It’s Spring: Get Out!

Let’s face it; we’re all sick of being stuck inside. As the weather continues to improve, the masses will head outside to the many wonderful parks and open spaces throughout New Jersey. As families continue to cancel vacations and choose to stay local, some of the hidden gems of The Garden State may not stay quite as hidden. Here are some suggestions as you and your family head outside.

Frenchtown, New Jersey

Be a tourist in your own backyard

You could live in New Jersey your entire life and miss out on some of the best attractions, parks, museums, and more within a short drive from your home. Start your day by checking out the New Jersey tourism site to see what is right near you. The site not only provides information about places to go, it also has a calendar of events so you can get out and enjoy a special event. Like jazz? How about the Exit Zero Jazz Festival in Cape May. Want to learn about how Revolutionary soldiers survived winters during the war? Experience America’s first national historic park, Morristown National Historical Park. There’s something for everyone.

Take a step further and do even more local research by looking at county and town or city websites. The Morris County website can tell you all about the Frelinghuysen Arboretum. The Essex County website will tell you when to visit Branch Brook Park in Newark and Belleville to see the cherry blossoms in bloom (hint: it’s now!). Every town in New Jersey offers something interesting. I bet there’s even something in your own hometown you may not even know is there!

Know before you go

COVID rules are continuing to change at a dizzying pace. Make sure to go online and check the current rules so you are properly prepared. This will help avoid frustration and disappointment when you head out.

Leave only footprints

Last year, our parks saw traffic that was unprecedented. Unfortunately, some visitors did not treat our parks with the respect they deserve. Last summer Hedden Park in Morris County was closed for two weeks to repair damage from park visitors that included hauling out trash, stream repair, and taking care of damage from a dumpster fire.

Please do not leave trash behind, move rocks in streams, or harass or feed wild animals. And absolutely please do NOT leave behind PPE garbage. PPE like masks and gloves are threatening wildlife everywhere. Leave the electronics in the car (or even at home!) and enjoy the beauty of nature around you. Make sure to carry in/carry out. Take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Get out!

So take advantage of the nice weather and finally leave your home confinement. Check out one of the great New Jersey museums, visit Branch Brook Park, go down the shore, enjoy some Kohr’s frozen custard, and take a walk down the boardwalk. Just get out!

The End of an Era: The Chatterbox

This week, a well-loved business was demolished. The Chatterbox in Sussex County was around for years. It’s kitschy décor, 50s music, and great food made for a wonderful small business. When the owner retired, sadly, there was no one able to carry on this wonderful diner. As a result, the building was demolished and the property was sold… to Wawa.

Now I have nothing personally against Wawa. They employ a lot of people and I’m sure they are going to pay a lot of taxes for that location. But The Chatterbox was special. It was a great locally-owned business that hosted cruise nights and was a part of the community.

The Chatterbox (source: njherald.com)

There was always an old car in the middle of the diner and I would always make sure to take a look as I went by. One day I saw a car that definitely grabbed my attention. A 1953 Buick Skylark convertible in dark blue. I turned around, parked, and walked in as if I was drawn right to the car. I just stood there and smiled. A server came up to me and politely reminded me not to touch the car. I smiled and told her “I know the drill. Hands behind your back, don’t touch, don’t lean. Your jeans might scrape the paint. Don’t step on the step sill.” She looked at me with a confused face. I then told her “I spent a good deal of my youth in this car.”

That Skylark belonged to a family that lived near my family growing up. We spent plenty of time going to car shows and long weekends in a caravan of several cars from North Jersey to locations up and down the east coast. That car brought back some wonderful memories.

Now, all the community has left are memories of a great diner and small business… and a Wawa.

Java Joe’s and Beanbury: Two Sides of the Same Coin

When we moved to Ledgewood a few years ago, we did what many other people do; look for new places like the nearby diner, church, and coffee shop to name a few. My new favorite coffee spot became Java Joe’s. Great bagels, awesome turkey chili, and iced coffee complete with coffee iced cubes. They were right around the corner from us. It was great.

