Beach Trips With My Mom

Mother and Daughter Turks and CaicosOver the years my Mom and I have spent time together at the beach more times than I can count. As young kids, my Mom would take my brother and me to the Jersey Shore with other moms who also had small children. Although I have one photo that proves that my Dad went to the beach with us at least once, I suspect that was one of the few times he joined us.  When I got a bit older, my brother also remained at home more often—though there was a memorable trip to Atlantic City with him. Thus began many years of my mom and me going to the beach together.

Muellers at Jersey ShoreMostly our mother-daughter trips were on weekends to nearby Manasquan, NJ while I was still living at home. Later, after I had left home for college, we went to the beach together for daytrips whenever I stayed with my parents on visits in the summer. And a few times we went a bit farther and stayed overnight in Cape May, NJ.

Erik-Rachel-Atlantic-CityCape May was particularly familiar to my Mom at the time, because she had a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Reorganization case involving beach properties there. In fact, we had a lovely dinner at one of her client’s properties while we visited one time. We enjoyed the downtown shops and food, but most of the time we spent on the beach.

While at the beach we sat under an umbrella with lots of magazines and books that we barely looked at. Instead, we talked and talked and talked. My Mom and I never lack for conversation topics. Whether light and bantering or deep and big-picture reflective, our talking style is rather fast-paced and engaging. The beach is a perfect place for spending hours doing nothing but talking. What could be better?

Erik-Mom-RachelIn my 30s, I went to Florida for work nearly twice a month because I had a remote team based in Dunedin, near Tampa and Clearwater. Thus began another phase of beach trips with my Mom were she accompanied me to Florida. While I was at work during the day, she hung out at the beach or pool in Clearwater and I joined her at the end of the day. I’ll never forget the sweet feeling of being sent off to work for the day by my Mom. It was almost like she was seeing me off for grammar or high school. And then when I returned to the hotel room, what a treat to have my Mom greet me instead of being alone on a business trip. We always stayed over the weekend so that I could also have some time with her on the beach.

Rachel-at-the-beachI no longer travel to Florida regularly for work so now Mom and I just find excuses to take trips together to the beach. My Mom left New Jersey and lives near me now in New York, so going for a day-trip to the Jersey Shore isn’t as easy—but that hasn’t stopped us from making the two-hour trek occasionally. And last week we traveled even further and went to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean to get our beach fix together during the winter.

Mom in Turks & CaicosThe trip was perfect. Blue skies, azure water, occasional fluffy clouds, a sprinkle one day for a few minutes, and a storm with downpour one evening gave us the right mix of weather to enjoy. The turf varied from day to day from fairly large waves to so calm it was almost like a lake. The sea was most inviting when there were some waves, but ones that were not too lively. I encouraged Mom to join me in the water—not something that she does often. We went hand in had into the water beyond where the waves were breaking. Together we floated over each small wave as it started its way towards the shore. With smiles and giggles, we enjoyed the undulations of the water while the bright sun beamed down on us.

Mom under the umbrella in Turks & CaicosSpending time in the room together each evening was also fun. We watched DVDs and ate food that we picked up at the local grocery store—including plenty of junk food☺. But most of all I loved spending time on the beach with my Mom. With a magazine or book in hand—again left unread—just sitting next to my Mom under the umbrella for hours of gazing out into the beautiful clear blue water in between conversations about love and life was one long magical moment.  P.S. Happy Birthday Mom!  I love you.

xoxo Rachel


A Feminist Since Birth

WageThis past Sunday I attended a meeting of WAGE International (Women and Girls’ Education International) and I was so very inspired by the experience. I was invited to the meeting after I had been asked by their president Heather Mistretta and agreed to become a board member. I didn’t hesitate an instant to say, “Yes!” even though I didn’t really know that much about their group.

WAGE is committed to empowering women and girls and educating everyone to stop the cycle of violence against women and girls. Stepping into the home of WAGE’s founder Rekha Datta on Sunday afternoon was a leap of faith, given how little I knew about WAGE. But as we gathered and introduced ourselves to each other, I knew that I was in the right place. Sitting around the living room of our host’s house, I was struck by all the amazing people who were drawn together for a mutual cause. Rekha’s husband introduced himself by saying that he was “a feminist since birth.” That is such a wonderful way to put it, I thought. I, too, am indeed a feminist since birth, fortunate to have been raised by my thoughtful and loving parents in such an unusual and peace-loving town of Roosevelt, New Jersey.

