and Paul Rudd) with him. And he has an awesome laugh. And he sang awesome songs about his wife (who is also pretty awesome). And he was awesome enough to sign my book. It was awesome.


Happy Labor Day Weekend!


Happy Labor Day! The unofficial end of summer is here. Well, except for that heat wave we’re expecting the next couple days.

This year, we continued our five-year Labor Day tradition (OK, four out of five since we went to the Baltimore Grand Prix one of those year) of smoking meat. Lots of meat. Six pounds of brisket. Eight pounds of pork shoulder. Two racks of ribs. And three chicken breasts.

I know what you’re thinking. Jen, that’s a lot of meat for two people. Where’s my invitation to the BBQ? And usually we like to share. But after two days of prep and actual cooking, we keep the fruits of our labor for ourselves. Most of it will go straight into the freezer. So when there’s feet of snow on ground and we can’t remember what the backyard looks like, we can defrost a piece of summer for dinner.

So summer is coming to a close. By Tuesday or Wednesday, everyone will be back to school, and my commute will turn back into bumper-to-bumper traffic. Football is only a couple days away, and the temperatures will (eventually) turn cooler. Until next year, summer.

How I Spent My Summer (Vacation) in Watkins Glen

Everyone has a favorite place to be during the summer. Maybe it’s going to the beach or sitting by the pool. Or braving the lines at Disney World. For Matt and me, that place is Watkins Glen. So it’s no surprise that Matt and I spent most of our summer vacation at Watkins Glen (or driving to or from Watkins Glen).

To all you non-race fans out there, I know what you’re thinking (and thank you, non-race fans, for reading this far). We took the same trip three times. And yes, there are some similarities. There were cars racing. We watched from the same location (the Glen Club) with many of the same people. We took a lot of photos (most with that iconic blue guardrail in the background). And we had a couple beers at the Seneca Lodge each night.

But really, that’s where the similarities end. Below are the highlights and some photos from those three races. Click on the photos for a larger slideshow. And there will be more stories to come from our summer.

The one with all the rain (Six Hours at the Glen). One of the great things about sports cars is they race rain or shine. Which was a good thing for the Six Hours of the Glen. Because it rained. A lot. Rain can make for good racing. It can also make for messy conditions, including ponds (probably more like lakes) in the turns. But these are race car drivers, and this is what they do. Somehow they powered through six hours of racing in the rain. And we watched the whole thing from the comfort (and dry) of the Glen Club. (We did leave for at least a couple minutes to snap some photo because race cars in the rain are pretty.)

The one with all the old cars (U.S. Vintage Grand Prix). While the Six Hours at the Glen was all about the driver, the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix was all about the car.  Really old cars, kind of old cars. Really fast cars, kind of fast cars. Retired race cars—an Audi prototype, Indy cars, stock cars. Plenty of eye candy, which made for a great weekend of shooting. An added bonus—Jaguar’s autocross course in the infield. So I got an exhilarating, hold-onto-the-f*&%ing-handle ride in a 2016 F-Type with former F1 and Indy Car driver Roberto Moreno. So maybe it was a little bit about the driver.

The one with all the people (Cheez It 355 at the Glen). With fans camping all throughout the track’s property, Watkins Glen turns into a mini-city for the NASCAR weekend. The infield is this crazy combination of people, with fans, crews, and drivers all within close proximity of each other. It’s where a walk through the camping area for some people watching is mandatory. It’s where you can see Jimmie Johnson out for a run or tell Bill Elliott he’s got one hell of a son there. Oh, and there’s some racing too. Some of the best NASCAR racing of the season.

See you again next summer, Watkins Glen!

VDG Treks to Fenway Park

There was all kinds of traffic heading up to Massachusetts, which allowed VDG to check out the scenery ...

There was all kinds of traffic heading up to Massachusetts, which allowed VDG to check out the scenery …

... including the progress on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

… including the progress on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

But he was rewarded at the end of the long trip with a visit to the 99.

But he was rewarded at the end of the long trip with a visit to the 99.