Then they moved.

Not far, mind you. Maybe a little more than a mile down the road on Rt. 10. It’s larger spot that accommodate more tables and more refrigerators for sodas and sandwiches. It is situated on the corner of a small strip with other two storefronts that were empty when they opened.

Shortly after they opened in their new space, they had a new neighbor – Beanbury. It is exactly what it sounds like; a coffee shop.

Credit: Beanbury

I’ll admit it, I was worried. I wasn’t sure two coffee places right next to each to each other was such a hot idea. I thought they would be fighting for the same clientele.

As an added bonus, shortly after Beanbury opened, COVID-19 shut everything down. I had real concerns these two businesses might not survive at all.

I’ll tell you what, I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. Not only have they survived, they have thrived. I’ve discovered they are two sides of the same coin and I think they compliment each other quite well. Java Joe’s still provides great bagels, sandwiches, and their awesome turkey chili. Beanbury on the other hand offers what I refer to as “fru-fru” drinks. I have grown quite partial to their caramel Americano. Whenever I pass, their parking lots are always full. Both are finally allowed 50% seating and I am certainly looking forward to sitting down and enjoying a bagel at Java Joe’s and an Americano at Beanbury instead of just grab and go.

It is a good reminder to support our locally-owned businesses. They’ve had a tough year and are a vital part of our communities. So whenever you can, skip Amazon and shop local.

Kids, a Trumpet, and an Album: 1966

While my husband and I never had children of our own, we have thousands of kids. How you may ask? Decades of students taught by my husband. From marching band during his college years to 25 years as a public school band director. No matter what our kids decided to do professionally, we were always proud. Several over the years, aspired to become band directors and professional musicians. One such musician is Jose “Jay” Oliva.

This past week we were especially proud of Jose, as he premiered his first album. What makes this even more special is he completed this project with his father, a world-class musician at the young age of 88.

Recently, I sat down with Jose to discuss his album.

When did you first start working on the music for this album?

Although we first stepped into the studio in late summer 2020 to begin recording, I’ve been mentally preparing to record this album for over 20 years! Titled “1966,” this album contains music arranged for my father Tomas Oliva and performed by him and his band throughout the 60s. The arrangements in this recording also include some Herb Alpert originals like “A Taste of Honey” and “Green Peppers”.

What was the motivation to do this work?

I grew up listening to these very songs and have been humming them in my head since grade school. My father and I always talked about me re-recording this project and bringing back, even for a moment, this once popular style of music. Beware though, one listen, will have you tapping your number 2 pencil and whistling along with a nice smile on your face. If ever a bad day, queue up our album…bad day…gone!

What was the best part of working on this project? What was the worst part?

The absolute best part of working on this project was being in the studio with my father. He recorded the 2nd trumpets in the album. He toured many countries playing this music and having him step back into the studio 55 years later at 88 years old to re-record his album was absolutely priceless for me.
Another absolutely amazing experience is a guest appearance by my wife on clarinet. There was a small solo part that was written as a “whistle.” While my father and I discussed on the phone who would be the whistler, a sudden light bulb going off as my wife entered the room humming songs as she always does around the house. She played the clarinet in high school and after much convincing, she dusted off that old gem for a super cool solo on “Caliente”.

Who are your musical influences? What music styles are you drawn to the most?

I’m mainly a contemporary style trumpet player who got pulled into the Latin salsa world because it was in my blood and that was the style of music my father was heavily involved in during the later part of his career. He got me a lot of great salsa gigs with many of the top bands in NYC when I started playing professionally. We got to perform together for many years. My true passion however was to become a classical trumpet player. Nevertheless, I would trade being a classical trumpet player if I could play jazz solos like Chet Baker!

My father is a classical trumpet player with an astonishing musical career. He was principal chair in the “Orquesta Nacional del Perú”. He was also part of the World Symphony Orchestra in 1971 under Conductor Arthur Fiedler from the world famous Boston Pops. His amazing career was a huge influence on me as a musician.