Attending the WAGE meeting was coming home. Coming home to feminism, coming home to peace, coming home to activism and finally coming home to New Jersey. WAGE is headquartered in Monmouth County, NJ, about 2 hours away from my current home in New York. My hometown of Roosevelt where I grew up is also in Monmouth County. And Roosevelt was a town filled with activists in the 60s and 70s. I am grateful that I grew up there and was exposed to so many forward thinking and creative individuals.

Throughout my life, I have been committed to empowerment of women and girls though I hadn’t fully strung together all the links of my passion and experience until yesterday morning. While I was in meditation with my Wednesday morning group at The Garrison Institute, immense emotion arose in me as memories of the feminist and activist work I have done over the years came flooding over me.

My peace jewelryAs a child, I attended peace marches in DC along with my family, traveling by chartered buses filled with all ages of Rooseveltians. My brother and I were little-kid activists: children’s equality, and recycling (see Gnilcycer: Recycling In Roosevelt, New Jersey) where our main areas of focus. And of course, feminism was ingrained in me. My mom was a beautiful feminist role model, striving for equal rights. She also subscribed to Ms. Magazine from its inception and I remember fondly how much I loved reading each issue when it arrived in the mail.

Equality and peace are closely connected so I suppose it isn’t surprising that working with WAGE to educate and empower and promote peace is a good match for my passions. I have had opportunities throughout my life to contribute to causes that help women and girls. My entire business career I was always very focused on helping to support and promote women in my company and mentored women as well as men to be empowered to be themselves and strive for greatness in their work. Along the way I also took time away from the corporate world and did some powerful work with girls and boys.

Although I have been living in New York for most of my adult life, I have been drawn to groups that are all over the country. As part of a yearlong leadership program that met in Sebastopol, California, I developed and held a workshop for boys and girls at a summer camp in Yosemite, CA. I remember that day so well. I flew from New York into Oakland, CA and drove for over an hour to the camp to hold the workshop with my co-leader Angela.

Angela and I were deliberately paired because our leadership styles were very different and one goal of the amazing leadership training was learning how to dance with and co-lead when your partner has a different natural style. This is such a gift of learning for life because we encounter so many people who have different backgrounds, talents and experiences from our own. We need to realize that other perspectives and approaches are neither the right nor wrong way. Learning how to lean into a different way of working with someone is a peaceful act. It is accepting colleagues for all that they are and working towards navigating differences with ease. It is about learning to trust each other no matter that we have different ways. What a great learning for me and also what a great experience leading a group of boys and girls from that peaceful stance.

Rach and MomPart of the tenets of my co-leading training was learning how to use improvisational techniques to build off of another person. I loved doing the improvisational games over the year training and became so enamored with improv that I took a summer course at The Upright Citizen’s Brigade in NYC. One of the main reasons I love to write and speak is that I enjoy creating with language. Improv training gave me an invaluable tool to create off the cuff, something I draw upon all the time for writing and giving presentations.

Improv also allows for playfulness and creating from nothing. The flow and spontaneity I feel when using language to convey my thoughts and feelings fills me with such joy. And it makes me feel so empowered. So I had a thought. What if I can connect my love of improv and my sense that it is such an empowering skill with my passion of empowering girls? I decided to seek out organizations that did just that and discovered a wonderful group, called ACTNOW in Northampton, Massachusetts near Smith, Amherst and Mt Holyoke Colleges. I met with their organizer, Nancy Fletcher and volunteered to do some work with them. They use movie making and improvisation to empower girls. The girls take on any one of the many roles needed to create a film including writing, directing, camera work, acting and editing. Although ACTNOW was closer than my groups in California, it was a three-hour drive from my home in New York. I only worked with them for a short time, yet I have fond memories of the amazing girls and that organization.

And so it turns out that it isn’t uncommon for me to travel far in order to participate in activities designed to empower girls. I will travel over the country in search of groups of people who share my passion for women, girls, empowerment and peace. And though I have dabbled here and there, I wonder where my need to help empower women will take me next. I am excited about what lies ahead with WAGE International, and I know that this organization is a catalyst for me to further experience how I can promote feminism, love and peace in the world. I am grateful that they have found me and I them.

