Gardens in the Garden State

It is safe to say this has been a tough year for everyone. Cut off from our families, friends, and our normal routines, many have decided to take on new challenges during this time. Many are turning to what I refer to as “analog hobbies;” meaning things we can do that do not involve technology. Maybe it is because we now spend all day in solitude working from home, staring at out laptops. Maybe it is because we have so much time on our hands, we need something new.

I am a huge fan of analog hobbies. While I spend most of my time working in the digital space, I have found over the years analog hobbies provide both enjoyment and challenges. I crochet, spin yarn, tie flies, fly fishing, do yoga, and over the last few years, garden.

When we moved into our new community two years ago, I discovered the town had a community garden. For a small annual fee, you can rent a plot in a space set aside for garden enthusiasts. I hadn’t had a garden in over a decade and was eager to begin again. In the last two years, I have tried out planting items I never cultivated before, met some wonderful people from my new community, and learned new gardening skills. Since New Jersey is known as the “Garden State,” I think it is a perfect hobby.

Whether it was Victory Gardens during World War II or gardening now during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are looking to gardening to help alleviate stress, as well as cultivate and control their own food sources. Published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, “Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study of active components” found gardening therapy to be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. Individuals participated in a 12-week “therapeutic horticulture program” at four farms near Oslo, Norway. It is safe to say gardening has helped many cope with the stress, anxiety, and depression many have experienced due to the lack of social interaction.

Additionally, many community gardens provide fresh fruits and vegetables to local social service organizations for those who are at risk of food insecurity. As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on and many lose their sources of income, the fresh produce provided to these organizations by community gardens has become increasingly important. Last year the community garden I belong to donated several hundred pounds of fresh produce to our local food pantry. This effort is duplicated in community gardens throughout New Jersey.

Earlier this year, a Newark couple spearheaded a plan to turn a vacant lot on Grafton Avenue into a beautiful community garden. It took an eyesore of space that was regularly littered with trash and needles and turned it into a vibrant space for the community to grow their own vegetables and show off the pride of their area. This has been a huge undertaking and I look forward to visiting their garden when we are able to travel more freely. This is a project to truly be celebrated!

There are locations, however, where space for community gardens have come under attack. The town of Denville in Morris County is looking to cut space of their community garden for – you guessed it – a parking lot.

Every time I hear about a project like this, I am reminded of the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell…

“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”

While New Jersey is officially known as the Garden State, it is often referred to as the Mall State. What was once great farming lands have often been reduced to strip malls and parking lots. As more blacktop is put down, weather like rain and snow has nowhere to go. It won’t be absorbed into the once fertile soil. Instead it will create run-off that will lead to more flooding and pollution.

This parking lot is part of a $2.7 million dollar library expansion project in Denville.

I am a huge fan of public libraries and have often written about their continued importance for their communities. However, this is not about a library. This is about eliminating a sizable amount of green garden space for a parking lot.

Here is a video which shows how much of the garden space will be lost.

DenvilleGarden

It is shocking that the Mayor and town government would support such a plan.

As the video shares, the members of the community garden donate much of their bounty to a local orphanage, as well as local food pantries and churches to help their neighbors avoid food insecurity.

I implore Mayor Thomas Andes and the Town Council to rethink this decision. Now, more than ever, we need more open public space, not less And that open space should include community gardens.

Get Ready for Small Business Saturday

Small Business SaturdayThis week officially kicks off the holiday season. Thanksgiving on Thursday, then Black Friday, and finally Small Business Saturday. I have never participated on Black Friday. Think about it – people get up at the crack of dawn to fight each other for a deal on a big screen television the day after they gave thanks for what they have.

Small business Saturday, however, is definitely something worth remembering. Do the big box stores sponsor your child’s softball team? Probably not. The local bagel shop, however, takes what happens in the community to heart. These business owners are our neighbors and friends. They deserve our support.

Every neighborhood and town offers great small business. I hope you will consider patronizing them as well during this holiday season:

Respectrum Books: Thankfully, independently-owned book stores are making a HUGE comeback. Respectrum Books is a great book shop in the town of Sussex that offers  new, used, and rare books covering a variety of subjects to inspire and inform. A carefully selected book is a wonderful gift!

Trinity Thrift Shop: I absolutely love going to thrift shops. And there are few thrift shops that are better than Trinity Thrift in Hackettstown. Run by Trinity Church, the shop offers a wide variety of unique items. I have picked up antique cameras there as well as Lenox china. Some may not thing shopping in a thrift shop is proper, but if you are looking for something specific or special, check out Trinity Thrift.