Saturday night, VDG took in one of Matt's old haunts.

Saturday night, VDG checked out a couple of Matt’s old haunts in Lowell.

But he was up and ready on Sunday morning for first trip on the T to Fenway Park.

But he was up and ready on Sunday morning for first train trip to Fenway Park.

VDG's first look at Fenway.

VDG’s first look at Fenway.

But first, a Green Monsta at the local bar.

But first, a Green Monsta at the local bar.

Finally made it to Fenway! Hopefully the Red Sox will win next time.

Finally made it to Fenway! Hopefully the Red Sox will win next time.

VDG Explores the Six Hours at the Glen

During the almost 11 years that Matt and I have been together, I’ve considered us to be explorers, going to new places and trying new things. We’ve now added a new member to our posse—meet Vasco de Gama, or as we’ve come to call him VDG.

VDG made his maiden voyage a couple weekend ago to the Six Hours at the Glen. Here’s what he  discovered.

VDG Bullfrog

An overnight stop in Williamsport on the way to Watkins Glen means a a beverage or two at the Bullfrog Brewery. VDG wants to know more about how the beer is made.

VDG fence watching

The weather forecast made it clear that Friday was going to be a very rainy weekend. VDG made the most of the sunny day and took in the sights from the fence at the off-camber.

VDG twins

VDG checks in with his good friend, Mr. Bib.

VDG hiding from rain

VDG hides from the rain for the rest of the weekend.

VDG eye on the prize

VDG keeps his eye on the prize.

VDG Seneca

Rain or shine, VDG enjoyed a beverage or two at the Seneca Lodge and took in the racing history. He enjoyed himself so much one night …

... he ended up howlin' at the moon.

… he ended up howlin’ at the moon.

Reality Bites

AGTAmerica’s Got Talent returns this week to NBC. In its tenth season, it’s become a summer staple in our house.

When Howard Stern joined  the judging panel three seasons ago, the live elimination shows were moved to the East Coast to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Matt and I took full advantage of the show being only a half hour from home, and we went to two live tapings. Except for one act that had to be pre-taped because of a complex set-up, what happened in front of us was exactly what was being broadcast on TV at home.

This past March, AGT was back at NJPAC to tape auditions for season 10. Matt and I headed into a slushy Newark for one of the tapings.

Everyone was settled into their seats, and the anticipation started growing. But before we got even a glimpse of Howard, Heidi, Mel B., and Howie, we spent a half hour taping crowd reaction shots that would be cut into the auditions during editing.

“OK, everybody! Stand up and applaud!”

“Alright. We need you all to look surprised!”

“How about some laughter?”

“Now we need to you look horrified!”

“Stand up and cheer!”

Matt looked around in disbelief as everyone pretended for the camera. It was as if he found out there was no Santa.

So much for reality television.

P.S. Heidi Klum has the longest legs I’ve ever seen.

Best Day in Racing (Monaco, Indy, Charlotte)

On its face, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend looks like any other Sunday for a race fan. There’s an F1 race in the morning, an IndyCar in the afternoon, and a NASCAR race at night.

But these aren’t your average races.

In fact, they’re legendary. The day starts with the F1 cars taking to the streets of Monaco. Next, it’s the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 (you might have heard of it). Finally, it’s the longest race of the NASCAR season—600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The Sunday of Memorial Day has become something of a holiday in our house (to the point that I’m trying to come up with a name for it). So that’s why I blogged it.


7:28 a.m. EDT I’m hunkered down in the family room, ready for race #1—Monaco! Just a half hour until the race goes green.

7:49 a.m. Monaco is always fun for the celebrity sightings. So far it’s been one of the kids from One Direction (who had never been to an F1 race before—nice first race!) and Michael Fassbender (who picked Kyvat—bold pick).

Monaco breakfast7:55 a.m. Monaco breakfast. A couple croissants and some fresh fruit. Pretty European, huh?

8:02 a.m. The lights go out and we are underway! Matt is happy because Lewis Hamilton is on pole and used it to his advantage. I’m not so happy that Ricciardo got passed on the start by Kyvat. Maybe Fassbender does know something.