XOXO Rachel

Gnilcycer: Recycling In Roosevelt, New Jersey

Andy's RecyclingA few weeks ago I was talking with my family at my Mom’s 80th birthday party (which was wonderful) and I mentioned that my memory of when I was young is very dim. There are, however, memories that vividly and suddenly come back to me. They are usually prompted by something happening to me in that moment. This morning I had such an experience. My husband Andy was getting the recycling together and the sight of him tying twine around newspapers propelled me to my childhood in the late 60s when, with my brother Erik, we started Gnilcycer in our hometown of Roosevelt, NJ.

Gnilcycer is recycling spelled backwards and was the title we used for our collection of paper, bottles and cans—well before towns and cities had set up recycling programs. My brother was always creative with names so I am pretty sure he made that one up. (He also made up my company name Wondrance).

These days Andy keeps a big ball of twine and a pretty bright red scissors with our recycling basket and periodically wraps up the paper when it has grown into a high heap. He has been doing this for years but for some reason, this morning as I gazed at Andy’s beautifully twined- tied packages of newspaper, flashbacks of organizing stacks of paper, bins of bottles and cans as a girl came rushing into my focus.

My Dad, Erik and Me circa late 60s at Hights Theater
My Dad, Erik and Me circa late 60s at Hights Theater

I can’t recall whether we collected the recycling ourselves or whether people dropped it off—I think it might have been both—but I do have distinct images of our collection building. It was a garage behind the Roosevelt Nursery School on Homestead Lane just down the street from our house. Erik and I spent a lot of time behind the nursery school separating paper and cans and bottles into different piles. Then we put everything into a van to take to a big recycling factory. My dad drove us in the Green Monster, a funky old van painted pastel green. I wish I had a photo of that van. It was clearly painted with glossy regular wall paint—not professional car paint. But it was perfect for tasks like hauling recycling and also apparently a family of four from New Jersey to Florida. I only vaguely remember that Florida trip but images of the Green Monster are clear.

Hauling the recycling materials to the Freehold processing plant in the Green Monster was an exciting trip. We got to see the behind the scenes of recycling and felt so wonderful playing a small role in reducing waste. And to say that recycling is important to me is an understatement. That early experience set me up for a lifetime of devotion to recycling. Recycling has grown into an expected part of life now, but I remember with fondness each stage of the recycling movement and how I personally dealt with recycling wherever I have lived.

In the late 70s, towns and cities started to gather recycling from homes, but before that, there were only drop-off locations like Gnilcycer. It wasn’t until the 80s that curbside recycling started to really grow in the US and it took a few decades before it was widespread. New Jersey, it turns out, was an early recycling focused state. Woodbury, NJ was the first city in the US to mandate recycling in 1980, setting a precedent for the rest of the country. These days there are garbage and recycling bins available everywhere in public spaces and the types of materials that are recycled has expanded. I am grateful to my child-self and my family for my recycling mindset and wonderful memories.

XOXO Rachel

Learning To Cook As A Young Girl In Roosevelt New Jersey

Recipes from RooseveltiansI just finished reading Ruth Reichl’s most recent book, My Kitchen Year. It is a cookbook and it is also a story of her first year after Gourmet magazine closed (she was the editor for 10 years). Each recipe is introduced with a short essay so it reads like a memoir—a memoir with food. I feel very much like my life is a memoir with food. I learned to bake and cook at an early age, I get much solace and joy from creating good eats in the kitchen and most of my strongest memories from childhood and through adulthood center around cooking and food.

I began reading my mom’s cookbooks at an early age. I always loved reading her Joy Of Cooking, an encyclopedic collection of recipes that covers anything you can think of. To this day I read recipes for fun. I read cookbooks cover to cover and we subscribe to a number of cooking magazines. Growing up, my mom bought the December issues of Woman’s Day and Family Circle for the holiday cookie recipes (see Holiday Traditions Old and New: Baking Christmas Cookies with Mom) but otherwise I had no knowledge that wonderful magazines just for recipes even existed. Growing up, my husband Andy’s family had tons of cookbooks and lots of cooking magazines. I first was introduced to Gourmet and Sunset while sitting in the living room of his parent’s house in Davis, CA when we were dating in college. Now Andy and I subscribe to Sunset, Bon Appetit, Everyday with Rachael Ray, Saveur, Gourmet until it closed its doors, and a wonderful newsletter called Simple Cooking by John Thorne and Matt Lewis Thorne that Andy’s dad subscribed us to many years ago. We also get many other non-cooking magazines that have recipe sections and Andy is a devotee of the Wednesday food section of the NY Times.