If you could collaborate with any musician, who would you choose?

If I could collaborate with any (other) musician it would be Chris Botti. Trumpeter Rick Braun is also on that list.

Where can people find your album?

Even though “1966” is now available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, iHeartRadio, and Apple Music, my plan was never to launch it to the public under a record label. Initially, I thought I was just going to put this on a cd and hand it out to my immediate family and friends. My vision after we completed the recording was my dad and I sitting back and listening to the tracks while having a beer on a Sunday afternoon.

After listening to the awesomeness of my band “The Oliva Brass Project” which include Jordan Rose on drums, Mike Bono on guitar, Juan Lukunza on trombone, Adrian Moring on bass, Julio “Chino” Moreno on marimba, my father Tomas Oliva, who is still a world class trumpet player at 88, guest appearances by my wife Katlyn Oliva on clarinet and Kevin Rodriguez, piano on “Green Peppers”, I knew this needed to be bigger than originally planned.

Proud and humbled to say that today, I get to share some great songs that are very special to me and my family. 1966 was the year my father introduced these songs to the world and 55 years later, we get to do it all over again.

How Do I Get Rid of My Christmas Tree?

Now that the dumpster fire that was 2020 is over people are starting to take down their decorations and toss the Christmas tree. When I was a kid, you just dragged it to the curb and that was it. However, we now have many options in Jersey to give new life to the tree that gave our families so much joy during the holiday season.

Cape May County Park & Zoo

A zoo may not sound like a place that could use a Christmas tree, but the animals just love them! They are great treats for the goats and play things for the other animals. The Cape May County Park & Zoo is accepting Christmas trees until January 10th. Trees can be dropped off daily, 7am – dusk, in the Office parking lot (your first right when you enter the park). Make sure you remove all ornaments and tinsel.

Our 2020 Christmas tree

Mulch, mulch, mulch…

Many towns now offer curb-side pickup of trees for mulching. After chipping, the mulch is sometimes offered to town residents for their personal use, while others make it available to their community gardens. Each town will have their own pickup schedule. It is best to check on your town’s website or contact your local DPW (Department of Public Works).

Sand dunes

If you live down the shore, it is also worthwhile to check with your DPW to see if they are collecting trees for use in local sand dunes. In the past Island Beach State Park has collected trees from all over the state to help support their sand dune project, however, they are skipping this year.

In Your Backyard

When it comes giving new life to your Christmas tree, don’t forget to look to your own backyard. Break off branches and place them around to protect your garden beds throughout the winter. Additionally, if you take off the needles and just use the branches, you can use them in your compost pile.

Home Depot

Whether you love or hate “big box” stores, they can play an important role in the community. Home Depot has partnered with a tree chipping company to collect and chip Christmas trees. They started the day after Christmas and will continue throughout January. Make sure to contact your local Home Depot to confirm they are collecting trees in your area as well as their collection schedule.

Final Reminders

A few final reminders before you recycle your tree:

  • Remove all ornaments and tinsel, garland, lights, and ribbons
  • Do not wrap your tree in plastic
  • Remove the base
  • Some towns do not recycle wreaths
  • If you have any questions, make sure to contact your local DPW or recycling center before bringing your tree to the curb or recycling location

My 2020 Jersey Christmas List

This has been a hard year for all of us; especially for the small business owners of New Jersey. Like many, I am urging everyone to shop small as much as possible this year.

My Christmas list this year has a special Jersey flair this year. These are gifts that are made by Jersey artisans available in Jersey stores.

Cape May Suncatchers

Cape May Suncatchers
Credit: Cape May Suncatchers

These works of art by Tommy of Cape May Suncatchers are just amazing. He digs up antique bottles found around the beaches of Cape May and then carves them into beautiful ornaments, suncatchers, and window-hangers. This would certainly be a unique and lovely gift, especially for those who love Cape May.

