Can You Go Home Again?

Recently I’ve been going back to the area where I grew up. While it is for a sad and stressful reason, I really don’t mind. While on the way down Franklin Avenue in Belleville during a recent trip, I found was thinking to myself how much I missed the area. When I mentioned this to someone their response to me was interesting:

“You don’t miss the area, you miss what it was to you.”

It was a thought-provoking comment. Do I miss my Motherland because it is familiar? It had me thinking again after reading a similar post by Jersey Collective regarding the demise of a favorite local coffee hangout.

St. Lucy's Church, First Ward, Newark
Candles at St. Lucy’s Church

I can still drive, walk, or bike ride just about all of Belleville and Nutley, as well as a fair amount of Bloomfield and North Newark blindfolded. I know every shortcut and backway. I can still tell you exactly where the cut in the fence was growing up to cut through the golf course to save time walking home. I used to be able to walk up to Franklin Plaza and pick up fresh Italian bread, meat for Sunday dinner, prescriptions, a birthday card, The Belleville Times, and a Carvel ice cream all in one location and walk home. One of my favorite things to do when the weather was warm was ride up to the high school on my bike, head all the way up to the top corner of the stadium, and sit and read a book. Yeah, I know; boring kid. But I liked it. It felt safe. It was home. Once I had my license, I could drive to St. Lucy’s Church in the old First Ward and sit and pray and enjoy the peace of the church and then stop at Di Paolo’s to get a cannoli.

Is it the familiar we long for or is it the place itself?

I’d be lying if I said I know the answer, but it surely makes me think.

It’s Spring; Be Bear Aware!

As the weather finally begins to warm up, we aren’t the only creatures starting to emerge from our homes. Bears are waking up and making a grand entrance.

Unfortunately, not everyone is ready for them.

Black bears are appearing in more and more residential areas and people that are not necessarily used to seeing them may not know how to respond when they come face-to-face with a bear. Recently, a woman in Lafayette was attacked by a bear near her home. A few weeks prior, a bear killed two small dogs in Sussex County.

How to Prevent a Bear Attack

There are a number of steps everyone can take to minimize the chances of a negative experience with a bear.

NJDEP Fish & Wildlife Bear Safety Guidelines

If you come in contact with a bear, here are a few important points to remember:

  1. Yes, they are cute. They are also wild animals. DO NOT try to pet them. Yes, I really need to say that.
  2. Do not feed them. Don’t leave food out for them as a way to invite them on to your deck.
  3. Clean the grates of your grill after use. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and will definitely want to check them out if they any kind of interesting scent.
  4. Keep your garbage well-secured.
  5. If a sow is with her cubs, give her extra space! You know the term “momma bear?” People use it for a reason.
  6. Never corner a bear. Always give them an exit.
  7. NEVER turn your back on a bear. Just back away slowly.
  8. Never make eye contact with a bear. It may consider it as a form of aggression.
  9. NEVER turn and run! Again, slowly back away.
  10. Make yourself look as large as possible. Yell, clap, whistle, etc. to let the bear know you are in the area so it is not startled by you.
  11. If you are going into the woods, keep a whistle and either Mace or bear spray on hand.
  12. If you are actually attacked, kick and punch the eyes, throat, and muzzle. That’s your best chance. Do not follow the advise of the Bugs Bunny cartoons we all watched as kids and “play dead” with black bears.

Seriously though, bear attacks are incredibly rare. Just use the common sense God gave you. For more information, check out the bear safety resources provided by NJ Fish & Wildlife.

Westfield, Where are the Notes to Your Opus?

Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.” ~Glenn Holland, Mr. Holland’s Opus

One of my favorite actors is Richard Dreyfuss. He is an excellent actor, he’s in a large majority of my favorite movies, he has an awesome laugh, and he believes civics should be taught in public schools.

He was also in an incredibly profound movie; Mr. Holland’s Opus. It is one of my favorite – and least favorite – movies. It is the perfect example of art imitating life. A musician is hired as a music teacher. He starts out feeling rather uneasy about his decision to enter the classroom. Three decades later, he can’t imagine what he will do when he is forced to leave it.

