9/11: Twenty-One Years Later

“Where were you on 9/11?”

For those of us who were witnesses to history, we remember every minute of that day. We can describe in detail every moment and every feeling.

If you put that question to an entirely new generation, they have no answer. They weren’t born.

Just like if someone asked me where I was during the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., President Kennedy or the attack on Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t alive. The generations that were witnesses to those events had an obligation to those who came after them to make those events more than just pages in a history book.

And they did.

9/11/2021 Eagle Rock, Essex County, NJ
A photo I took at Eagle Rock on 9/11/2021

My family would tell me how they felt. What they did. The days of crying. The actions they took. For the men, they told me about their time fighting in World War II. They made it a living history. And I thank them for it.

We now have that same responsibility for this generation and the ones that continue to be born. They can’t know 9/11 as just pages in a history book. There’s an oral history that needs to be shared. Those emotions, as painful as they may be, must be shared. We have an obligation to keep it a living history, just as the generations before us did for those critical moments in our nation’s history.

Tomorrow I am meeting a few colleagues at the 9/11 memorial in Morris Plains where our company used to stand. It is in memory of two of our colleagues and the sister of another colleague who all perished on that day. The company is sadly long gone, but the memorial remains. We are making a conscious decision to not forget. To meet in our sadness and remember. It makes me wonder how many small memorials like this there are around the country. Every year when I visit if there is someone nearby, I ask them, “did you know there’s a 9/11 memorial here? No? Let me show you.”

9/11 Memorial, 301 Gibraltar Drive, Morris Plains, NJ
The 9/11 Memorial at 301 Gibraltar Drive in Morris Plains.

So if you were a witness to one of the darkest days in American history, take the obligation to pass on your personal experience and impressions of the day to those who weren’t alive or were too young to remember.

Don’t let this day just turn into a date on the calendar or a page in a history book. We owe it to those who lost their lives on that day and the countless first responders who have lost their lives since that day due to illnesses related to their work at Ground Zero.

We promised to Never Forget. Take that promise seriously.

Fourth Grade and New Jersey History

As the school year begins, I think back to growing up in Belleville and starting school in September. I have many wonderful memories of that time. In sixth grade I was part of the school patrol and guarded the kindergarten door. In middle school, I accompanied the chorus on piano for the first time. In high school I spent most of my time in the band room, where I felt at home.

But two great memories, believe it or not, took place in fourth grade with Miss Stackfleth at School Seven. She was an incredibly hard teacher and she scared most of us kids half to death with her strict ways and her paragraph-long sentences she would hand out as punishment if you did something wrong. However, she did begin to instill two important traits in me; my love of country and my love of New Jersey.

New Jersey state flag
The New Jersey State Flag was adopted in 1896. (Credit: state.nj.us)

Every morning we would begin our day with the Flag Salute, like every other classroom. We would then continue our show of patriotism with the singing of a song. She played piano and had one in her classroom. Each day a different song would be selected and she would teach us the words and melody. In short order we learned several songs like This Land is Your Land and You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag. I still remember the words to many of those songs today. And I thank her for sharing them with us.

When it comes to my love of New Jersey, that took the entire school year. When I was in the fourth grade, which was a long time ago, history class was focused on New Jersey history. I remember it starting with “what do you think our state looks like?” We had answers like “a seahorse” and “the letter S.” It moved on from there. We learned about the Lenni Lenape tribe, our state’s important role in the Revolutionary War, it’s rich agricultural history, and more. It gave me an appreciation for an area beyond my neighborhood on Irving Street.

Ever since, my love of New Jersey has only grown. Yes, there are a lot of annoying things about our state; the traffic, high taxes, and don’t even get me started on the politics. But there are plenty more things to love. Like how you can enjoy the Atlantic Ocean, the Flatbrook River, living American history in Morristown, and awesome Italian food in my hometown of Belleville. We have a rich and wonderful state. I hope children are still learning about it. And I have Mrs. Stackfleth to thank for it. The teacher that actually terrified me.

Memorial Day 2022 Events

Memorial Day weekend is upon us and we all look forward to it for different reasons. For many it is a three day weekend. It is the unofficial kickoff to summer. It’s barbeques, cold beer, and the beach.

Actually, no, it really isn’t.