Gallery D’May: Whenever we head down the shore, we always make sure to stop in Gallery D’May. It is a favorite place for all things shore art. I have a piece we purchased them in my office. It reminds me every day of the beauty of Cape May.

Surprises in Store: From candles, to platters, to hostess gifts, Surprises in Store in Denville is one of my favorite and unique shops. They offer lovely and unique gifts for the hard to purchase individual on your list.

These are just a few of the many wonderful individually-owned shops throughout New Jersey. I hope you will considering “shopping small” this Saturday.

Small Business Saturday – Jersey Style

While many people look forward to Black Friday for a good deal on a television set, I look forward to Small Business Saturday.

Small businesses are the driving force behind the nation’s economy. According to the Small Business Administration, in 2013, New Jersey small businesses employed over 1.7 people. More than 50 percent of those companies have more than 500 employees. Whenever possible, I work to support local businesses, and Small Business Saturday is a perfect time to get out and support businesses in your community.

Here are some great small businesses in New Jersey to check out:

Starting at the top of New Jersey in Sussex County, Peters Valley in Layton offers a number peters-valleyof wonderful hand-made goods, so not only are you supporting a small business, you are supporting the arts. There’s always something new to check out. Whenever I am up in Sussex County, I stop in to see what it new and rarely leave empty handed.

Moving down Sussex County, check out Whitewater Flies. If you have someone on your list that enjoys fly fishing and the outdoors, check out this great little fly shop. Greg and his team are incredibly helpful and can guide you to make the best picks possible.

Entering Morris County, I love going to downtown Denville. The main drag is almost completely small businesses. Faith and Begorra offers some great Irish and Catholic gifts, such as handmade sweaters and Irish jewelry. Kevin’s Fine Jewelry has beautiful jewelry in a variety of different price ranges. If you need a lunch break, head to Sergio’s for an Italian treat and then to Mara’s for some dessert.

If you have a book lover on your list, I recommend you check out the Old Book Shop in Morristown. They have a great selection of old and limited edition books as well as magazines and vintage post cards.

shop-chester-njAnother favorite small town in Morris County is Chester. The historic downtown retail district is lined with great shops filled with art, antiques, and more. I always enjoy walking around Chester Crafts, Collectibles & Antiques. There is always something unique and interesting and is a great place to find that special gift for someone on your list. Objects of Desire is another great shop full of handmade jewelry and a variety of accessories.

Growing up in Essex County, I used to love to go to Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair. One of my favorite stops was always The Inner Eye. This was always a unique place and you never knew what you were going to find. Just off Bloomfield Avenue on Church Street, you’ll find That Little Black Dress. There is always something unique available and it was voted a favorite New Jersey boutique.

Frenchtown1-smA great spot in Hunterdon County is Frenchtown. I wrote about a visit to Frenchtown during the summer. Of course my favorite spot is The Spinnery. If you have a yarn lover on your list, this is the place to go! If you have someone with a sweet tooth, check out Minette’s Candies. They have not only all the hard-to-find candy brands we grew up with, they have great stuff like truffles and chocolate covered pretzels.

At the tip of the state, you’ll find Cape May; a favorite spot of mine. Check out the Whale’s Tale and Splash for great unique gifts with a “down the shore” feel. If you want a sweet treat with a real Jersey feel, pick up a gift at James Candy Company. I’ve picked up Fralinger’s Original Salt Water for something different as a hostess gift when going to a party.

These are just a few of the different and wonderful small businesses you will find in New Jersey. I hope you will use Small Business Saturday as a good excuse to check out the great businesses that are in your area. What are your favorite businesses? Please add to the list in the comments section below.

Business Spotlight: Sisters

Sisters Denville, NJSince I started a new job I have been able to head down to Denville’s town center much more often than in the past. They have a great little center full of small locally-owned businesses. Today at lunch I had the opportunity to check out a shop I’ve been wanting to visit for awhile – Sisters.

This adorable little boutique has a great collection of items for sale. Handbags from Vera Bradley and Brighton, beautiful wraps, and a great line of New Jersey t-shirts, just to name a few.

When I went in the shop, there were a few women decorating for the official start of the Christmas shopping season. I am sure they will be busy this Small Business Saturday. They were very pleasant and made themselves available without being pushy – certainly a retail trait I wish more businesses wound understand. The store offers great products in esthetically pleasing presentations.

As the shopping season gets underway, I highly recommend you check this shop out. You can definitely find something unique there and you will be supporting a local small business!