I know many music teachers, choir directors, and band directors who went into public education, not with the trepidation of Glenn Holland, but as a force of positive energy with great plans to inspire. Unfortunately, most times, the only people who wanted them there were the kids, and sometimes (if they were lucky) the parents.

I’ve written multiple times over the years (on two different blogs) about the importance of arts and music in public education. I can literally feel my blood pressure go up every time I see athletics heralded and music cast aside.

Indulge me while I tell you a story…

I was the kid that played in Pigtail League when I was little because I grew up with a love of watching baseball. I would sit with my Uncle Sonny on Saturday afternoons and eat olives out of the can meant for the salad for Sunday dinner while we watched the Yankees or the Mets on our local television station. We would go through the packs of baseball cards my Aunt Roslyn would bring home for us from the deli she and my Uncle Tony owned. I still have an entire photo album full of baseball cards he put together for me.

Because I was born at the end of the year, all my friends moved up to the middle school softball league a year ahead of me. I went with them to the first practice to see what I was in for when I would join them the following year. The coach took one look at me, asked my why I was there, said “no visitors during practice,” and told me to beat it. I was quite taken aback. My friends went off to the field to start warm ups and I walked away dejected. I stopped and looked over my shoulder once and the coach caught my eye and gave me a nasty look. I quickly took off. I knew my softball career was over.

I attempted track and field when I was in high school, but I was terrible. I was slow and uncoordinated. I mainly gave it a try because a few friends were on the team and I had a crush on a boy that was a runner. They wound up keeping me around as the team manager.

But the music department was where I really belonged. I was in chorus, marching band, orchestra, jazz band, and concert band. I couldn’t get enough. I would plan my entire high school schedule around chorus, band, and orchestra. Before school, we would all collect in the band room and just sit and talk. After school, we would need to get chased out so the room could get locked up. We would all regularly cut class with the standard “I have a band lesson” excuse.

My senior year I was stuck with an English teacher that absolutely terrified me. The Vice Principal came in the first day of school and wrote “Queen of Peace summer school” with an address and phone number. He then proceeded to point out all the students he was sure wouldn’t graduate. I picked up my books, walked right up to the principal’s office and said “I’m graduating on time; get me out of his class!” Yeah, I could definitely throw that Belleville sass around when I wanted to, that’s for sure. I spent most of the next day in the guidance office reworking my schedule to get into another English class. It came at a great expense. I had to rework my entire schedule and drop all three of my music classes. I was devastated. I actually went to all three directors and personally apologized and explained I was terrified of this teacher and had convinced myself I wouldn’t graduate if I tried to stick it out. It took two weeks to get me out of his class. In those two weeks, my average was already a 45. I could barely get my marking period average up to a “C.” It threw off my entire year. But I’m not bitter or anything. Much.

But back to music. That’s where I knew I belonged. I wasn’t popular, except in the summer when the pool was open. I wasn’t interested in most of my academics. I just wanted to go to my writing classes and my music classes. Forget science, math, and worst of all gym. I was far from the best musician, but I was definitely the most enthusiastic!

I knew we weren’t respected. I knew we didn’t get the budget we deserved. But we worked hard. We learned more than just how to read dots on a page. We learned about teamwork, loyalty, we protected each other. When one of us hurt, we all hurt. Those are very special people to me. Music kids are a global community bound together by notes on a page.

And that experience was directly affected by my teachers.

Those special people who spend countless nights and weekends in busses with hundreds of boisterous kids who really don’t even think that teachers actually have a personal life. Teachers that spend their own money on supplies for their classroom. Teachers that know which kids are having trouble at home and need some extra attention. Teachers that know someone’s father was laid off from work and they don’t have money for lunch, so they tell the lunch lady they’ll pay for their kid’s lunch later when he’s not around. Teachers who listen to Christmas music in the spring and spring concert music in the fall. They do all this quietly without fanfare.

“You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable. I should be laughing.” ~Glenn Holland, Mr. Holland’s Opus

So why am I sharing this sermon? Simple. This week, the Westfield Public School system took a machete to their arts, music, and drama programs. The final budget announcement was made, ironically, shortly after an announcement the district was named one of the best school systems in the nation for the arts by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM).

