Beautiful Ride

The somewhat self-indulgent rantings about the beautiful ride that is my life!

Why Maplewood is my ‘Hood! April 22, 2010

Filed under: beautiful ride,Home — beautifulride @ 7:22 am
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About 5 1/2  years ago, my husband was transferred from Bank1 in Phoenix, AZ to JP Morgan Chase in New York. (Before anyone starts freaking out about “too big to fail”…yadda yadda yadda, please note that he is not “that” kind of banker—no crazy big investment banker bonus because he’s in operations—and he works for Chase—the “responsible adult” of the  big banking world). Now, I am originally from the East  (PA) and we vacationed at the Jersey Shore, but that is where my association with the Garden State ended. And after I left my home in Central Pennsylvania, I moved west…to Pittsburgh, to Columbus, and to Phoenix. And, aside from being far from my extended family, I was thrilled to be in Phoenix…the lifestyle was amazing, the house was amazing, the 300+ days of sunshine…you guessed it…amazing!

But work is work and with 4 young sons to feed, you don’t turn down a job.  So back East we came.  Needing to commute to an operation site around the Meadowlands, and attend meetings in NYC, we made the decision to move to a New Jersey town with a direct train line to Manhattan. And so the search began.  I researched towns and school districts and commute time to the City on the web, but we were still going in blind. I looked at home after home on, and was sure that with the cost of living difference between Phoenix and New Jersey, well, let’s just say that I was sure I would be trading my resort-like paradise for a trailer!

I had a few towns on my list, and Maplewood, at least online, felt like the best fit. My real estate agent obliged by showing me several homes in the area, but was pushing other towns that he was more familiar with.  I stuck to my guns and the first time he drove me through Maplewood Village, I was sold! Are the taxes high in Maplewood…you betcha! Are the homes older, and in constant need of updating…you betcha!  Were they overpriced and hard to get at the height of the real estate boom in 2004…you betcha! But if I have to live in New Jersey, seems like a great place to be!

My boys were pretty young when we arrived, the youngest was about to turn 5 and the oldest was 14.  Now they are all in double digits, and the oldest is approaching 20.  They’ve done a lot of growing up in Maplewood and it’s been great for them.  The town is wonderfully diverse and very community-oriented. We lucked out with the location of our  home…views of the grand Township building and Memorial Park (and the July 4 fireworks) from the front porch, a tennis court at the end of our backyard, walking distance to all three schools, the train station and Maplewood Village is a 5 minute walk through the park—couldn’t have planned it better.

And for the boys, they get to “come of age” in a town that supports small, independent businesses instead of strip malls and box stores. They get to walk to the local movie theatre instead of driving to the 20-screen multiplex. They get to go to schools that push the Arts as much as the Athletic Programs. They get to live in a town where interracial and same-sex marriages are accepted. They get to make friends with kids from diverse economic, religious and racial backgrounds. They get MaplewoodStock. And Maplewood Village…the part of town that made me tell my agent that it had to be this town…it has become my favorite place to be and the reason it would be hard to leave.  I can WALK to my Salon and Day Spa, the grocery store, the bookstore, my favorite gift shops, a few pizza places, several great mid-scale and upscale bars and restaurants, a jazz bar, a movie theatre, a coffee shop, an ice cream shop, a cheese shop,a fish market,  a deli, my auto mechanic, the postoffice, and more, all within a four block stretch! And of course St. James Gate…my favorite bar…where you will find us most Friday happy hours and an occasional Sunday afternoon…a place where everybody knows your name and the bartenders remember your drink and ask about your kids.

Would I return to the beautiful scenery and weather of the desert?  I would. I admit that I hate the rain and the cold that this part of the country has to offer. But I would miss Maplewood very much. It feels like home now. It’s comfortable and safe and a small-town lifestyle that I’m thrilled the boys have experienced. When I restart my western migration, I will only settle in a place that feels like this…a diverse, friendly, walkable community full of music and art and life and community spirit. No matter where I go next, I’ll be looking for that feeling that Maplewood brings…that feeling of home.


The Truth About Cats and Dogs April 11, 2010

Filed under: beautiful ride,Obsessions,Pets — beautifulride @ 12:59 pm
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For the record, I am not anti-dog or anti-cat, not really.  I know that many who know me know that I am not a huge fan of pets, but in my defense, I have four sons, which in my opinion is quite enough to take care of.  Why, in heaven’s name, would I voluntarily chose to add one more “dependent” that needs to be fed, cleaned, brushed, walked, taken to the “dr.”, and oh, my very favorite–“diapered” (ok, not literally, but think pooper-scooper or litter box)!

Now, this post is not meant to offend the millions who are pet owners and advocates (including some people who I dearly love and respect). I know how much you adore your pets and I’m cool with that.  I’m not an animal hater—I think anyone who abuses animals should suffer in the same way that they caused the animal to suffer. And I’ve read all the studies that remind us pets are good for our health–lowering blood pressure, releasing “feel good” hormones—and I think that is all fine. But…I have to say that I don’t quite understand this latest level of “gaga” over our little four-legged friends.