8:10 a.m. That piece of debris would have brought any NASCAR race to a screeching halt.

8:18 a.m. One of the things that intrigues me about Monaco is all of the spectator locations. Grandstands, balconies, rooftops, yachts, bars. Monaco, Indy, and Charlotte are definitely on my bucket list. Indy and Charlotte feel attainable. Monaco? Not so much.

8:44 a.m. Hamilton has pulled out to an 8.5-second lead. Gives me some time to think. I need a name for this awesome day of racing. I thought about Mario Andretti Day because he raced in all three series and won the Indy 500. But leave it to Juan Pablo Montoya to ruin my plan. Because he ran in all three series and won Monaco AND the Indy 500. Back to the drawing board.

8:59 a.m. Alonso out. In the exact same place as qualifying the day before. McLaren has to turn the corner at some point, right?

9:19 a.m. I can’t imagine what these streets are like on a regular day in Monte Carlo. Curves, hills, hairpin turns. Matt says if he ever goes there, he’s not driving. But he’d be more than happy to let someone else take him.

9:24 a.m. What a scary hit by Verstappen. Even scarier because we saw the whole thing happen in real time. But thankfully he walked away. Matt noticed that, within a second of Verstappen going head-on into the barrier, the display on his steering wheel flashed “FLAG.”

9:35 a.m. Hamilton pits. Rosberg and Vettel do not. Drama ensues.

9:38 a.m. “Please stop talking to me. Please.” – Lewis Hamilton

9:51 a.m. Rosberg lucks into his third win in a row at Monaco, thanks to Mercedes engineering. This is going to be an interesting podium. Matt calls it “an absolute load of crap.”

9:59 a.m. No podium on TV? Very disappointing, NBC.

10:05 a.m. Found coverage online. Missed the podium, but saw Lewis’ very diplomatic interview. Crash, safety car, bizarre pit strategy, Nico wins third in a row. That’s Monaco, folks. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the day has in store. Off for a shower…

Indianapolis 500

11:15 a.m. Pre-race coverage is in full swing. Takeaway so far? Racing is fast and dangerous.

11:28 a.m. Watching your cars run in the Indy 500. Not a bad way to start your retirement, David Letterman.

11:34 a.m. Penske roundtable the best thing on the pre-race so far. And it’s good to see Marty Smith.

11:41 a.m. First appearance today for Jeff Gordon, pace car driver.

11:50 a.m.  Yup. I still miss Dario.

11:59 a.m. Thank you, ABC, for reminding us of what Memorial Day is really about.

12:09 p.m. Pre-race ceremonies complete. Time to get this thing going. Wishing everyone a safe race today.

12:19 p.m. Great rendition of “Back Home in Indiana” from Straight No Chaser. Takes away the sting of no Jim Nabors.

12:20 p.m. But a little awkward command to start engines.

12:29 p.m. Green! (Nice job on the flag, Patrick Dempsey!)

12:30 p.m. Yellow! And there goes Sage Karam’s day. And no , Sato, you cannot win the Indy 500 in the first corner.

1:12 p.m. Things seem to have settled down and the first round of pit stops are complete. Time for some lunch.

1:25 p.m. Clauson gets into the gray and crashes into the wall coming out of Turn 4. He’s OK and walks away. Pagenaud wins this round of pit stops.

1:34 p.m. Tell me how you really feel, Sage?

1:55 p.m. Halfway!

2:05 p.m. Carpenter and Servia crash in Turn 1. Carpenter looks despondent.

2:11 p.m. Things not as good down on pit lane. The 19 hits two crew members from the 18. Hoping everyone is OK.

2:25 p.m. So it’s going to be a Penske car or a Ganassi car that wins, right? If not, then something crazy happened.

2:33 p.m. So if one wanted to go to the Indianapolis, where would one stay? Where is the best place to stay? How bad is the traffic and parking? Asking for a friend.

2:42 p.m. TK is out of the race after a crash in Turn 1. He could have won this race. Such a shame. Less than 50 laps to go.