I watched the video of the meeting and a few statements were made that really made my blood boil. I actually needed to let some time pass before I wrote this because I was so incensed I knew I would not be able to effectively share my frustration, anger, and disappointment.

“It included everything we wanted to do, that we wanted to continue to do from this year moving into next year.”

I found this comment particularly disturbing. Does this mean you didn’t want to continue your arts and music program? Did you even try? Do you even care?

“We did not reduce any of the stipends associated with any of the extracurricular athletics.”

Well, thank goodness for that! I can’t even say anything about this comment without sounding like Yosemite Sam.

You know what I didn’t see with cuts? Supervisors. Coaches. Athletics. I. Am. Disgusted.

“The day they cut the football budget in this state, that will be the end of Western Civilization as we know it!” ~Glenn Holland, Mr. Holland’s Opus

One community member tied the district’s budget issues to a hotly contested Edison fields project. This is a project to replace the school’s grass fields with synthetic turf that will cost the town a whopping $9 million. Do they really need to do that? How about the athletics teams just be appreciative they were spared from the cuts and forego this project for the year.

A board member asked a question he received from a parent that was a perfect example that they have no idea what they are affecting. There is a music program that has 40 students in a class. There is a teacher and an assistant. The assistant will be eliminated. The parent wanted to know how that class will be handled. The answer is priceless:

“I don’t know the specifics. I’m sorry” ~Superintendent Gonzalez.

It is worth mentioning, he laughed and put his hands in the air in the classic “I don’t’ know” fashion. The sarcastic laughter from the audience was palatable and the confused look on his face said it all.

In all, 24 total positions will be cut. Of the 24 positions, 10 directly affect the arts and music. That is simply shameful.

I have submitted an OPRA request to the district for specific budget information for a “part two” on this topic.

In the meantime, if you are sick of seeing the arts and music being cut. If your blood is boiling as much as mine, I encourage you to email the Superintendent of Schools and Board Members and share your dissatisfaction. For your convenience, I have them listed below:

To reach all members of the Westfield Board of Education, please use group e-mail: wboe@westfieldnjk12.org

Board of Education Members:
Brendan Galligan (President): bgalligan@westfieldnjk12.org
Sahar Aziz (Vice President): saziz@westfieldnjk12.org
Robert Benacchio: rbenacchio@westfieldnjk12.org
Michael Bielen: mbielen@westfieldnjk12.org
Leila Morrelli: lmorrelli@westfieldnjk12.org
Sonal Patel: spatel@westfieldnjk12.org
Amy Root: aroot@westfieldnjk12.org
Kristen Sonnek-Schmelz: ksonnek-schmelz@westfieldnjk12.org
Mary Wickens: mwickens@westfieldnjk12.org

Raymond González (Superintendent): Email form

If you decide to contact them, please be respectful.

“There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.” ~Gertrude Lang, Mr. Holland’s Opus

Are You Ready for Some Spring Football?

A long time ago in a galaxy not too far away, there was an organization that was all about football. No, not that organization. Another organization called the United States Football League, aka, the USFL.

Growing up I was often asked why I wasn’t a Giants or Jets fan. After all, they played in Jersey and I am a hardcore Jersey Girl. Simple question; simple answer. They may play in New Jersey, but they are known as New York teams. Jersey does all the work and New York (as usual) gets all the credit. When the Giants won the Super Bowl, where was the celebration? In the Canyon of Heroes in NYC.

Nope, not having it. Enter the USFL.

When the teams were announced, New Jersey finally had a New Jersey team. The Jersey Generals. This league played football in the spring and summer at Giants Stadium in The Meadowlands. I was 100 percent all in!

New Jersey Generals logo

OK, so their first outing wasn’t great. Owner Donald Trump urged the signing of Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie; two players who would become household names. I still remember the commercials for “Flutie Flakes” that benefited autistic children (way before most people even knew what that meant).

Sadly, the USFL only lasted three seasons. My Jersey football team was gone… until now.

This spring the nation was reintroduced to the USFL… and the Jersey Generals.