It is a moment to stop and honor and remember the fallen. To commemorate members of the military that made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can all live free. Who gave that last full measure of devotion.

How it became a weekend for mattress sales, I’ll never know. It is simply appalling.

Northern NJ Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Sussex County
Northern NJ Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Sussex County

There are a variety of different events that take place all over the country. From the wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery, to moments of silence and the playing of Taps at events in every small town, to parades with current military members wearing their Class A uniforms; you can find events near your location.

Here are a few events taking place around the state:

Closter: Memorial Day Parade, march from Closter Borough Hall, 295 Closter Dock Road, through center of town to Memorial Park on Harrington Avenue for services, concluding with food and refreshments at Closter Elks Lodge, 148 Railroad Ave. 10 a.m. May 30.

Garfield: Memorial Day Parade, march from Veterans Monument on Midland Avenue to Garfield VFW Post 2867, 340 Outwater Lane, 11 a.m. May 30. 973-772-4696.

Lodi: Memorial Day Observance, 8:30 a.m. Ambulance Corps ceremony at 72 Kimmig Ave., 9:15 a.m. fire department ceremony at 99 Kennedy Drive, 10:15 a.m. VFW ceremony at 163 Union Ave., 11 a.m. American Legion ceremony at 41 Union St., and 11:45 a.m. police department ceremony at 1 Memorial Drive, followed by “Walkway for Peace” ceremony, May 30. 973-365-4005.

Mount Laurel: Memorial Day Tribute, wreath laying at Veterans Memorial, 6 p.m. May 26, Laurel Acres Park, 1045 S. Church St. 856-727-0595.

Cherry Hill: Memorial Day Service, ceremony at War Memorial cohosted by American Legion Post 372 and Jewish War Veterans Post 126, honoring 75th anniversary of the US Air Force with US Army Reserve Lt. Col. Daniel S. Bash as keynote speaker, 11:30 a.m. May 30, Carman Tilelli Community Center, 820 Mercer St., 856-488-7868.

Voorhees: Kirkwood Memorial Day Parade, march from old Carriage House Restaurant, 1219 Kirkwood-Gibbsboro Road, right on Walnut Avenue, left on Second Avenue, right on Chestnut Avenue, then right on Burnt Mill Road, ending at Kirwood Fire Station Veterans Memorial with wreath laying service, 11 a.m. May 30, Voorhees Township Fire Department, 2002 S. Burnt Mill Road., 856-429-7174.

Memorial Day

Cape May: Memorial Day Ceremony, 11 a.m. remembrance in conjunction with the American Legion Post 193 and VFW Post 386 followed by U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May detachments’ rifle salute and launching of flower boat from Gurney Street Beach, May 27, Soldiers and Sailors Park, Gurney Street and Columbia Avenue., 609-884-9525.

Glen Ridge: Memorial Day Parade, march beginning at Sherman Avenue and Baldwin Street and proceeding to memorial in front of Ridgewood Avenue School, 235 Ridgewood Ave., for memorial ceremony, 11 a.m. May 30, 973-748-8400.

West Orange: Memorial Day Ceremony, observance in front of the township municipal building, 66 Main St., 10 a.m., May 30, co-hosted by VFW Post 376 with WOHS Air Force Junior ROTC Squadron, township historian Joseph Fagan and vocalist Lynette Sheard. Special honoree will be the late Gordon Hansen, a West Orange High School graduate who posthumously was awarded the Purple Heart for his participation in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. His war-time trumpet will be used by Rob Adams for the playing of Taps.

Glassboro: Memorial Day Parade and Flyover, with F16 jet fly-over by the New Jersey Air National Guard 177th Fighter Wing in Atlantic City. Procession from Lehigh and University Boulevard to Whitney Avenue and High street, ending at Glassboro Fire Department, with solemn ceremony at Veterans Memorial Plaza, 10 a.m. May 30, Glassboro Town Square, North Main Street and Rowan Boulevard. 856-881-9230, ext. 88322.

Guttenberg: Memorial Day Observance, 11 a.m. May 30, Monument Park, 70th St and Blvd East.

Flemington: Memorial Day Parade, march from Hunterdon Urgent Care down Church Street, right on Main Street to Civil War statue, 9 a.m. May 30, 908-782-8840.