In part, due to the memoir nature of the book and because the recipes themselves are written in conversational form, Ruth Reichl’s book evoked a flood of kitchen memories. When it comes to actually implementing a recipe I find it best if you have the list of ingredients in order that they will be used—that is how most recipes are written.  Reichl’s book reads more like how you would learn alongside someone you love.  These days having read thousands of recipes and cooked hundreds of them, I need little instruction. I credit my cooking skills to my early education with cookbooks and of course the excellent cooks I studied with as a young girl. My earliest memories of learning to cook come from working side-by-side with my mom, my great grandmother Hani Mama, my grandmother Coco, and my great aunt Ellie. From them I learned to make strudel sheets and noodles from scratch, cookies, cakes, salad dressings, soups and more. I loved their kitchens and gadgets, pots and pans and I can visualize where they were stashed in their cabinets. I kept a number of their kitchen items and one of my most important utensils is a spatula of Coco’s that I consider to be my designated cookie spatula.

Rachel And Peri with her grandfather PrestoI also learned to cook alongside friends and moms of friends from my hometown of Roosevelt, New Jersey. I learned a little here and little there from Elan, from Nathalie’s mom Josette and others that I can’t remember their names. Some of the most poignant memories come from the kitchen of Sara Prestopino, Peri’s mom. I remember little things like the fact that she kept a stick of butter on a little plate sitting on her antique kitchen cabinet—the kind with an enamel top that has a built-in place of flour. Next to the butter she kept a little bowl of coarse grain salt to take a pinch when needed. I had no idea why her salt was different from what we poured out of our blue cylinder of Morton iodized salt at home. As I look back I presume that it was kosher salt—the only type that now sits out in a little bowl in our kitchen and has for years. Although I don’t keep butter out because I don’t use it often enough, I prefer it that way, soft and ready to spread. Thank you Sara for those simple ways of being in the kitchen that are integral to my life.

Beyond those simple things, I am also grateful to Sara for cooking training. I took a “formal” cooking class from her with several other friends that lasted for perhaps a few months and I still have the recipe cards. We made whole-wheat pretzels, macaroni and cheese from scratch, of course, made with a white cheesy béchamel sauce and little bits of tomato, and more. I don’t have the recipe but I remember when we made rosettes—fritters made from dipping pretty metal rosettes into batter then into a boiling pot of oil. They were so scrumptious sprinkled with powered sugar and eaten warm. Going to Peri’s house was a big part of my early childhood and I am filled with rich memories of sleepovers, craft making, running around in the back yard and all those playful things we did as kids. Spending time with her mom in her kitchen was always an added treat and a highlight of my memories.

Ruth Reichl’s book aided my recall of childhood kitchen memories, particularly when she described making congee, a rice porridge. Immediately I thought of a special breakfast that Sara once made Peri and me of buttery noodles and milk. Noodles for breakfast? Yes! As I recall we had little alphabet noodles cooked very, very soft with butter and milk and a sprinkle of that perfect coarse salt. It was a yummy, salty bowl of comfort on a cold morning. After reading about congee, similar yet different, my noodle breakfast memory came rushing back. I couldn’t wait to get to the computer to do a search on butter and milk noodles for breakfast. Although it didn’t specify this for breakfast, I found a blog post with a recipe by Julia della Croce for pastina (little pasta) with butter and milk, an Italian dish often made for little children. The “alfabeti” version is just what I remember eating at Peri’s house that cold morning. Last night I made a variation of congee with butter and milk to sooth my post-holiday stomach and I plan to shop for pastina to recreate my childhood memory. Will it taste as good as when Sara made it for us? I doubt it—but the memory is even better than the food.

XOXO Rachel

The Moment My Taste Buds Came Alive

Rachel's school photos minus the year at Erehwon!I have always enjoyed food—and food is certainly a topic that fits into many of my memories of childhood. I indeed baked a lot as a little girl (see Ode to Baking Chocolate Chip Cookies) and I cooked many of our family’s meals. But I don’t think as a kid that I would have ever called myself a foodie (though the trendy term foodie probably didn’t exist then—maybe gourmand in that era?). Whatever you call it, I did not become one with food until I became an adult. Nonetheless, there are several events from my childhood that foretold that I would become a foodie. One in particular stands out as the moment my taste buds came alive.