Now, I’ll admit, I am quite bummed they are playing all the games in one location (Birmingham, Alabama), so unless you live in the area or are willing to travel, you are unable to check out the games in person.

I’ve watched two games so far and I have to tell you, I really enjoyed them! I hope the USFL is successful and is around for longer than its initial attempt. I’m quite happy to have a Jersey football team. Maybe by next year they’ll be able to play in the state they represent.

Peacock Pride

If you are a regular reader, you know I am most assuredly not a fan of college sports; most of all basketball. However, I am a huge fan of a great underdog story. If there is one underdog team that has swept the country it is the Peacocks of St. Peter’s University.

This small Jesuit college in Jersey City has defied the odds and made it to the NCAA “Sweet 16.” Founded in 1872, its total enrollment for the fall of 2021 was just over 3,000 according to the school’s website, as compared to the 31,000-plus enrollment at the University of Kentucky. Saint Peter’s coach, Shaheen Holloway, is a former McDonald’s All-American who went on to become a four-year starter for my Seton Hall Pirates in the late 1990s (I had to look that up). He played professionally abroad until 2007. He then joined Iona’s staff as an assistant coach before heading home to his Pirates in 2010 and joined the school’s coaching staff. He then moved on to his first head coaching gig at Saint Peter’s.

“I’ve got guys from New Jersey and New York City. You think we’re scared of anything? You think we’re worried about guys trying to muscle us and tough us out? We do that. That’s who we are.”
~ Saint Peter’s Head Coach, Shaheen Holloway

This is definitely my kind of guy. Born in Queens, he became a Jersey Boy early in life. He is true Jersey; dripping confidence and attitude. I love it.

So while I am not a basketball fan and will always be a Pirate, for this weekend (and hopefully for a few more weeks), I’ll share in some Jersey Peacock pride. Hopefully being a Jesuit college will result in some continued divine intervention.

Get Ready for Fishing Season 2022

After a brutal two years, we as a nation are starting to head back to some level of normalcy. And for many of us, that means spring fishing season.

2022 Fishing Regulations

The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife is returning to a normal stocking schedule with three weeks of pre-season stocking and seven weeks of in-season stocking with in-season closures in effect. It is important to note, however, there will be a change in the stocking frequency to help minimize staff exposure to COVID-19 and to help ensure healthy trout by moving them out of the raceways faster than usual.

The change will shift 68,000 fish from in-season to pre-season stocking, with no change to the total allotment of fish per waterbody. Ultimately, a total of roughly 68,000 more fish will be available to anglers across the state on opening day.

Planned Schedule

The upcoming season schedule:

March 21 – April 9 at 8:00 a.m.: Waters closed to trout fishing

April 9 at 8:00 a.m.: Opening day of trout season!

It is important to note, the minimum legal size is 9″ with a daily limit of 6 trout in most trout waters from April 9 to May 31. Additionally, trout stocked waters will not be open to catch-and-release during the pre-season this year.

In addition to approximately 570,000 production trout, approximately 6,000 two- and three-year-old broodstock, ranging in size from 14″-26″ and weighing up to 7 pounds will stocked this spring. These trophy-size fish are slated for waters across the state which are suitable for fish of that size and which do not conflict with management goals.

Important Reminders for 2022 NJ Trout Season

According to the 2022 NJ Freshwater Fishing Digest, Brown and brook trout are still available, and regulations are in place to keep it that way (refer to the 2022 Freshwater Fishing Digest for specifics). There are several waters that remain open for catch-and-release trout fishing: Lake Hopatcong (Morris/Sussex), Mountain Lake (Warren), Prospertown Lake (Ocean), Lake Shenandoah (Ocean), Swartswood Lake (Sussex), and the section of Lawrence Brook from Davidsons Mill Rd. to Farrington Lake dam are open year round to fishing.