Edison: Memorial Day Parade, march from Plainfield Avenue and Division Street to post home, noon May 28, American Legion Father & Son Post 435, 43 Oakland Ave., 732-287-0900.

Sea Girt: Memorial Day Parade, march from Sea Girt Elementary School, 451 Bell Place, to the Plaza, followed by festivities at Baltimore Park, 8:45 a.m. May 30. 732-449-9433, ext. 130.

Roxbury: Memorial Day Parade, march from Meeker Street and Hillside Avenue in Succasunna to Main Street past library and right on Eyland Avenue, across Route 10 to Veterans Memorial on Horseshoe Lake Island, followed by ceremony presented by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2833, 10 a.m. May 30, Horseshoe Lake Park, 72 Eyland Ave. in Succasunna.

Belleville: Memorial Day Ceremony, May 30, 11:00 a.m.: Dutch Reform Church Cemetery, 171 Main 12:00 p.m.: Veterans Memorial Park, Union Ave & Tiona Ave.

Budd Lake: Memorial Remembrance Day Ceremony, May 30, 10:30 a.m.-noon at All Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Grounds at Turkey Brook Park, 30 Flanders Road. Full event including Tolling of the Ascension Bell, Honorable Service Paver Installation, JROTC, and Rolling Thunder.

Oh, and don’t say “Happy Memorial Day.” There is nothing “happy” about it. It is a solemn day we all get to enjoy due to the sacrifice of the millions of military members that have ensured our freedom. And if you see a vet, say “thank you” and buy them a cup of coffee.

New Jersey Loses a Favorite Son: Ray Liotta

Today I saw a post that I thought at first was a hoax:

Ray Liotta Passes Away

Sadly, it was not a hoax. New Jersey has lost one of its favorite sons. It was announced Ray Liotta died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic while filming his next movie.

Born in Newark, Raymond Allen Liotta was abandoned at an orphanage after he was born. At six months, he was adopted. It was never hidden from him he was adopted and he actually brought his adoption papers in for “show and tell” in elementary school. He also had a sister growing up that was also adopted. He learned about 20 years ago he had one biological sister, one biological half-brother, and five biological half-sisters.

Liotta grew up in Union and graduated from Union High School in 1973. He attended Miami University and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1978. He then returned to his familiar surroundings, this time New York City, to begin his career.

Two Jersey boys; Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta
(source: GQ.com)

Of all Liotta’s roles, he will be forever remembered for his portrayal of Henry Hill in Goodfellas; what I regard as the top of heap when you consider all that makes up the mafia movie genre. I mean, there’s The Godfather, there’s Goodfellas, and then there’s everything else in my opinion. If you want to read an amazing interview about the movie, I highly recommend the 2010 GQ article about Goodfellas.

But no matter how famous he became, those of us from Jersey still claim him as one of our own. And tonight our hearts are broken that he was taken from us far too soon.

Rest easy Raymond. And thank you.

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.

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!

The Language of New Jersey

If you live in New Jersey, you know we have a language all our own. However, if you are just a visitor, you may not know how best to communicate with us. Here are a few suggestion to help navigate a typical conversation.

“How You Doin’?”

Most people in other states start conversations with “hi” or “hello.” Well, here in Jersey, we start with “how you doin’?” Now to clarify, we aren’t really asking how you are; and quite frankly, we usually don’t care.

“You Good”

Now this one can be tricky. This phrase has multiple meanings. What is important here is the inflection. Here’s the full list of possibilities

You good: Are you OK?
You good: You are OK.
You good: How have you been?
You good: Stop talking. Just stop.
You good: You’re welcome.
You good: No need to apologize.
You good: You need some money?
You good: You got a problem?!

Down the Shore

In New Jersey it doesn’t matter where you live, you go “down the shore.” Once you are staying at the shore, then you “go to the beach.” And everyone has specific shore towns they prefer at certain points during their lives. In high school it is usually Seaside for the boardwalk food and the games. That was my spot. The hipster spot is usually Asbury Park. I’ve only been there once for 102.7 Beach Day in high school. Once I was dating my then-boyfriend (now husband), it was Island Beach State Park. After we were married, it was Wildwood Crest. If we could afford it, I would love a home in Cape May.