Poems written at Erehwon when 10-years oldThe year was 1971 and I was 10 years old. This year was an important one for so many more reasons than my awakening to food. This was the year of many firsts: first learning some French, first reading and writing poems (see the photos of the index cards of my poems), first learning how to give back massages (I am still pretty good at that for a non-trained masseuse if I don’t say so myself), first really kissing a boy, and first riding a motorized mini-bike to name a few. This all transpired because it was the year that I went to a private “Free School” called Erehwon. Erehwon (nowhere spelled backwards) was located in a house in Princeton Junction, NJ where 50 or so children of all ages attended. The school was based on the famous Summerhill School in England,  an alternative open school where much of the learning was (and still is) experiential rather than entirely textbook trained.

Me with friends at ErehwonAlthough there was some learning of traditional materials, for me the year was a year of learning about relationships and social rules and broadening of my mind culturally. I would have remained at Erehwon for more than just one year but financially the school couldn’t make it. I wonder how I would have fared academically if I had been schooled that way until high school. When I went back to my grammar school after one year and having only missed the traditional 5th grade, it was as if I had never left and I continued to excel.

More PoemsThe day in 1971 that remains vivid to me after all these years is our trip to BAM—Brooklyn Academy of Music. Well, to be honest, it isn’t really about the show at BAM. I can’t even remember what we watched (though I think it was dance). What I remember is the drive there. We were spread across a couple of station wagons and I got to sit all the way in the back—those days many station wagons had a row of seats facing backwards. From my perch, I waved to my friends in the other car of our caravan and tried to get strangers to wave back at me as well. And most of all I remember our pre-theatre meal in lower Manhattan at an Indian restaurant. Yes, BAM is in Brooklyn, but we took a detour via the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan for dinner before going over the Brooklyn Bridge to see the show.

Erehwon LogoI had never had Indian food before and I can almost conjure the experience of my first whiff of the aromatic surroundings in that restaurant. I remember the miraculous moment that I ate a piece of lamb in a creamy orange sauce (I am guessing now that I know Indian food that it was probably Lamb Korma). It was amazing! I didn’t know food could be so rich in depth in flavor and color and aroma. I was in a trance and that probably explains why the rest of the evening is barely observable in my memory. From that day on, I have been trying to recreate the experience of my taste buds dancing and singing and coming alive! I’ve had a lot of success finding divine eating moments in my life since then and I remember many of them. But none are as profound as the moment my taste buds came alive when I was just a sweet young girl coming alive to all the wonders of the world during 1971.

XOXO Rachel

Cloud hopping

Clouds to skip over the Hudson Valley RiverToday is a perfect day for cloud hopping.  What, you ask, is that?  Well, I have a particular proclivity to daydream in the clouds.  I like to look up on a day when there are puffs of cotton ball clouds that dot the blue sky.  I imagine myself leaping from cloud to cloud, landing in a soft and springy embrace in the next cloud.  I might bound from a low cloud and vault up to a higher one, or take a long lead and jump a great distance between clouds that are far apart.  Mostly I hurdle like a dancer leaps, one leg stretched out in front of the other; a jeté.  Rarely do I jump with two feet together.  Sometimes I soar from cloud to cloud in one long stretch as if I were playing checkers and jumping over 10 pieces in one successive move.

California wine country-style cloud hoppingMy favorite days for cloud tripping are breezy days when the clouds are moving with a moderate to brisk pace so that I can vary which cloud I go to next based on what is floating nearest.  A few weeks ago, Andy and I were working in the garden on such a day and it took a great deal of restraint for me to focus on the gardening task at hand and not go cloud hopping.  I did manage to squeeze some jumps in when I took a break to lie down on the grass and stretch my back (the gardening work was intense!).

Flying is something that I have been doing since I was a little girl.  My first early experience was at night in my dreams.  Probably due to watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I began my treks in the sky on my four-post bed as a child.  In the movie, the children go on adventures on a magical brass bed with their caretaker (who is a witch).  I went on my own adventures as I flew my bed way above my New Jersey hometown.  Mainly I would just watch the goings on from above.  I still love to go up high into the sky and watch the world and I have had those floating dreams many, many times over the years beyond childhood.

Driving along a New Mexico highway - Cloud hopping along the wayAnother media impact on my (you might say unusual, I say wonderful) flight behavior was the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  As a little girl, I have a very distinct memory, one that seemed real even when I was old enough to know it wasn’t, of looking out my bedroom window into the sky and seeing Santa and his sled with Rudolph at the front.  I determined when I was a bit older that the angle of Santa’s flight that I saw was exactly what occurs in the very last frames of the animated special.  My lifelong fascination with the sky and memories of my night flight adventures are very dear to me.