Just Jersey Goods

You can find just about ANYTHING with a unique Jersey attitude from the Jersey Jersey Goods store in Morristown. From cutting boards and mugs for the foodie to books for the state historian, you can find almost anything with a Jersey theme at this awesome shop. Personally, I am partial to the Parkway token keychain. For decades, it was a required item in every car as you went down the shore. And it is worth mentioning I was a champion at pitching it up and over the car from the passenger side as well as the trick shot through the sunroof.

Sue Sachs Jewelry

Credit: Sue Sachs

Located in Livingston, Sue has been making jewelry and crafting metal objects for more then 30 years. Her jewelry and metal objects are crafted in sterling silver, brass, copper, and/or gold. I feel they are masterfully created and bring a sense of whimsy to each piece. I especially love her garden pieces, as I have become an avid gardener the last two years and you can often find me at the Roxbury Community Garden during the season. Her “shovel series” is definitely at the top of my list!

Reddie to Burn

Credit: Reddit to Burn

OK, I am completely partial on this one. Our intelligent and incredibly talented Goddaughter and niece has started her own candle making business. Reddie to Burn Candle Co. offers a wide variety of soy hand-made candles and wax melts and uses clean fragrances for just the right amount of scent. Which one is the best? Well that’s up to you. Personally, I really like the idea of a having access to the smell of a library any time I want it. One of my favorite places in college was leaning up against a book shelf in the stacks.

Gift Certificates

If you have that person who is just too hard to buy for, consider purchasing a gift certificate from a locally-owned business. From nail salons, to restaurants, to sport shops, every business is having a hard time right now and I am sure your gift certificate purchase would be appreciated.

Local Non-Profits

Just as small businesses are struggling, local non-profit organizations are having an even harder time right now. Many people are out of work and every dollar in a family budget has been stretched to its limit. Many organizations are really in need of support so they can continue to help their local communities. Consider making a donation in someone’s name as a thoughtful and unique gift. Here are some that have a special place in my heart:

  • Peters Valley School of Craft: Peters Valley enriches lives through the learning, practice, and appreciation of fine crafts. This community, brings together established and emerging artists from around the globe. Peters Valley was officially incorporated as a non-profit in 1970 and is located within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
  • The New Jersey Historical Society: The NJ History Society collects, preserves, teaches and interprets New Jersey history through its archives, research library, and educational programs. Not only is it a great place to visit, the Society offers materials for teachers to help share the story of New Jersey with their students.
  • Discover Jersey Arts: A collaboration between ArtPride New Jersey and New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Discover Jersey Arts is a multifaceted program dedicated to increasing the awareness of and participation in the arts in New Jersey. It is coordinated through the regional Jersey Arts Marketers (JAM) network and provides resources for both arts organizations and patrons alike.
  • New York-New Jersey Trail Conference: Even though it is not New Jersey-exclusive, the NY/NJ Trail Conference plays an important role in our great state. This is a volunteer-powered organization that builds, maintains, and protects public trails. Together with organization partners, the Train Conference strives to ensure that the trails and natural areas we all enjoy are sustainable and accessible for generations to come.
  • New Jersey Conservation Foundation: The mission of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey. Since 1960, New Jersey Conservation Foundation has protected over 125,000 acres of natural areas and farmland in New Jersey – from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bay, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks.

No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, I urge you to “shop small” and look to support the businesses and non-profits right in your own community. After all, these are the businesses and organizations that sponsor your son’s little league team or purchase an ad in the high school play’s program. They will (God willing) be there for the long-haul providing services, products, and jobs to you and your neighbors.

End of an Era: Rosebud’s

Being allowed to walk home from school by yourself if a big step when you are a kid. For me it was around fourth grade. After crossing Passaic Ave. from School 7, I would regularly stop at what was known as Rosebud’s Sweet Shop for penny candy and Swedish Fish (the big ones, separated by wax paper). Then I would suck on that wonderful red licorice as I crossed Joralemon Street, walked behind Michael’s Roscommon, down May Street, and eventually, home to Irving Street.