Benny and Shoobie

While we are on the the shore, there are two references to people who do not live down the shore full time and only venture to South Jersey during the summer. A “Benny” refers to Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark and New York-area residents who head down the shore. They tend to stick with the more northern shore towns. A “Shoobie” is the same as a Benny, but refers to visitors from farther south, usually Philadelphia. The origin is believed to come from day-trippers who took the train to the shore, bringing lunch in a shoe box many decades ago. People don’t carry their lunch in a shoe box anymore, but the term lives on. Now there’s a whole battle between the full-timers and the visitors, but that’s a post for a different day.

“Take the Jughandle”

A typical jughandle in New Jersey.

In all my travels, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a jughandle anywhere else. It definitely causes confusion for out-of-state drivers. Simply put, on many roads in the great Garden State, if you want to make a left, you go right, follow the road around, and then go straight. The term refers to the look of the turn; like the handle of a jug.

“Wow. That’s crazy.”

There often comes a point during a conversation when people just start to tune you out. Maybe you’ve yammered on too long. Maybe the listener has lost interest. It is pretty rude, even for a New Jerseyan, to tell someone to just shut up. That’s kept for very specific circumstances. If you hear “wow; that’s crazy” twice during the same story, that means “wrap up it; I no longer care.”

“Want to go to the Diner?”

New Jersey is without a doubt the diner capital of the world and we are proud of it. We all have our favorites and will just about argue to the death that ours is the best. When I was in high school, my friends and I would always go to the Arlington Diner in North Arlington and the Lyndhurst Diner in Lyndhurst. Later on I would go to the Tick Tock in Clifton. Now that we live in Morris County, we go to the Roxbury Diner, the Jefferson Diner, and the Hibernia Diner.

Disco Fries

While we are on the subject of diners, let’s talk about something unique to Jersey – Disco Fries. No one else could come up with this combination, I promise you. Diner fries with melted mozzarella and topped with brown gravy. This is usually a 3:00 a.m. request on the way home from wherever you were earlier in the evening. After my prom, we headed into New York City. On the way home we stopped at a diner and ordered Disco Fries.

North Jersey/South Jersey

Now New Jersey may be a single state, however, there is a distinct difference between the language of North Jersey and South Jersey. I am a life-long North Jersey resident, so my language includes sub (a sandwich on long Italian roll), Taylor Ham (a much beloved and delicious pork product), Mischief Night (the night before Halloween when the focus is on the tricks and not the treats) and the teams are the Giants and the Jets. In South Jersey, a sub is a hoagie, Taylor Ham is Pork Roll, Mischief Night is Goosey Night, and the team is the Eagles. We all agree on one thing, however; Central Jersey is a myth.

And More…

There’s a lot more when it comes to the culture and language of New Jersey, but this will get you started. There is one thing you will discover quickly; we have serious Jersey Pride! We may joke with each other about our state, but if you’re not from here, you will get a mouth full of Jersey attitude if you try to dish it out. Yes, we know we have a sort-of accent. No, we don’t find asking us to say words like “coffee” or “water” funny. We aren’t really amused by “what exit,” even though we will ask each other. Jersey isn’t just a place to live. It is an attitude. And you are either from here and have it or you are from somewhere else and don’t. Jersey people will always stand up for other Jersey people. Even the ones we don’t like. We are all about protecting and representing. That’s what Jersey Pride is all about.

2022 New Jersey Goals

As the calendar turns and we move ahead to 2022, most people make resolutions for the new year. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of resolutions. They are usually all the same; lose weight, spend more time with the family, blah, blah, blah. While it may sound like semantics, I prefer to make goals.

According to Merriam-Webster, a goal is defined as, “the end toward which effort is directed.” A resolution (the third definition) is, “something that is resolved.” A goal is much more specific. A resolution is hardly exact.

Anyway…

My goal list here is specific to New Jersey. This is all about the effort I will direct to my own beloved state.

Search for Fossils

You may not realize it, but New Jersey offers a variety of opportunities to find fossils. Creatures that range from tiny cephalopods to huge wooly mammoths called New Jersey home. I have never found a fossil, but I will say I never really looked. My goal is to find one this year.

Hike the AT

No, I don’t expect to hide the entire Appalachian Trail, better known as the “AT.” I want to hike just the New Jersey portion of the Trail. The entire length of the AT traverses 14 states from Maine’s Mount Katahdin to Georgia’s Springer Mountain.