Independence Day Weekend Events in New Jersey

While most people in the tri-state area think the Macy’s fireworks are the hot ticket for the Independence Day weekend, we in Jersey know better! Here are some great ideas to enjoy the long holiday weekend.

Jersey City will host the “Freedom and Fireworks Festival” on Friday. Events will take place at Liberty State Park and will include a visit by the Budweiser Clydesdales and Bud Beer Gardens. Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro, is also creating a special Fourth of July cake for the Jersey City Freedom & Fireworks Festival. Country music star Craig Morgan and Kristen Redmond will perform. The live music begins at 5:30 p.m. Of course the day will conclude with an awesome fireworks display!

The battle at the Princeton Battlefield State Park on Jan. 3, 1777 is considered to be the fiercest fight during the American Revolution. General George Washington led his troops to this otherwise peaceful winter field and defeated a force of British Regulars, giving Washington his first victory against the British Regulars on the battlefield. The park is open Friday, July 4 — 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and admission is free. There will be period games will be available for children of all ages. A talk on the Battle of Princeton will be given at noon and a reading of the Declaration of Independence will happen at 1 p.m.

Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown, is the site of the 1779-80 winter encampment of the Continental Army under General Washington. It will be open to the public Friday, July 4 — 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and events will be held on the Morristown Green. Music and entertainment will be provided by The Four Old Parts and Wire Harp. At noon, the Pledge of Allegiance will be led by Tom Ross, superintendent of Morristown National Historical Park, followed by a NJ 350th Proclamation read by Morris County Freeholder Director Thomas Mastrangelo. A musket firing by the 2nd New Jersey Regiment and singing of “Happy Birthday New Jersey” will happen at 12:45 p.m. At 1:30 p.m., free tours of the Presbyterian Church and graveyard. The day will end with a Fort Nonsense ribbon cutting with Eileen Cameron, president of the Washington Association of New Jersey, and Mayor Timothy Dougherty, at 2 p.m.

In 1776, the third reading of the Declaration of Independence took place in New Brunswick.  Come celebrate the 4th of July with a re-enactment.  Learn about the history of the reading, tour the Historic Christ Church Cemetery at 5 Paterson Street.  Sing along with patriotic songs of the era and hear American music performed on a traditional pipe organ.  Free admission and complimentary refreshments.

Garden State Fireworks will launch an electrifying palette of pyrotechnics at Bayonne’s annual fireworks show on Tuesday (rain date Wednesday, July 2) at 9:15 p.m. In conjunction with the inauguration of Bayonne mayor-elect Jimmy Davis that day, there will be live entertainment from multiple bands beginning at 4 p.m. at G. Thomas DiDomenico 16th Street Park, giving way to fireworks. For information call 201-471-7590 or visit www.bayonnerec.com.

The State Fair Meadowlands, in East Rutherford, will stage its firework display on July 3 and July 4 at 11 p.m. The State Fair is the largest fair in the area, with more than 50 vendors, rides, racing pigs, a juggling show, an acrobatic motocross show, live performances and more. The fair will be open on July 3 from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. and July 4 from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. Entrance to the fair is $8 and $10. All active military personnel, with proper military ID are being offered free admission to the fair and an unlimited ride hand stamp from June 20 to July 6. The unlimited ride hand stamp is not available on June 20. The fair includes performances by Larry Chance and the Earls, The Rip Chords, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Heffron Drive.

Montclair will host its 64th annual Independence Day Celebration promising attendees a host of live musical performances, parade and fireworks display. The parade, which begins at 11 a.m., will comprise of various organizations and marching bands. The parade will travel west on Bloomfield Avenue to Midland Avenue, heading to Valley Road and ending at Edgemont Park for a July 4th Family Picnic. The family picnic, from noon to 3 p.m., will include the Joe Fischer magic show, pony rides, face painting, spin art, sand art, tattoos and balloon art. In addition local bands, Black Lace Blues and Jason Didner & the Jungle Gym Jam, will provide live music. The Montclair fireworks display will take place at Yogi Berra Stadium on Montclair State University campus. The stadium admission is $3 per person or $10 per family with no charge for children ages 5 and under. Gates open at 7 p.m. and free parking will be available at parking decks surrounding the stadium.