3:00 p.m. Caution for debris. This is getting good.

3:09 p.m. Hard crash out of Turn 4. Saaverda, Hawksworth, and Coletti involved. Debris flying everywhere.

3:24 p.m. 15 laps remain. Here we go!

3:35 p.m. Montoya wins! What a finish! From 30th to 1st. I think JP is trying to make the case that I should name this day after him.

indy snack3:41 p.m. Mid-afternoon snack. Sharing some milk with Juan Pablo. We just have a chocolate chip cookie with ours.

3:55 p.m. That decision to leave NASCAR and come back to IndyCar is looking pretty brilliant, Juan Pablo. Matt’s favorite driver—Will Power— loses the lead in this race too.

3:59 p.m. Glad to see a strong finish for Graham Rahal. And Montoya know holds the record for the longest gap between wins (15 years). Time to catch my breath for a little bit. Maybe some fresh air? Back in a few…


5:36 p.m. More pre-race. Settling in for 600 miles. I’ll be rooting for Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart (as per usual), and I have Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, and David Ragan in my fantasy NASCAR. Matt will be pulling for Kyle Busch in his return.

5:39 p.m. First appearance for Jeff Gordon, race car driver.

6:00 p.m. What’s the over/under on how many times they show the Dale Jr. Nationwide commercial?

6:05 p.m. Very moving and patriotic opening ceremony. Perfect national anthem.

6:11 p.m. And a very fitting command to start engines for this weekend.

6:18 p.m. Hooray! They gave “rules analyst” Andy Petree a window tonight. I feel like he’s been broadcasting from a closet all season.

6:21 p.m. Boogity, boogity!

6:38 p.m. Story lines so far: a competition caution because the track washed down a couple turns and Carl’s sticky feet.

6:45 p.m “You don’t mess with the Biff.”

Charlotte dinner7:12 p.m. Jimmie Johnson spins. Yellow flag comes out.

7:13 p.m. Oh, and it’s dinnertime! BBQ seemed appropriate for Charlotte.

7:20 p.m. We are a quarter of the way there…

7:39 p.m. Caution for Allgaier and the big yellow stripe down the side of his car.

7:55 p.m. Not that Juan Pablo didn’t make a good case today for naming the Sunday after Memorial Day after him, but maybe we need to consider other options. An acronym always works. I say M.I.C. Day (Monaco, Indy, Charlotte). Matt says F.I.N. Day (Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR). What do you think?

8:12 p.m. If there was ever a race in which your crew chief is going to “take a big swing at it,” this is it.

8:13 p.m. Darrell Hammond as Col. Sanders is pretty entertaining.

8:16 p.m. We are HALFWAY! We can do this, people!

8:25 p.m. The leader at the halfway point has only won once in the last eight runnings of the Coke 600. So, not exactly great news for Martin Truex Jr. fans.

8:47 p.m. Burnt Rubber. The Essence of Racing. I don’t know, Sunoco. I just don’t know.

8:54 p.m. Jimmie Johnson spins again. This time he tags the wall. Not helping my fantasy NASCAR this week, Six Time.

9:06 p.m. The silver lining to Ryan Blaney’s blown engine? Fewer mosquitoes at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That was quite a bit of smoke.

9:25 p.m. Three-quarters of the way there! If we’ve made it this far, we can make it to the end, right?

9:59 p.m. 50 laps to go. I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or is this going to be like a basketball game where the last two minutes take forever?

10:07 p.m. They’ve only played the Dale Jr. Nationwide commercial four times so far tonight. Matt took six. I took seven.

10:12 p.m. 25 to go. So close. Prove the stats wrong, Truex!

10:16 p.m. Maybe Carl Edwards can go the distance?

10:19 p.m. 10. To. Go.

10:23 p.m. 4 to go. This can’t be over soon enough. Go Carl!

10:24 p.m. Carl wins!!!! And he is in the Chase!

10:25 p.m. I’ve missed that backflip.

And 15 hours, 678 laps, and three winners later, the best day in racing is over.