Day skipping in the clouds, conducted while awake, is very calming to me and something I am happy to do anytime.  It’s a form of daydreaming so not surprisingly, the clouds can be very distracting, even as I sit here and write.  My desk is in front of a large window and I have a great view above our tree line of a piece of neighboring mountain and best of all, the sky.  I might be in the middle of a sentence when a cloud catches my eye and I decide to go on an adventure in my mind – and in the heavens.

Cloud hopping on a Hawaiian sunsetBut cloud hopping is also very useful and productive.  Because of the meditative quality of the experience, I often solve problems or just become more relaxed when I am way up there.  If something is upsetting me and I am lucky to have the right conditions in the sky, I do a little bouncing from puff to puff and whatever was bothering me becomes less important.  Or I suddenly have clarity and make a decision that is authentic, based on my gut knowledge of what is best for me.  Like the time just a few years ago when I was on a bus in Florida and the sky was particularly splendid in deep blues and puffy pristine clouds.  I realized during that 15-minute bus ride between the media conference and the hotel that I was done with my corporate gig.  I immediately began my serious plans to leave.  The clouds served me so well that day because now I am happy as a child, floating above the sky and doing my own creative work.

Americana Diner

Jersey diners and conversation

Saddle Brook DinerWhat is it about Jersey diners that make them such perfect spots to meet up with friends and family?  Yesterday, Andy and I caught up with my parents at Saddle Brook Diner in Saddle Brook, NJ.  Now, neither my parents nor we live near Saddle Brook, but it is about an hour drive for both of us.  Jersey diners, well diners in any state, are happy places to get together, eat and chat.

Red Line DinerWe frequent Red Line Diner in Fishkill, NY, that opened about a year ago.  I find that it is always a bubbly place with lots of positive energy due to the good food, friendly staff, but mostly because of the people who dine there.  I have noticed that many people who dine there show up in small groups but meet up with others.  I love watching as the first group of people are seated and then the rounds of hugs and kisses that begin when the rest of their party arrive.  Often there are parents meeting with their children and their grandchildren.  I can tell that in many cases they have not seen each other for a while.

For the last year, there have many been times when I unexpectedly begin to cry thinking how I want to meet my family here; but alas no one lives near.  I would love to casually get together with Andy’s sisters and their families, or his brother or Mom, but they are in California.  I fantasize that I could meet up with my brother and his wife and son, but they are in the DC area.

Americana DinerThen an idea popped into my head about a month ago when I realized that I wanted to see my parents more regularly but the 2+ hour drive each way made it a bit long for a day-visit.  We did try the day-trip idea on my dad’s birthday on April 3.  Andy and I shared the driving and we celebrated Dad’s birthday at the Americana Diner in Hightstown, NJ.  After a wonderful late morning breakfast, we went back to my parent’s house and spent a few hours talking and looking at very early works of my dad’s.  It was a wonderful day – and we were pretty tired from the activity and driving 4 hours.

Park West DinerMy idea to solve this problem was to find a Jersey diner that was halfway between my parents and us.  That would make the drive do-able for both of us and give us a chance to see each other with ease.  Plus we get the added enjoyment of trying out any number of good Jersey diners.  We began with a visit to Park West Diner in Little Falls, NJ.  Because this was our first test of the idea, our excuse (as if we needed one) was that we had to make some returns to Ikea (and we actually did have some items to return).  We had such a wonderful time with my parents, and they looked so happy to see us that we determined that this would become a regular outing.

Jersey Girls Diana and RachelMy mom has decided she will try a mushroom omelet at each diner for comparison.  My dad always has “two over light”.  Andy and I are more variable, but usually French fries are involved.  I am putting together a list of mid-point Jersey diners and the fun and food comparisons will continue.  This Jersey girl is very happy to set foot in Jersey regularly and at diners to boot!  Of course the best part is seeing my dad and my favorite Jersey girl, Mom.

Walking around a lake

Walking around a lake while camping or day picnicking in a camp area has magical memories for me.  When I was between the ages of about 7-9, my parents, my older brother Erik and I went camping in Southern Jersey two times.   Both times we drove south on fairly small roads through the Pine Barrens to Bass River State Forest (I am pretty certain it was called a State Park, not a State Forest back then).  One time we rented a cabin and the other time we pitched a tent.  On the trip where we rented a cabin at the edge of Lake Absegami in Bass River, Erik and I decided to go for a hike (though as I think about it we probably didn’t call it a hike then, just a walk on a path or trail).