This week, I learned Rosebud’s (now Rosebud’s Luncheonette) will close permanently.

Rosebud’s Luncheonette (credit: Rosebud’s)

My heart sank as I heard the news. It joins other businesses that are gone, such as Plaza Chemist, where I had my first job, Channel Lumber, and the Towne Deli at the Corner of Franklin and Joralemon. All were within walking distance from my home. All were on the “approved” list I could go to and walk around as I continuously tried to push my boundaries as we all do growing up.

When I was in high school, I passed up the Swedish Fish for a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese (TEC, SPK), on a Saturday morning before heading to the high school for marching band practice, a football game, or a band competition. Sometimes if I hadn’t already picked up a copy of the week’s Belleville Times or Belleville Post, I would get the paper there as well.

In the good weather, you could always catch a few of the men sitting outside as they drank their coffee and smoked. It was an official neighborhood hangout.

Until now.

When the boardwalk at Seaside went ablaze year ago, I remember then Gov. Christie saying “the Jersey Shore of my youth is gone.” Every time I hear about another place from the town I love closing, I feel another piece of my youth leaving. And I weep for its loss.

Thank you Rosebud’s for serving your community for generations. You will be missed by many.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Bucky Pizzarelli

COVID-19 has certainly left us devoid from us this year. We’ve lost family, friends, and others we admire. One of those wonderful New Jerseyans of Italian heritage we lost to the virus is John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli.

Born in Paterson in 1926 to the owners of a local grocery store, Pizzarelli picked up the guitar for the first time at the age of nine. At 17, he embarked on his professional career when he joined the Vaughn Monroe dance band in 1944. Over his amazing career, he played with an incredible list of iconic musicians that included Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and Paul McCartney. He was also a long-time member of the “Tonight Show Band.” When Johnny Carson decided to move the show to California, he opted to stay in New Jersey, unwilling to uproot his young and growing family.

John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli.
Source: johnpizzarelli.com

After his time with the Tonight Show Band, he began to play regularly at clubs in Manhattan with long-time friend and collaborator, George Barnes. Additionally, he began performing and recording with top jazz musicians. In 1980, he also began collaborating with one special individual – his son John. The father-son duo would perform and record together many times, often joined by Bucky’s other son, Martin, a bassist, and vocalist Jessica Molaskey, John’s wife. John once described them as “the von Trapp family on martinis.”

He never had plans on ever retiring. In a 2015 profile in New Jersey Monthly, Pizzarelli, then 89, said, “Retire?! Why am I gonna retire? I’m gonna sit home and watch Judge Judy all day? No thanks!”

He was a force of nature until the very end and made incredible contributions to jazz music. He passed at home in April of this year due to complications from COVID-19 with his wife of 66 years, Ruth, by his side in Bergen County. Sadly, she passed one week after suffering his loss. May she be continue to be serenated by him in Heaven.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Rose Fieramosca

You’ve probably never heard of today’s New Jerseyan of Italian heritage. She wasn’t famous, or rich, or any of the other things most would people consider noteworthy. She was a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, an aunt, a great cook, and a devout Catholic. She was my Grandmother – Rosina Fucetola Fieramosca.

Like many of my friends growing up, I grew up in a multi-generational household. I had no idea if this was unusual or special; it’s just the way it was. My immediate family was downstairs. Upstairs was my “extended family,” although I never knew such a word existed growing up. It was just “family.” Upstairs were my Grandparents and my Uncle Sonny. Sadly, my Grandpa passed away when I was very young, so it was always my Grandma and my Uncle – her eldest son. There were there for every day of my life, until the moment each of them passed away at home.

Rose Fucetola was born in Newark, New Jersey on October 21, 1905, the daughter of Lucia and Gabriel. She married her one and only love, Pasquale Fieramosca, on November 8, 1922. Over her lifetime, she had five children, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Me with my Grandma (left) and my Aunt Anna (right) at my wedding in 1994.