2022 Freshwater Fishing Digest
The 2022 Freshwater Fishing Digest

Catch and Release Only, Seasonal, and Year-Round Trout Conservation Areas and designated Holdover Trout Lakes are also open to fishing. However, trout caught in any of these waters during this period must be released immediately. Note that, fishing is not permitted on Seasonal Trout Conservation Areas from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. on April 10, 2022. Trout can be harvested from the state’s two Trophy Trout Lakes, Merrill Creek and Round Valley Reservoirs. Remember, check the Freshwater Fishing Digest for all the complete 2022 season regulations.

The “Hook a Winner” program is also in effect! Over 1,000 trout with a tag in its jaw will be stocked. Make sure to take note of the tag and send in your catch info!

Get a License!

It is also important to remember to purchase a NJ fishing license. Everyone knows it is all-too-easy to get away with fishing sans license, due to limited NJ Conservation Police staff, but just don’t. You are only hurting the hunting and angling community, and ultimately, yourself. The money from your license goes right back into our state’s open spaces.

So get out and enjoy!

Jersey Represent at the Olympics

As the Olympics in Beijing comes to a close, it is important to take a moment and say “thank you” to the athletes for bringing their best to the games. New Jersey sent over 30 athletes to the Olympics. Here are just a few of our great athletes.

Hakeem Abdul-Saboor – Bobsled

Growing up in East Orange, Hakeem showed an aptitude for multiple sports at a young age. He focused on football and track and field and eventually accepted a football scholarship to The University Of Virginia College at Wise to play the running back. Sadly, his football career ended his senior year due to an ACL injury which halted his hopes of pursuing a professional football career. However, he preserved. Hakeem represented Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics as pusher for two different bobsled crews and now represented Team USA at the 2022 games. What makes me the most proud is that in 2019 he joined the Army and serves as a Biomedical Equipment Specialist.

Kenny Agostino – Ice Hockey

A native of Mount Olive, Kenny is a left-wing for the US Men’s Hockey Team. Kenny graduated as Delbarton’s all-time leading scorer with 261 points. He was named New Jersey High School Player of the Year by the Newark Star-Ledger in 2009 and 2010 and recorded 50 goals and 83 points in his senior year of 2009–10. At Yale, he helped the school reach the championship game and defeated Quinnipiac 4–0 to win the first NCAA team championship of any sport in the school’s history.

Kelly Curtis – Skeleton

Growing up in Princeton, Kelly didn’t start competing in skeleton until college. Going into the Olympics, Kelly was ranked No. 14 in the world by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation. For the two years prior to the Olympics, she was a member of the Air Force and participated in the service’s World-Class Athlete Program, which offers prospective and current airmen a path to a military career while being nationally ranked in their sport. She finished sixth in Beijing.

Kimi Goetz – Speedskating

A Flemington native and Hunterdon Central High graduate, Kimi earned a spot on the US Long Track Speedskating Team after placing second in both the 500- and 1,000-meter events during qualifying. Kimi switched to long track speedskating in 2018 after a fall during qualifying in short track led to a concussion. After her time on the ice, Kimi plans to pursue work in special education at the elementary level.

Charlie Volker – Bobsled

Another member of the Bobsled Team, Charlie hails from Fair Haven. After earning his BA in history from Princeton, he began bobsledding just two years ago and immediately showed great promise. Initially Charlie was headed to NFL mini-camps when COVID-19 ended that dream. His trainer suggested he try bobsledding. His team earned a top 10 finish in Beijing.

Thank You All

As I mentioned, over 30 of our favorite sons and daughters of New Jersey competed in the 2022 Olympics. We thank you all for doing Jersey proud!

Get Out!

Yesterday my husband and I took advantage of the surprisingly warm weather and took a ride to an area of Sussex County we’ve been wanting to explore for quite awhile.

I can’t tell you how happy we did.

If you aren’t a fan of the winter (like us), it is easy to just hibernate and wait for the weather to get above your age. When we heard the weather would be above freezing, we decided to make the effort to actually step outside. What we discovered is an area of Sussex County almost frozen in time with open space and houses that predate the Revolutionary War.

1977 map of New Jersey (source: Rutgers Special Collections)

We met someone who was quite knowledgeable about the area and owned an amazing home built in 1791. He freely shared information about the area and his ongoing effort to preserve as much of his property and the town’s history buildings. The town’s historical society works hard to preserve and educate on the area, from the time of the Lenapehoking to present day.