Here is a recent example.  I’m walking through the Short Hills Mall one lovely spring afternoon. It’s a weekday and I’m searching for some props for a window display that my friend and co-worker, Joan, and I are designing for the Easter season. So here I am in a relatively upscale mall, enjoying the weekday outing free of children and crowds, and I round the corner excited to catch the always interesting window display at Willams-Sonoma when I see it….and I can’t really believe it…but Joan sees it too…so I have to believe that it’s real.  Yes, you guessed it…a dog.  Not a seeing-eye dog, but a tiny little wiener dog, on a leash, being led around by Mrs. New Jersey herself (not really Mrs New Jersey, but the stereotypical Mrs. New Jersey, thanks to “The Sopranos.”) There she was in her velour track suit finery, perfectly accessorized with bleached-blond hair, oversized designer bag, and gold flip-flops that screamed fresh pedicure. And she wasn’t walking the little wiener schnitzel either, instead, she was barking orders at her young teen-aged son about pulling him this way and that.  When did people decide that it was ok to walk their dogs inside of public places?  I’ve seen it at Penn Station too.  On our way home  from some cultural event like the Ballet or Opera, I’m standing there with  my husband waiting for them to call our train when I witness a college-aged boy pull a fuzzball with four legs out of his duffle bag and proceed to let it lick him all over the face…please explain this to me!

And cats, well, what can I say.  My own husband and children conspired behind my back to create a facebook page for our very own “Lyle the Cat.” The main purpose of this page is not to discuss the adventures of a stray cat (that would be weird enough), but to see if the “little beast” can friend more people than me! What is wrong with them. Not that Lyle hasn’t led a seemingly charmed life—he has survived moves from Ohio to Arizona to New Jersey (by car and plane—a story for another day!); outsmarted numerous other cats, hawks, owls, coyotes, rattlers, scorpions, and maybe even a javelina; and is king of our street, napping on lawns and in gardens up and down the block. Great—but now my guys are as crazy as the mall dog walkers.  Lyle now has rules of engagement, curfews, mood swings, and a growing list of facebook friends.  Tomorrow he will probably start a blog!

Instead of walking them and petting their little heads, we schedule play dates for them at upscale pet stores. Then we proceed to shower the upscale pet stores with scads of cash for items like clothes, boots (rain and snow!), jewelry, hats, and gourmet food created by Chef Michael….for the animals! I understand a dog sweater for a small animal in sub-zero temperatures, but can’t we leave it at that?  We dress them in silly accessories and little  hats and put them on youtube and greeting cards! And then crazy people like me, who believe this is absurd behavior, go out and buy those cards for my goofy, pet-obsessed children! 

So what do I think is the real truth about cats and dogs? I think they are honestly a great choice for people with the time and energy to care for them, and that for those that want them, the rewards are great. And I think that for those of us who don’t, we should be able to express our rage at hairballs on the carpet and furrballs on the furniture. And we should all be mindful of the marketing wizards that have come to convince us that they need playdates and raincoats, instead of some milkbones, a squeaky toy, and a pat on the head.


Easter Memories April 4, 2010

Filed under: beautiful ride,Holidays — beautifulride @ 9:11 am
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As I sit here at 7:45 on this gorgeous Easter morning, my mind wanders back to Easters of years ago. When I was very young, my brother and two sisters and I had a routine. We would wake early and head downstairs, after Mom and Dad gave us permission, of course. We always got two baskets full of candy and little gifts that reminded us that spring was here—things like jump ropes and sidewalk chalk to make hopscotch squares for the girls, and baseball cards and other sports related stuff for my big brother.  I remember the year he got the Snoopy and Woodstock Go Camping trash can for his room…I was so jealous! 

After the hunt, we would get ready for church—we girls would dress in our new finery—white patent leather shoes, straw hats and little white bags, a new dress and cape (often lovingly made by my Grandmother). My brother would wear a suit jacket—he didn’t every Sunday, but always on Easter. We would head to Sunday School, where we would meet with our friends and talk about our Easter surprises, and then we would join our parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins for the Easter Morning Service.  And what a joyous service it was—He Is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia! The sanctuary was overflowing with the choirs, handbells, brass ensemble, friends, family, and the familiar Easter message.

After service we would walk down the street to my Nana and Pop-Pop’s house, where my cousins and siblings and I would go on another Easter basket hunt and have some dinner.  I think it was probably ham, I don’t really remember, but I do remember the cake.  My Mom would always make a white cake with white icing…and half would have coconut sprinkled on the top, and half would not (thankfully, because I don’t like coconut!)  And on top of the white icing and coconut…jellybeans….in all the colors of the rainbow!  I still make a white cake on Easter…probably always will.

As we got older, the routine changed some.  We would go to the sunrise service and sing with the choirs and be rewarded with an enormous breakfast prepared by a crew that must have been up since 3 am! Sometimes I would come home from college and the choir director would just let me jump in and take my place with the sopranos. Sometimes we would just go to the later service. And the first few years I lived away from home, I may not have gone at all. But those Easters of my childhood remain in my heart and the memories flood back every time I sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”

Now I have a family of my own with traditions of our own. And although my boys range in age from 10 to 19, we still color eggs and wake early to hunt for our Easter treats. This year it will be things like movies and book, tshirts and music…and baseball cards, just like my brother! They’ll have candy for breakfast and then we’ll dress up and make our way to church where we will sing with joy and praise. And today, my youngest son, Grant, will take his first communion.  Then we will come home and celebrate with white cake topped with jellybeans, and I will add one more  memory to my very own Easter basket.