The New Jersey stretch of the Appalachian Trail is 74 miles long and begins at Abram S. Hewitt State Forest in the northern most point and runs west and south through Wawayanda State Park, High Point State Park, Stokes State Forest, ending at Worthington State Forest. Now, I do not expect, nor do I plan, to traverse the entire 74 miles in one clip. I will, however, develop a plan to break it down into several short single-day hikes. A great resource to help get started on this goal is the New York New Jersey Trail Conference. This special organization is powered by a great group of volunteers that build, maintain, and protect public trails.

Fish a New Stream for the Heritage Brook Trout

Long before I knew the brook trout was the state fish, it was always my favorite species. The colors are amazing and they put up a wonderful fight. I absolutely love to fly fish in a stream and listen to the water rush downstream as I stand in the river.

The downside, sadly, is the most popular rivers in New Jersey are very well known and generally over-fished. An added frustration for me is that I see plenty of anglers fishing aggressively without a proper license. I regularly encourage those anglers to purchase their license. I explain those license dollars are put right back into the resource. Unfortunately, those anglers usually walk away laughing. It is personally frustrating.

So I want to find a new stream for fishing. But not just any old stream. I want to find a stream that gives me the opportunity to fish for the Heritage Brook Trout. According a study on brook trout genetics, wild populations of brook trout have unique genetic identities. Some Garden State brook trout populations are descendants from the original brook trout colonizers present after the last glacial ice sheet receded more than 10,000 years ago. The existence of these ancestral populations, dubbed heritage brook trout, is important for conservation efforts of this native species (learn more about brook trout genetics by reviewing the original 2008 article).

Advocate for my State’s Open Spaces

Mount Hope Park, Morris County, New Jersey
Mount Hope Park, Morris County

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am an advocate for the ecology and preservation of the Garden State’s open spaces. Places like the water that the heritage brook trout have liked for thousands of years are threatened on a daily basis due to pollution, encroachment, and other modern-day challenges. From protecting the red knot to attending Environmental Commission meetings on the local level, we all have a responsibility to make sure our natural resources are protected. I plan to continue to advocate and take a more active role to protect those special spots.

Attend Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart

In all my life, I am sad to say I have only attended mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, better known as Newark Cathedral, only once. If you have never been, it is a true piece of art built by the immigrants of Newark; many from the First Ward, the original Italian section of the city. Construction began in January 1898. While the Cathedral began holding mass in 1928, that labor of love was not completed until October 19, 1954. In 1974, the Cathedral was added to the New Jersey Historical Society. Two years later, it gained national recognition when it was listed as a National Historic Site.

On Wednesday, October 4, 1995, Pope John Paul II visited the United States. During the visit, Pope John Paul II conferred the title of Minor Basilica to Sacred Heart Cathedral, giving it its current name, Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. I attended mass at the Cathedral the following Sunday.

This year I will attend mass at least once and sit in prayer and reflection, knowing the history and exceptional effort and craftsmanship that built that wonderfully artistic home of faith.

Head Back Down the Shore

The S. S. Atlantus, also known as the “concrete ship,” at Sunset Beach, Cape May

If you are from Jersey, you know that trek down the Garden State Parkway is known as “going down the shore.” It has been two years since my husband and I smelled the sea air or walked on a beach. It renews my soul and clears my mind. One of my favorite spots is Sunset Beach in Cape May. I love digging for Cape May diamonds and walking on the shoreline turning horseshoe crabs upright. After the last two years, I say it is important to head down the shore to replenish my soul.

Visit the Pine Barrens

The New Jersey Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands, is the largest remaining example of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem. It stretches across seven counties and is over 1.1 million acres. In 1978, Congress created the Pinelands National Reserve (PNR) through the passage of the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. The Pinelands National Reserve is the first National Reserve in the United States. It is also home to the elusive Jersey Devil.

I am ashamed to admit, but this is another part of the state I have yet to experience in a meaningful way. I would like to plan a hike in the Pine Barrens and maybe get some fly fishing in as well!

Shoot More Film

A large majority of my hobbies are quite analog. I fly fish and tie flies. I crochet, spin yarn, felt, and weave. I really enjoy Geocaching. I also enjoy film photography. I regularly listen to a podcast called the Film Photography Project hosted by two guys from Jersey. Their entire gang of regular guests and commentators offer great advice for photographers at every level. Over the last two years, I have developed a terrible case of GAS (otherwise known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and am now the proud owner of a variety of film cameras. I plan to get out more and use them. With all my planned outings, I should have some wonderful opportunities to shoot more film!