I don’t know if I really ever thought about it at the time, but it was an incredibly special way to live. Sunday dinners with the family upstairs. Dinner downstairs during the week, including Grandma and Uncle Sonny. If you were sick, she would make you pastina. If you were hungry, she would heat up leftover meatballs from Sunday. After spilling wine on a white top once, she was the only one who could make it look like it was brand new. Dying house plant? Bring it to Grandma. It would magically come back to life. When I made my Confirmation, I took the name “Rose” for her and my Sponsor – my cousin Rosanne.

In the late 90s, the book Newark’s Little Italy: The Vanished First Ward by Michael Immerso was published. If you ever wondered what it was to grow up in an Italian household in New Jersey, this book provides the perfect description. I took her to the Barnes and Noble on Rt. 46 in Little Falls for a lecture by the author. We arrived early so she could sit up front and make sure she heard everything. After his talk, people had the opportunity to ask questions. Whenever he didn’t know something, she would whisper the answer to him. He finally laughed and said “I’m being coached.” She had a memory that didn’t quit. At the end of the evening the line for attendees to speak with my Grandma was longer than the line to meet the author. It was a wonderful evening.

She was not just a woman proud of her heritage; she was a proud American. In my entire lifetime, I can only think of a handful of times I heard her speak Italian, even though she was completely fluent. When I was a child I would bring Italian books home from the library and beg her to read them to me and teach me. Her answer was always the same, “you are an American and you speak English.” She believed in the great American experiment. I remember her telling me of stories of singing patriotic songs during WWII and flying American flags.

Finally, she was a woman of faith and made sure we were all instilled with that same faith. When she wasn’t able to go to mass any longer, I became a Eucharistic Minister so I could bring her communion.

Today is her 115th birthday. And while it is ridiculous to believe so, I wish she was still here with her family that loves her. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her.

This probably sounds like a typical life of someone who is far from noteworthy. However, I promise you, noteworthy is exactly what she was.. and still is.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: James Gandolfini

When many people think of Americans of Italian descent, they often think we are all in the mob, or “connected.” Many movies such as The Godfather add to the stereotype. Add to that shows like Jersey Shore, Housewives of New Jersey, and The Sopranos, and well…

While many depictions in New Jersey and mob movies show a lot of things that are not true, many more good things are true. Many of us talk about wonderful memories growing up with Sunday dinners, multi-generational families, and pride in our heritage.

Enter James Gandolfini

Gandolfini played “Tony Soprano” in the famed HBO series. He was a deplorable character, yet, he was able to show a human side of this man. Tony had many of the issues we all struggle with; anxiety, temptation; a frustration with his family – his “blood family” that is. James Gandolfini played the character perfectly. He able to play a guy from Jersey because he was a guy from New Jersey.

That “New Jersey” I often speak of is an intangible characteristic those of us from this state easily understand. Born in Westwood, Gandolfini was raised in Park Ridge, New Jersey, the son of an American-born mother and an Italian-born father. He grew up with a strong pride in his heritage and visited Italy often. He was in Rome when he passed away from a heart attack in 2013 at the young age of 51. In 2014, Gandolfini was posthumously inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

While he was proud of his heritage, he worked hard to show his love for America. Gandolfini never forgot the sacrifice his father made, earning a Purple Heart in WWII, and sought to make sure that all veterans received the care and respect they deserve. In 2007, Gandolfini produced Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, a documentary in which he interviewed injured Iraq War veterans. In 2010 he produced Wartorn: 1861–2010, which examined the impact of PTSD on soldiers and families throughout wars in U.S. history from 1861 to 2010. He also worked with the USO making meeting service members and was a spokesperson for Wounded Warrior Project.

So no, not all Americans of Italian descent are in the mob, but we all love our Italian heritage. Gandolfini showed that pride in his role of Tony Soprano, and more importantly, in his daily life.