Venturing off on a path was not so uncommon for Erik and me.  Every summer for perhaps 5 years or so, our parents took us to Washington Crossing Park to see outdoor theater.  Around the theater were wooded trails that snaked around gentle hills above the amphitheater.  Before the show started, after we had our picnic dinner or got hotdogs at the concession stand, Erik and I would go off and explore the paths.

I don’t remember if we told our parents that we would be away for long, but I do remember that when Erik and I left the cabin we went out on our walk with no particular plans.  Of course as a child that is the norm whereas as an adult I never leave without looking at a trail map first.  We started our walk and before we realized it we were nearly half way around the lake and had to make a decision.  I remember being tired and grumpy but our only method to get home to the campsite was to walk back or continue and either route felt too long.  So we decided to continue and complete the loop.

I have no sense of what we did other than walk – perhaps we were quiet, perhaps we talked or in a rose-colored memory maybe we sang songs.  However we progressed we eventually made it back to the cabin and I do remember the feeling of immense satisfaction for having made it around the large lake.  When I glanced at the lake, I could hardly believe that my legs actually took me around it.  I have that similar sense of amazement when I hike a trail that has elevation and look back to where I started – is it possible that I made that much distance in my human vehicle?

In grad school, when I was dating Andy who later became my husband, I went with his family for a day trip to his childhood camping area in Northern California.  His grandparents had a cabin that they owned nearby Pinecrest Lake, and for several summers Andy and his two sisters and brother and parents got the cabin for their own week long vacation.  We arrived and walked around the camping grounds and meandered around the roads to look at the cabin that had been unfortunately sold by Andy’s grandparents before anyone of their kids or grand kids could have bought it.  We had lunch at a picnic table near the looming lake.

This was the 80s and “jellies” were in at the time.  “Jellies” are rubber shoes styled to look like elegant flats.  Now these days it isn’t uncommon to find rubber shoes but the difference is that today they have good construction and lots of padding.  Jellies were almost like walking barefoot except that you always got blisters.  (Mine looked like these without the bow).

Not realizing that we were going to be doing anything other than lounging around (what was I thinking), I wore my favorite pink jellies and sundress.  The kids (Andy, his siblings and me) decided to go for a walk around the lake.  I went and I remember feeling the same sense of grumpiness as my childhood experience after walking and sweating and getting sore feet about half way around the lake.  But soldier on I did, trying my best to be sweet to Andy’s siblings who I didn’t really know all that well yet.  They thought I was nuts, of course, walking around in the pink jellies, but what was I supposed to do?  When we got back to the picnic table where Andy’s parents were hanging out, I again had the feeling of personal triumph as I conquered yet another camping lake trail.  By the end of that trip my jellies had ripped, but I had made it.  And as I gazed at the lake, I was again astounded that on my own, I had gotten around that large body of water.  I am at awe of how resilient and powerful our human bodies are, including my own.

Jersey girls and boys – what is it about sharing context?

I have a funny experience of connecting with others who grew up in New Jersey.  My husband has watched and commented on it and I didn’t even realize what was happening.  In one case I met a guy who ran a small winery in New Jersey who was about my age and grew up in the town where I went to high school.  We were standing around chatting and apparently without either of us noticing, we were so engaged in conversation that occasionally we would raise one elbow, like you do if you were doing the chicken dance, and gently nudge the other person with the elbow.  Yes, that does sound kind of strange, but then I had another experience.  I was in a yoga class in New York and I felt a connection with a woman about my age who was new to the class.  After a few sessions, we started to speak and before I knew it, we were doing the elbow nudge thing.  I became conscious of the physical contact, and I turned to her and said, “Are you from New Jersey?”  She got a bit defensive because she had not lived in New Jersey for some time and now lives in New York and hoped her accent was not so noticeable.  I assured her it was not the accent that gave her away, but rather how she elbowed me.  New Jerseyans can get teased about their accent, but probably what is funnier is the elbow nudging.  So what is the elbow nudging?  I think it is a natural occurrence of connection between two people who have so much shared history that is specific to growing up in a certain neighborhood.  We like to touch and the elbow nudge is a safe way to connect.