Be Happy

Most importantly, I want to be happy. The last two years have been hard on all of us. For the most part we have been stuck in our homes. Maybe you lost your job, or worse, even lost a loved one. I shared the story of someone very dear to my husband and me, Dr. Michael Giuliano, who lost his life to the Coronavirus early in the pandemic when he continued to treat patients despite the risks.

It is time for all of us to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and see our loved ones. New Jersey is a wonderful state and we are lucky to have so many different ways to enjoy it. So, get out and take a hike, go grab a ripper at Rutt’s Hut, or take a ride down the shore. Get back to living and be happy.

It’s a Wonderful Life in New Jersey

“A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town.” ~Harry Bailey

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” staring James Stewart as George Bailey. Originally a flop at the box office, it has found a place in the hearts of millions over the decades. What you may not know is the movie has strong ties to New Jersey, and even more so, my beloved Belleville.

Frances Goodrich was one of the screenwriters of this classic. Born in Belleville and raised in Nutley, Goodrich attended Collegiate School in Passaic, New Jersey, and graduated from Vassar College in 1912. Quite an accomplishment for a woman at that time. She married writer Albert Hackett in 1931 and the two together wrote some of the most memorable stories in the last century.

It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946 movie poster (credit: Wikipedia)

The couple received Academy Award for Screenplay nominations for The Thin Man, After the Thin Man, Father of the Bride, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. They also won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their play The Diary of Anne Frank.

The screenplay and movie was based on the short story The Greatest Gift written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939. After being rejected by multiple publishers, Van Doren self-published 200 copies and gave them out as Christmas gifts in 1943. RKO purchased the story, where it was passed around until Frank Capra saw its potential. Capra worked with a few screen writers to prepare it for filming; Goodrich and Hackett were two of the writers on that small team.

Philip Van Doren Stern was born in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania and grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey and attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City before graduating from Rutgers University. He was a historian and author of some 40 works, and was best known for his books on the Civil War and was widely respected by scholars on the subject.

In 1938, inspired by Dickens’ A Christomas Carol, Van Doren penned The Greatest Gift. The author’s “Bedford Falls” is modeled on the charming town of Califon, also in New Jersey. The historic iron bridge in Califon is similar to the bridge that George Bailey considered jumping from in the movie.

So while the entire country can continue to love this iconic movie, New Jersey, and Belleville, can have pride in the story’s original writers.

A Community Christmas Story

“And to know who needs help, You need only just ask.” ~Trans Siberian Orchestra

Just about everyone loves their “old neighborhood” where they grew up. A lot of people in Jersey stay in that neighborhood their entire lives. Now, thanks to social media, even if we move away physically, we can still stay close to home.

This is a true blue neighborhood Jersey story, but it could take place almost anywhere. What it shows is that Jersey people take care of their own; no matter where they are.

A small sampling of the unofficial Belleville toy and food drive.

A few weeks ago a friend from my neighborhood of Belleville was approached by a young boy while he was getting gas. He asked for a few dollars so he could get something to eat. As he told the story, I immediately thought exactly what he thought. Usually when someone is asked for money on the street, it is for alcohol or drugs. But he gave him a few bucks and waited to see what happened while he filled his gas tank.

He explained to us in his video the boy went into the mini mart next to the gas station and did buy some food and began to eat. This really got him thinking.

So he put out the word to his Belleville peeps on his hometown social media group. He single-handedly organized a toy and food drive. He identified a need and took action. Instead of social media being a negative part of a story, it helped bring fellow Bellevillites together from across the country. He placed collection bins on his stoop and let us all know there were there. The troops rallied and dropped off toys and food to his home. Those of us who did not live nearby had packages delivered to him. In the end, he worked with another local individual and was able to drop off the toys to Clara Maass Hospital and the food to St. Peter’s Church.

It is a good reminder to us all, especially at this time of year. You never know who may have a need. They may not ask for help. It is upon all of us to help our fellow man.

I can say with certainty, we in Belleville take care of our own. I’m thankful he recognized that moment and took action.