The city of Camden has plenty of events scheduled for their second annual Camden Waterfront Freedom Festival. The Camden Waterfront Freedom Festival features the region’s largest fireworks display, live music, military displays and demonstrations,  amusements, contests, food concessions. The Freedom Festival Beer Garden will be open during regular festival hours from July 3-5, featuring local New Jersey beer. The festival will kick off on Thursday, July 3 with the pre-celebration for 102.9 FM WMGK’s 13th Annual Let Freedom Rock Fest. The festival will feature family-focused attractions, games and amusements, and a performance by WMGK’s former house band, the Sofa Kings. All events will lead up to the 6 p.m. concert at Live Nation’s Susquehanna Bank Center featuring Foreigner, Styx and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder. The festivities continue Friday, July 4, with live bands, military vehicles and armed forces displays visiting the Camden Waterfront with patriotic music and activities from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Adventure Aquarium Waterfront Fireworks Celebration features the region’s largest fireworks display and takes place Saturday night, July 5, after the Camden County Freedom Concert beginning at 3 p.m. The festival will come to a close Sunday, July 6, with special discounts for active military and veterans and their families at both Adventure Aquarium and the Battleship New Jersey Memorial & Museum.

Monroe Township will be holding it’s annual 4th of July fireworks show at Williamstown High School Friday on July 4, complete with food vendors, a balloon artisan and skydivers. The festivities begin at 7 p.m. and fireworks start at 9 p.m.

Washington Township will hold its annual 4th of July celebration Thursday, July 3 at the Washington Lake Park Amphitheater.  Beginning at 7 p.m., the event will start with a flag raising and recognition of veterans. Immediately following will be a performance of patriotic songs by resident Michael Jones and a concert by Touché.  A fireworks show will held at 9:15 p.m. and will shoot off from the amphitheater. Attendees can view from the lawn or elsewhere in the park. The fireworks will be shot to medley of patriotic music. Officials suggest brining bug spray and folding chairs. Food will be available.

A Fourth of July celebration featuring a Spirit of Americana Bake-Off competition and a “Most Patriotic Canine” costume contest will take place 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Footbridge Park, 79 West Crisman Road (Route 94) in Blairstown.

The 11th annual traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence will take place from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Ringwood Manor, Sloatsburg Road in Ringwood Manor State Park. $5 parking.

A concert of patriotic favorites will be performed by the West Morris Community Concert Band 7 p.m. Sunday at Gardner Field on Route 46 and Savage Road in Denville. Fireworks will follow at dusk. Call (973) 625-8300.

Did a miss an event in your area? Make sure to post it in the comments below!

Shopping Small Online

I love to shop small whenever possible. One shop I really enjoy is The Urban Muse in Denville. It is a relaxing day spa with a truly unique shop attached. They have the absolute best stuff! Every time I go in there I always find something I love.

Georgene Novak

Copper Cuff by Georgene Novak.

Well now they just launched an online shop, so you can shop small online! They carry highly regarded brands as well as original work from various artisans. One of my favorites is Georgene Novak, a North Jersey native. She makes beautiful jewelry and also offers jewelry making classes. I definitely want to take one of her classes in 2014!

So if you like to shop online (like I do), make sure you try to shop small on the Internet as well. I am sure you won’t be disappointed!

Shop Small in New Jersey this Weekend

Small Business SaturdayWhile many are focused on Black Friday and the big box stores, what I am really excited about is Small Business Saturday. Depending on the study and the area, anywhere fom 50% to 80% of money spent stays right in that local community. Many towns are planning special events this upcoming Saturday. Here are a few:

Hackettstown: They are extending Small Business Saturday to Small Business Week! Some of the events include a Luce Decor Holiday Open House, Hackettstown Historical Society is having a special event on December 6th from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m., the Old Souk Trading Company Semi-Annual Sale takes place from Saturday, Nov. 30 to Friday, Dec. 6.
Collingswood: Earthen Treasures will be at the Art Within Reach Event December 6-8, Grooveground is offering special deals that include extra gift cards when you purchase a gift card. Blue Moon Premiun Oil & Vinegar is giving a $5 off a “make-your-own” sampler. There are also plenty of specials at stores for the kids like Duck Duck Goods and ExtraordinaryEd. You can find the complete list at the Collingswood Patch.
Denville: The town of Denville starts on Friday with plenty of activities, including a tree lighting, story time with Mrs. Claus, and choirs from the local schools.
Middlesex, Union and Somerset Counties: the Tri-County Chamber of Commerce will host its first “Shop Small Business Saturday” at the Somerville Elks Lodge located at 375 Union Ave. (Route 28) Bridgewater, NJ 08807.  The show will have a variety of vendors offering unique boutique-like items and services as well as merchandise from consultants for larger companies.
Morristown: The Morristown Patch is lending a hand to Morristown’s Small Business Saturday by offering free parking when you come to “shop small.”

These are just a few of the events going on around the state. Know of others? Add to the comments section below. Or better yet, post them on my Facebook page! And make sure to shop small this weekend!