So why am I telling you all this and why am I not saying where we went? Simple. I want you to GET OUT! Grab a map (yes, a printed map) and take a ride. Is there an area in the state you’ve always wanted to visit? Plan a ride into your unknown. Visit the local historical society and ask questions. Patron their locally-owned shops and restaurants. Even consider joining their historical society (or at least make a donation).

I promise you; you’ll be happy you did!

Favorite son of Jersey Inducted to Football HOF

A favorite son of New Jersey, as well as a USFL and NFL player may have lived a short life, but he certainly accomplished a lot. This week Sam Mills reached the pinnacle in his sport; induction into the Pro Football NFL Hall of Fame.

Born in Neptune City and raised in Long Branch, Mr. Mills began his love affair with football at an early age, like many boys. While attending Long Branch High School, he was a standout football player and wrestler. In 1976 and 1977, Mr. Mills won District Championships at Long Branch as a wrestler. His high school and NFL jerseys hang in the gym in his honor.

Sam Mills statue
The statue of Sam Mills outside the Panthers stadium. (credit: panthers.com).

Mr. Mills attended college at Montclair State and made the football team as a walk-on. He played for Montclair from 1977-1980 where he is the all-time leader in career tackles, tackles in a season, and tackles in a game.

In 1981 Mr. Mills signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent, however, he was released at the end of the preseason. Despite several setbacks being cut by multiple teams, he persevered.

In 1983 he signed with the USFL, Philadelphia Stars, and began a three-year playing career with the team. Mr. Mills led the Stars to two USFL championships, was named to three All-USFL teams and is a member of the USFL’s All-Time Team.

In 1985, Stars’ head coach Jim Mora was hired as head coach of the NFL New Orleans Saints and Mr. Mills went with him. He started his career in New Orleans in 1986 and earned four Pro Bowl appearances with the Saints in 1987, 1988, 1991, and 1992. He was inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame in 1998.

Mr. Mills signed with the newly-formed expansion team, Carolina Panthers, in 1995 and was the only player to start every game during the Panthers’ first three seasons. He earned a trip to his fifth Pro Bowl in 1996 at the age of 37 which, at the time, made him the oldest defender to be invited to a Pro Bowl. He retired after the following season. After his retirement, Mr. Mills was inducted into the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor in 1998. He became a defensive coaching assistant for the Panthers the same year and was promoted to linebackers coach in 1999. His jersey number 51 was retired by the Panthers at the start of the 2005 NFL season, making it the first number the franchise ever retired.

In August 2003, Mr. Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. Though he was told he had a short time left to his life, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation and continued to coach. He was an inspiration to the team during their post-season run as the team faced Dallas and won Super Bowl XXXVIII. Mr. Mills continued to coach until dying from cancer complications on April 18, 2005. He was 45.

Mr. Mills made a positive impact during his short life and his speech to the team before their Super Bowl appearance with a focus on “Keep Pounding,” is now the name of a name of a fund to sponsor cancer research programs and an official team slogan.

He will now be inducted to the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Open Space Preserved in Princeton

There is a constant battle in New Jersey; preserving open space versus developing more ratables to collect taxes. It happens in every town in the state. Recently, there was some good news on the preservation front.

More than 150 acres in Princeton is now permanently protected, thanks to a partnership among several government agencies and nonprofits. The 153-acre property was purchased for $8.8 million from the Lanwin Development Corp. and the family of the late Bryce Thompson.

Princeton’s latest preservation project. (Credit: The Watershed Institute)

A partnership of organizations, the town of Princeton, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, Ridgeview Conservancy, The Watershed Institute, Mercer County, the state Green Acres Program, and New Jersey Conservation Foundation worked on the acquisition. Nearly $3 million in private donations were received. The land is now jointly owned by Princeton, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, The Watershed Institute, and the Ridgeview Conservancy.

The acquisition is part of an initiative called “Princeton’s Emerald Necklace” that aims to connect open spaces throughout the town and provide greater access to open space. This open space protects over 4,000 trees from deforestation that form part of a mature forest on this site.